A speakeasy, also called a blind pig or blind tiger, is an establishment that illegally sells alcoholic beverages. Such establishments came into prominence in the United States during the Prohibition era (1920–1933, longer in some states). During that time, the sale, manufacture, and transportation (bootlegging) of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout the United States.
Speakeasies largely disappeared after Prohibition was ended in 1933, and the term is now used to describe some retro style bars.
Speakeasies were numerous and popular during the Prohibition years. Some of them were operated by people who were part of organized crime. Even though police and agents of the Bureau of Prohibition would often raid them and arrest their owners and patrons, they were so profitable that they continued to flourish.
According to an 1889 newspaper, "Unlicensed saloons in Pennsylvania are known as 'speak-easies'." They were "so called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbors." The term is reported to have originated with saloon owner Kate Hester, who ran an unlicensed bar in the 1880s in the Pittsburgh area town of McKeesport, Pennsylvania.
Blind pigs and blind tigers
The term "blind pig" (or "blind tiger") originated in the United States in the nineteenth century; it was applied to lower-class establishments that sold alcoholic beverages illegally. The operator of an establishment (such as a saloon or bar) would charge customers to see an attraction (such as an animal) and then serve a "complimentary" alcoholic beverage, thus circumventing the law.
In desperate cases it has to betake itself to the exhibition of Greenland pigs and other curious animals, charging 25 cents for a sight of the pig and throwing in a gin cocktail gratuitously.
[They] are in a mysterious place called a blind tiger, drinking the very bad whiskey for which Prohibition is indirectly responsible.
The poor quality bootleg liquor sold in speakeasies was responsible for a shift away from 19th century 'classic' cocktails, that celebrated the raw taste of the liquor (such as the Gin Cocktail, made with Genever (sweet) gin), to new cocktails aimed at masking the taste of rough moonshine. These masking drinks were termed 'pansies' at the time (although some, such as the Brandy Alexander, would now be termed 'classic').
The name 'speakeasy' was revived in the late 2000s in the United States, to refer to a legal, prohibition-themed cocktail bar, generally serving only classic cocktails. The term has now expanded, to include all retro bars, and to non-Prohibition countries such as Australia (by 2010) and the United Kingdom (by 2012).
In many rural towns, small speakeasies and blind pigs were operated by local business owners. These family secrets were often kept even after Prohibition ended. In 2007 secret underground rooms thought to have been a speakeasy were found by renovators on the grounds of the Cyber Cafe West in Binghamton, New York.
- Cheney Sentinel. September 13, 1889. p. 1, col. 1. (A newspaper in Cheney, Washington)
- Harper, Douglas. ""speakeasy"". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
- MacRae, David (1870). The Americans at Home: Pen-and-Ink Sketches of American Men, Manners, and Institutions. Volume II. Edinburgh, Scotland. p. 315.
- Atlantic Monthly (February, 1912): p. 206.
- Shay, "Ten Best Cocktails of 1934", Esquire Vol 2, December 1934, p.40"
- Grimes, "Bar, What Bar?", The New York Times, 2 June 2009
- "Dick & Christa Hughes bring Speakeasy Sundays to the Sydney Opera House". Media Release. Sydney Opera House. June 24, 2010. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- Diamond (January 12, 2012). "Jazz Age Comes to London". Culture Compass. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- Sweeny, Caitlin. "Remains of Speakeasy found in Cyber Cafe parking lot" April 17, 2007. Pipe Dream : Binghamton University. June 2, 2012.
- Kahn, Gordon, and Al Hirschfeld. The Speakeasies of 1932. New York: Glenn Young Books, (1932, rev. 2003). ISBN 1-55783-518-7
- Loretta Britten, Paul Mathiess, ed. Our American Century Jazz Age: The 20's. 1998. Time Life Books. New York: Bishop Books Inc., 1969. ISBN 0-7835-5509-1
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- Galperina, Marina. "The Museum of the American Gangster Opens Doors of Former Speakeasy in March." February 19, 2010. Animal New York. 25 March 2010.