Speakeasies—A Look at Selling Craft Whiskey in the Past
When a mouthy bunch of paranoid people got the beer and liquor banned in the United States, there were scores of restaurants and bars that were forced to shut down. It’s hard to run a business when the very product you sell suddenly becomes illegal. Many of these were old establishments that had been run by the same family for generations, while others were startups built by people reaching for the American dream. All of it was gone, and the fallout was that no one had a place to legally gather and drink with their friends.
We all know about bars. Some are high class establishments selling thousand dollar bottles of wine, and some are a good way to wake up three days later in the hospital for looking at someone funny. There are all kinds to appeal to all kinds of people looking to get their drink on. No matter who you are, there is a bar out there you can call home.
The Cost of Speakeasies
Speakeasies tried to be the same way. As we all know, a silly little federal law wasn’t going to stop people from knocking a few back. A mill worker wanted to unwind after work just as much as a stock broker working on the buildup to The Great Depression.
The problem was that running an illegal enterprise is far more costly than running one that’s legit. So the dive bar that barely got by because its clientele never had much money couldn’t afford the extra premium of keeping the law off their back and the cost of lost booze, business, and legal expenses from the inevitable raids.
Unique Speakeasy Marketing
There were still speakeasies for the financially challenged, and these were often called blind pigs, or blind tigers for those wanting for the more exotic. The name comes from a trick a few wise guys used to get around pre-prohibition drinking laws. They would charge patrons to see some oddball attraction, like a blind pig, and then give them free drinks with a nod and a wink. Back on track now, these blind pig speakeasies were mostly in small towns, and much of the time nothing more than a table with a bottle and a couple of chairs hidden away in a glorified closet.
Speakeasy in Action
Maybe the greatest example of a prohibition era speakeasy is New York’s Club 21. Back in the day, it hosted all manner of illicit drinking that you and I would call normal adult behavior. It was popular, which meant it was always being watched. To deal with the law constantly coming in to catch them in the act, the owners developed an ingenious way to keep from getting caught. The doorman would run interference by stalling the cops, and hitting a little bell that warned the bar in the back that a raid was in progress. The bartender would hit a mechanism that would send the illegal booze down a chute and instantly turn the bar into a dry little parlor where all the gentle folk gathered to politely converse.