The Speakeasy was born during the tumultuous Twenties at a time when the country was healing from World War I and Americans were discovering a new love for jazz, dance, and cocktails – coincidently, at the same time that the newly ratified 18th Amendment went into effect. The 18th Amendment spawned the National Prohibition Act targeting the manufacturing, transportation, and the sale of “intoxicating liquors” – but not the consumption, which begs the question, how can you have one without the other?
~THIS IS AN ONGOING COLLECTION OF SPEAKEASY BARS – BOTH HIDDEN AND PROHIBITION STYLE. CHECK BACK OFTEN FOR UPDATES~
The objective of Prohibition was to curb alcoholism but instead, it had the opposite effect by forcing drinking establishments ‘underground’ with word of their locations passed from patron to patron in coded hushed tones. Access was granted via a secret password – which no undoubtedly changed frequently.
For the next thirteen years, from January 17, 1919, until December 1933 with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, the reaction to Prohibition was fought in many ways causing new battles to be fought on American soil between lawmen and the Mob. Bars, saloons, and distillery locations were raided, dismantled, and destroyed. Barrels of distilled spirits were intercepted and demolished with lethal force by lawmen wielding axes. It was a time of chaos, uncertainty, and individual freedoms.
Speakeasy Centennial Birthday – January 17, 2020
Fast forward 100-years. Although the Speakeasy is still a thing, the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of “intoxicating liquors” is no longer illegal. They are no longer forced to hide behind unmarked and non-descript doors accessed from dark alleys, though many still require a password to gain entry.
Today’s speakeasy is experiencing revitalization as it captures the romanticized charm of the Roaring ‘20s without the brutality between lawmen and Mafia. Many of these cool-kat jazz juice joints (a Prohibition term for a bar) are decorated in dark wood with red-accent ambient light, heavy velvet curtains, velvet upholstered furniture, and black and white pictures of women dressed in flapper dresses and men in zuit suits clustered around bars adorning the walls. I have been in one speakeasy in which the walls were covered with convicted criminal mug shots from the ‘20s and ‘30s.
What can you expect in the way of cocktails being served at a speakeasy? Don’t expect to see too many drinks along the lines of Mai Tais, Margaritas, or pretty much anything that became popular in the 1950s or later. You can expect classic timeless cocktails that are shaken or stirred like Gin Rickey, Sidecar, Bee’s Knees, and the Old Fashioned – which is experiencing a rebirth of its own.
In remembrance of Prohibition, but mostly to celebrate the advent of the modern hidden Speakeasy here is a list of truly hidden speakeasies that you gain access from behind bookshelves, through freezer doors, underground hallways, through candy stores, or phone booths with a secret password that you can discover.
Truth and Alibi
Deep Ellum is one of Dallas’ historic districts dating back to 1873 known as an artist and musician’s hub and where you will find Truth and Alibi. Behind the secret entrance through a sweet shop, you will be greeted with swanky velvet decor, hanging chandeliers, and vintage mugshot posters decorating the walls. Be forewarned, you have to know T&A’s current password (which you can get from their Facebook page) to gain entrance through a secret door. Trust me, you won’t get past the security guard if you don’t have it.
There are times when you just happen to stumble upon something truly magnificent, this was the case when we found Sidebar in Edinburg. This caslux (my new word for casually luxurious) speakeasy was a gem to find in the Rio Grande Valley that made you feel as if you had been transported back to Prohibition in New York City.
The owners of Sidebar have refurbished the historic 1920’s era brick building that was first an ice house and then the home of the now-shuttered Edinburg Daily Review – one of the oldest and most trusted newsprint publications in the RGV. When you walk into the main entrance one of the original printers along with a few printing blocks and copies of the Daily Review.
From the moment I walked into Sidebar and saw the craft alcohol and liqueurs behind the bar, I knew I was in for a treat. Thomas, the mixologist, was very knowledgeable about Prohibition-style drinks and even suggested meals to accompany our drinks. In addition, the chef was very accommodating in meal preparations for allergies.
Scat Jazz Club
The Scat Jazz Club was one of the first speakeasies we visited. The directions we received were, “go to Sundance Square, find the red neon sign, and take the elevator down”. The very next weekend we made a point of finding that neon sign. The servers and bartenders’ attire of suspenders and bow tie add to the ambiance of this underground speakeasy. Be sure to eat dinner in the Square first (food is not available – just incredible cocktails) and then make your way to the club for live jazz or comedy show. It would be wise to make reservations because this cozy little jazz club can fill up quickly when there is a popular entertainer on stage.
The Bodega on 7th is truly unique. Where else can you go to a quickie-mart, end up in swanky speakeasy sipping cocktails which help provide permanent homes and support for exotic rescue animals? That’s right, a portion of the proceeds from certain drinks help feed the lions, tigers, and… tortoise… oh, my. Read more about Texas’ Center for Animal Research and Education here. Slip into this convenience store for your light grocery needs or just a snack, but be sure to hold onto your receipt because that is your ticket through the door.
Hidden in Austin’s oldest fire station is an international hostel and speakeasy, well the hostel is not hidden but the speakeasy is! As you make your way to the front counter to inquire about availability in the hostel, take notice of the bookcase… there just might be something of interest there.
The Firehouse Lounge is an inviting mix of a lost era with romanticized charm from the velvet accents to its leather couches all washed in dimly lit accent lighting. I found the mixologists all very talented when it came to creating prohibition-style drinks. The Lounge is located within walking distance to 6th street, Austin’s hopping open-air night scene. As evening descends Thursday through Saturday the street is closed only allowing pedestrian traffic. Stroll unhindered and enjoy live music, food trucks, and the largest donuts (both in size and selection) from Voodoo Donut.
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