What Is a Speakeasy Bar?

What Is a Speakeasy Bar? - Home Bars USA

A speakeasy bar, shrouded in secrecy and exuding an air of intrigue, stands as a captivating relic of American history. Born during the tumultuous era of Prohibition, speakeasies were clandestine havens where patrons sought solace in the forbidden pleasures of alcohol.

These covert establishments, often hidden behind unassuming facades and guarded by secret passwords, embodied the spirit of rebellion against the stringent laws of their time. Yet, they were more than just illegal drinking dens; speakeasies served as cultural epicenters, featuring live jazz music, dancing, and a sense of camaraderie that transcended their hidden nature.

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A Brief History of the Speakeasy

Speakeasy bars came into existence during the Prohibition era, a tumultuous period in American history that lasted from 1920 to 1933. The Prohibition era was characterized by the nationwide ban on the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, enforced by the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


Prohibition Era

The 18th amendment was introduced by the government from 1925 to 1933 and prohibits the selling of alcohol to the public. But without proper structures enforcing these prohibitions, organized crime groups took over fast the sale of alcohol. Throughout this time, bar owners smuggled the alcohol into a restaurant or club. So speakeasy spread throughout America.


The Speakeasy in Prohibition

The Prohibition laws hit the bar industry and led to the closure of legal bars and saloons, creating a demand for hidden places where alcohol consumption was possible. The hidden bars were called speakeasies.

Speakeasies filled this void, operating as covert venues that served alcohol discreetly. The bar owners became the speakeasy owners welcoming patrons to their illegal bars.

The term "speakeasy" is believed to have originated from the need for patrons to speak quietly or "easily" when discussing these illegal drinking establishments. It reflected the clandestine nature of these venues, where patrons had to avoid drawing attention to their activities to evade law enforcement.

Where Do Speakeasys Come From?

The emergence of speakeasy bars during Prohibition was a response to the strict alcohol bans of the era, setting the stage for a unique and secretive chapter in American drinking culture.

These establishments became symbols of rebellion and resistance, embodying the spirit of an era when the pursuit of pleasure often led individuals to the hidden doorways of speakeasies.

Other Names For A Speakeasy

Speakeasies were often referred to by various slang terms and euphemisms during the Prohibition era to maintain secrecy and avoid detection by law enforcement.

  1. Blind Pig: This term referred to an illicit drinking establishment where patrons paid to see an attraction, such as an animal, and received a complimentary drink as part of the admission.

  2. Blind Tiger: Similar to a "Blind Pig," a "Blind Tiger" was a place where patrons paid to see an exotic animal and, in return, received a drink.

  3. Clip Joint: This term sometimes referred to a speakeasy that aimed to overcharge or swindle its customers, often by diluting the drinks or using subpar alcohol.

  4. Gin Mill: This slang term was used to describe a speakeasy or bar where gin was commonly served, although it could apply to any type of drinking establishment.

  5. Rum Row: While "rum row" typically referred to areas offshore where ships smuggled in alcohol, it could also be used informally to describe a speakeasy specializing in rum.

These colorful and creative names contributed to the mystique and allure of speakeasies during Prohibition, helping to maintain their secrecy and add an element of excitement to the illicit drinking experience.


Famous Speakeasy Bars

Several speakeasy bars from the Prohibition era became famous for their unique atmosphere, entertainment, and association with prominent figures. While many of these original speakeasies have long since closed, some modern establishments have adopted their names or themes to pay homage to this iconic period in history. Here are a few famous speakeasy bars from the past and some modern ones inspired by them.

Famous Speakeasy Bars - Home Bars USA


21 Club (Twenty-One Club) - New York City, New York:

  • This legendary speakeasy opened its doors in the 1920s and quickly became a favorite among New York City's elite.

  • Known for its hidden wine cellar, secret entrance, and famous clientele, including politicians and celebrities.

  • Today, the 21 Club remains a prestigious restaurant and bar.


Cotton Club - New York City, New York:

  • The Cotton Club was a famous Harlem nightclub during the Prohibition era, renowned for hosting top jazz musicians and showcasing African American talent.

  • It was a hotspot for music and entertainment in the 1920s and 1930s.


The Green Mill - Chicago, Illinois:

  • This Chicago speakeasy was frequented by notorious gangster Al Capone and featured live jazz performances.

  • The Green Mill still operates today, offering a glimpse into the past with its jazz music and vintage ambiance.


The Stork Club - New York City, New York:

  • The Stork Club was a glamorous nightclub and speakeasy known for its opulence, attracting celebrities and high society.

  • It remained a fashionable venue for many years, but it has since closed.


How the Speakeasy Bars Changed Drinking Culture

Speakeasy bars played a significant role in shaping drinking culture in several ways during and after the Prohibition era.

Speakeasies introduced an element of secrecy and adventure into drinking culture. Patrons had to know the secret entrance or password, creating a sense of exclusivity and camaraderie.

To mask the taste of low-quality or homemade alcohol during Prohibition, speakeasies often relied on creative cocktail recipes. This era gave rise to the craft of mixology, leading to the creation of classic cocktails like the Martini, Manhattan, and Sidecar that continue to influence cocktail culture today.

Many speakeasies featured live jazz music and dancing, which contributed to the popularization of jazz and the birth of the "Jazz Age."

Speakeasies had to continuously adapt to law enforcement efforts, resulting in creative methods of concealment such as hidden doors, secret passages, and false walls. These innovations influenced the design and layout of bars and clubs, contributing to the idea of hidden and themed bars.

Unlike earlier drinking establishments, speakeasies were more inclusive and often welcomed women as patrons. This marked a shift in societal norms and led to more women participating in drinking culture and nightlife.

3Speakeasies, with their clandestine charm and elegance, contrasted with the rough and rowdy saloons of the past. This contributed to a shift towards more sophisticated and refined drinking establishments in the post-Prohibition era.

The scarcity of quality alcohol during Prohibition drove some individuals to experiment with distilling and brewing, leading to the emergence of craft spirits and microbreweries. This contributed to the craft beverage movement that continues to flourish today.


What Is the Difference Between a Bar & a Speakeasy?

What Is the Difference Between a Bar & a Speakeasy? - Home Bars USA

Bars and speakeasies are both establishments where people gather to enjoy alcoholic beverages, but there are distinct differences between the two, primarily related to their historical context and atmosphere.

While both bars and speakeasies serve as places for socializing and enjoying alcoholic beverages, the key differences lie in their historical context, legality, atmosphere, entry requirements, and focus on cocktail culture. Speakeasies are a unique product of the Prohibition era and are known for their secretive and vintage charm.

The main difference between a bar and a speakeasy is legality. Speakers may have secret entrance and passwords, which need to be held by a secret handshaker. Unlike bars, the majority are more open and visible, and do not require similar confidentiality and exclusivity.


The Modern Speakeasy

The modern day speakeasy is a revival of the clandestine bars that thrived during the Prohibition period in the United States. When prohibition ended and alcohol became legal and readily available, speakeasies largely disappeared. A modern speakeasy bar aims to capture the ambiance, aesthetics, and spirit of the speakeasy culture.

Discreet Entrances: Like their historical counterparts, modern day speakeasies often have hidden entrances. These may include unmarked doors, secret passageways, or hidden rooms within other businesses, adding an element of adventure and exclusivity to the experience.

Vintage Decor: A modern speakeasy typically features vintage decor that transports visitors back in time. This includes period-appropriate furniture, dim lighting, antique barware, and décor reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties.

Classic Cocktails: The cocktail menu is a central focus of a modern speakeasy. They often specialize in classic cocktails that were popular during Prohibition, such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sidecar. Mixologists may use high-quality ingredients and pay meticulous attention to crafting these drinks.

Signature Cocktails: In addition to classics, modern speakeasies create their own signature cocktails, often with unique and creative combinations of spirits, bitters, syrups, and garnishes.

Craft Spirits: Many modern speakeasies take pride in their selection of craft spirits and artisanal liquors. They may offer a curated menu of small-batch or locally produced spirits.

Live Music and Entertainment: To capture the entertainment spirit of the Prohibition era, some modern speakeasies feature live jazz music, swing bands, burlesque shows, or other forms of entertainment.

Dress Code: Some modern speakeasies encourage or require visitors to adhere to a specific dress code, often promoting vintage or elegant attire to enhance the ambiance.

Reservations and Passwords: While not always necessary, some modern speakeasies maintain the tradition of requiring reservations or secret passwords for entry, further adding to the sense of exclusivity and intrigue.

Culinary Offerings: Many modern speakeasies offer a menu of gourmet finger foods, appetizers, small plates, or elevated bar snacks that pair well with cocktails. These can include charcuterie boards, artisan cheeses, and unique culinary creations.

Nostalgia and Immersion: The goal of a modern speakeasy is to immerse patrons in the atmosphere and culture of the Prohibition era, creating a sense of nostalgia and transporting them to a bygone era of glamour, secrecy, and rebellion.

Social Media and Popularity: Modern speakeasies often leverage social media and word-of-mouth marketing to create buzz and maintain an air of secrecy, even though they are legal and open to the public.


Creating the Speakeasy Bar at Home

Creating a speakeasy bar at home can be a fun and rewarding project, allowing you to enjoy the ambiance, cocktails, and sense of nostalgia associated with these clandestine establishments. Here are steps to help you create your own speakeasy bar at home.

Creating the Speakeasy Bar at Home - Home Bars USA

Choose a Location

Select a suitable space in your home for your speakeasy. It could be a basement, a corner of your living room, or a dedicated room. Consider factors like privacy and the ability to control lighting and decor.

Design and Decor

Emulate the vintage, Prohibition-era aesthetic with your decor. Think dim lighting, antique furniture, vintage posters, and art deco elements. Use dark colors like deep reds, browns, and blacks for walls and furnishings to create an intimate atmosphere.

Furnishings and Seating

Invest in period-appropriate furnishings like leather couches, velvet armchairs, and wooden tables. Create cozy seating arrangements that encourage conversation and relaxation.

Bar Setup

Designate a bar area or install a bar cart. Stock it with essential barware, including cocktail shakers, mixing glasses, jiggers, and strainers. Display a selection of your favorite spirits, liqueurs, and bitters. Include vintage-inspired glassware and bar tools for an authentic touch.


Best Hide-a-Bar Cabinets for a Speakeasy Bar at Home

Want a liquor cabinet that doesn't look like a liquor cabinet? Then you wanna hide-a-bar liquor cabinet. These handsome furniture pieces look like elegant cabinets, or decorative motif pieces, but inside, plenty of room to store or showcase your best liquor, along with glasses and tools.


Howard Miller Sonoma II Wine & Bar Cabinet

The Howard Miller 695065 Sonoma II Wine & Bar Cabinet is a Hide-A-Bar cabinet finished in Cherry Bordeaux on select hardwoods and veneers and is lightly distressed. This home bar cabinet has great wood detailing on the doors that will look great in any room, while the entertaining offers endless opportunities.

This Hide-A-Bar cabinet features a raised door panel and room to store 22 wine bottles with a generous amount of room for liquor storage. An upper fixed shelf may hold glasses and tumblers. Wooden stemware racks keep wine glasses at convenient reach.


Howard Miller Rogue Valley Wine & Bar Cabinet

The Howard Miller 695122 Rogue Valley Wine & Bar Cabinet creates a unique bar experience. This bar cabinet has an elaborate design with a heavy, artistic distressing that brings a special aesthetic feeling. This wine and bar cabinet features random wood-planked door panels with a generous amount of room for liquor storage.

This home bar is crafted in Rustic Hardwood on select hardwoods and veneers. It features a glass mirrored back in the upper cabinet. This Hide-A-Bar cabinet can maximize the space and fit into an unused space of a living or dining room.


Howard Miller Barossa Valley Wine & Bar Cabinet

TheHoward Miller 695114 Barossa Valley Wine & Bar Cabinet is a Hide-A-Bar cabinet that creates the perfect opportunity for after-dinner drinks and adds useful storage. This home bar cabinet features paneled doors with inset panels of Ash Burl veneers in a parquet pattern framed with decorative moldings and oversized antique brass finished door knobs.

The liquor cabinet has Hampton Cherry finish with light distressing on select hardwoods and veneers. This bar cabinet stores up to 22 bottles of wine, with a generous amount of room in the doors for liquor storage.

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