Inside the speakeasies of the 1920s
Prohibition bars are all the rage in New York City.
But today’s over-priced, often pretentious, watering holes are nothing like the speakeasies of the 1920s and ’30s they’re trying to recreate.
Ninety years ago, there were hundreds of illegal drinking spots in New York, and the speakeasies – which were often just a hidden room with barely drinkable booze – were mostly run by gangsters.
While many of today’s incarnations will disappear as quickly as they’ve popped up, some of the infamous night spots of the prohibition era have stood the test of time, making an unforgettable mark on the fabric of New York.
Cotton Club: The Cotton Club, pictured, was a famous jazz music night club located in Harlem, New York City, and operated from 1923 to 1940
Celebrity guests: Yankees star Joe DiMaggio dined at the Cotton Club after the opening game of the 1937 World Series
New Year: Cab Calloway leads the band at the New Year’s celebration of 1937 at the Cotton Club
Good times: After prohibition, celebrities and New York’s elite flocked to the Cotton Club to be seen
Two of the Big Apple’s most popular speakeasies were The Cotton Club in Harlem and the Stork Club, which was originally on 58th Street in Manhattan then moved to 53rd Street.
After prohibition ended in 1933, the bars became magnets for movie stars, celebrities, wealthy New Yorkers and showgirls.
Chumley’s on 86 Bedford Street in Manhattan was also a popular speakeasy, opening in 1922, three years into prohibition, on the site of a former blacksmith shop.
When warned of a police raid, the Chumley’s staff were told to send their customers out the Bedford Street door. For some reason, the police would always enter through the Pamela Court entrance, allowing the customers to escape without being seen.
Stork Club: The popular club was owned by Sherman Billingsley, pictured in 1945
Smiles: Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan enjoy a drink at the Stork Club before their marriage in the early 1950s
Parents: A young Elizabeth Taylor was photographed at the Stork Club flanked by her mom and dad in 1949
Cosy: Mrs. Ernest Hemingway, Mrs. Leland Hayward, film star Spencer Tracy, producer-actor George Jessel, and theater-tv-movie producer Leland Hayward enjoy dinner and a chat at the New York night club in 1953
Exclusive: A taxi pulls up to the entrance of The Stork Club as people standing under the awning watch
Chumley’s became a favorite spot for influential writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, and activists and was even mentioned in an episode of ‘Mad Men’ as a destination for after-work drinks. It sadly closed in 2007 when a chimney collapsed in its dining room.
Connie’s Inn on 7th Avenue and West 131st Street gave the Cotton Club a run for its money, booking jazz acts like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Fletcher Henderson. But the bar shut down as soon as prohibition ended, seeing no fun in selling booze legally.
Landmark Tavern opened its doors in 1868, long before the government banned the booze. The tavern, located on what was then the waterfront of the Hudson, started as an Irish saloon and the family who ran it lived on the second and third floors.
When prohibition was imposed, they had to transform the third floor into a speakeasy in order to support themselves. The bar was never raided and has been open consistently since 1868.
Chumley’s: Chumley’s on 86 Bedford Street in Manhattan was also a popular speakeasy, opening in 1922 on the site of a former blacksmith shop
Closed: The New York City favorite, pictured, closed in 2007 when a chimney collapsed in the dining room
Connie’s Inn: Connie’s Inn on 7th Avenue and West 131st Street gave the Cotton Club a run for its money
Jazz: Connie’s Inn, pictured, booked jazz acts like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Fletcher Henderson
Casa Blanca: Larry Fay of New York’s Gangland, was killed New Year’s night 1933 at the bar the Casa Blanca
Club Intime: The Midtown outpost of Flute Bar and Lounge was once Club Intime, a speakeasy stop for society men who frequented Polly Adler’s brothel nearby
Landmark Tavern: The 11th Avenue location opened its doors in 1868, long before prohibition, and is still around today