In today's America, where alcohol flows so freely and many wonder why the drinking age only starts at 21, it's easy to forget that Prohibition - the so-called noble experiment - lasted a full 14 years, but actually started even earlier of the war in 1917.
The 18th Amendment passed by Congress in December 1917 and ratified by a majority of states in January 1919 marked the beginning of the years of alcohol moderation in America. Although there has always been a moralizing tone in the temperance movement, this time the desire to legislate to improve public health was expressed. At no time did Americans drink as much as they did in the late 19th century. Alcohol was cheap, it was served in saloons that served as community centers, and most immigrant New Yorkers considered alcohol safer and cleaner than water. In Tompkins Square Park, in the middle of Little Germany, Henry Congswell, a dentist from San Francisco, sponsored a temperance fountain in 1888 to provide clean drinking water to the German community and to convince them to drink the beer in smaller quantities - and especially it to no longer give to their children. Similarly, a similar project was planned for Center Park, right next to the German children's playground (called Kinderberg), where milk would be provided to children free of charge. Construction took place, but no cows were ever brought into the park and the project was converted into a restaurant. (Today it is a visitor center and gift shop.)
In 1919, enough Americans became convinced of the dangers and decided to give banning drinking a try. But as soon as the law went into effect in 1920, it was broken at every turn and the so-called Roaring Twenties began, the speakeasy bar scene flourishing, completely changing the cultural landscape of New York. From now on it was socially acceptable and many people who had never consumed alcohol started drinking. Women who were never allowed to enter a men's club in Victorian America now found themselves on an equal social level in the relaxed atmosphere of the speakeasies. In Harlem, where whites flocked to listen to jazz and feel like they were doing something exotic and transgressive, blacks and whites drank together for the first time as equals.
Soon, drinking venues were divided into two categories: cabarets, where legitimate entertainment was offered and alcohol was secretly served. Speakeasies that only offered alcohol and for this reason had to be hidden. Although linguists argue about the origins of the term "speakeasy," it likely dates to 19th-century London, where "speakeasy shops" were established to circumvent Victorian liquor licensing laws.
In New York, speakeasies are multiplying rapidly; Every time the state or federal government tried to increase enforcement, more illegal bars opened. In a decade, the number of places to drink has doubled, from 16,000 before the Volstead law was passed to 32,000. Some were in the cellars of the old houses; some were former bars that masqueraded as legitimate businesses while still offering alcohol.
Some of these secret bars have been preserved in New York to this day, every Monday and Wednesday we travel back in time to the 1920s on our tour "The Secret Bars from the Prohibition Era" (CLICK HERE) , where our nightlife guru tells the story and brings the myths to life.