Speakeasy- Jazz Age Part II

Pre-Prohibition Speakeasy

The Modern Classics Series

This is my latest Blog series where I want to discuss the influence and the love of the Modern classics in art, popular culture and mainly literature.

Also in the series:

The Jazz Age


No matter which town you live in, or you are travelling to, you will always find a vintage themed bar. Many of them call themselves Speakeasy. Speakeasy now refers to the Prohibition Era themed bars. But originally they meant something else.

The origin of Speakeasy is engraved in the culture of the jazz age. The years between 1920 and 1933 was infamous as prohibition days in America. The new constitutional amendment prohibited the sale and purchase of alcohol or any form of liquor in public places. However, there were no restrictions in the personal consumption or possession of liquor. Anti- Salon movement and the high cases of alcohol abuse led to this decision by the congress.

Speakeasy were the illegal bars set up during prohibition. They functioned as ” well-known secret “because most of these bars had worked out kick backs for the local police. They also went with the name of “Blind Pig ” or “Blind tiger”. Speakeasy were responsible in bringing “the underground” culture. Underground bands were the bands that played in these bars. Lots of artists, writers and journalists were frequent in these places. Speakeasies had so much of Jazz in them and Jazz had so much of speakeasy in it’s personality.

Another contribution of these bars was towards the popularity of  Sweet or Fruit based Cocktails . In 19th century, there was flood of the pure liquor based cocktails (Pure gin martini for example) but due to bad quality of liquor in circulation during prohibition, fruit juices and sweeteners were added in the drinks, which saw the trend of these drinks. This era also saw the rise in the trend of “home brews” in America as it was not prohibited by the law.

There were many social criticism also of the prohibition. One of the main issues was the rise of organized crimes and corruption in the local bodies. Domestic trouble and alcohol related violence only dipped marginally but the social cost of Organized crimes and goons was too big for America. Poor quality of liquor cause many deaths and health related issues as well. Another major concern was the opportunity cost to the American Government in the tax revenues from alcohol. In 1929, USA slipped in to “The Great Depression” and many argued that the Government could have used extra dough from the liquor money. In 1933, the 19th amendment lifted the Prohibition on alcohol (in some states, the Prohibition stayed for few more months)

India also has it’s share of Speakeasy themed bars. PCO, in Vasant Vihar in New Delhi comes closest to it’s American counterpart. Here are some pictures.

pco New Delhi
From outside, it looks like Public Calling Booth or PCO – maintaining the underground theme of the place
PCO New Delhi
Outside you have to say the pass code to enter the place. This is more ceremonial in practice as most of the Speakeasy used to have passwords
pco 3
PCO pictures are in courtesy from mova1.net.in

Do you know any more Speakeasy in India or in your country? Or any interesting stories on speakeasy in general, please do share 🙂

4 Comments Add yours

  1. S says:

    This reminded me of the movie Bombay Velvet since I watched it recently. I didn’t know about these bars you mentioned. Google tells me there is one in Gurgaon. Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy. Must check out.


    1. I have to watch that movie. I know it got all bad review but I like the vintage fell of the movie. I checked the bar shared by you. Looks interesting 🙂 Thank you for the comment.


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