Give in to the Feeling is set during Prohibition in one of the most open cities of that time, Chicago.
One of the most charming (to our modern eyes) insitutions of Prohibition is the speakeasy, which was actually born many decades previous, when national prohibition wasn’t a reality but many states had already approved prohibition or temperance laws of their own.
My story is set in one fo such places.
Prohibition and the boots of speakeasis
It is estimated that by 1922 (two years into Prohibition) there were 5.000 speakeasies in NYC alone and only a few years later the number raised to 32.000. However, Police Commissioner Grover A. Whalen would say, “All you need is two bottles and a room and you have a speakeasy,” and put the number closer to 100.000.
The city’s reputedly wettest street was Fifty-Second between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, where a lady who occupied a guiltless brownstone between two speakeasies was compelled to post the sign, “This is a private residence. Do not ring.”
Secret places… or were they?
It’s hard to say what were the main characteristics of a speakeasy. There were as many variety of speakeasies as there were speakeasies, and the place where they operated was essential to their manner of existence and their ways of operations.
Speakeasies in cities like New York and Chicago, for example, weren’t really secret places. People knew where they were. Reception clerks in big hotels had business cards ready under the desk to hand out to visitors who wanted an exiting night out.
Many places, especially in the first years of Prohibition, would only offer ‘setups’. They would serve ginger ale and other mixers and customers would then pour in their own liquor. But as time passed speakeasies preferred to offer full service and only claim to serve setups if need be.
Give me the password
Many speakeasies were temporary ventures. When they got padlocked by the law, their owner would go to court, pay a fine, go home and open another speakeasy in another place.
Many operated very discreetly, earning a reputation by word of mouth and sometime requiring a secret knock, a password, or the company of a recognised customer in order to grant admission.
Membership card were also quite popular and they served a double purpose: admission was reserved to members only and you could stay as long as you wanted. In most cities there was a curfew at 2am, so all public places had to close at that time. But this didn’t apply to private clubs, which could stay open longer. And of course in some places – namely New York and Chicago and other big cities – nobody cared about the curfew.
The business of bootlegging
But the most typical practice was that speakeasy owners would bribe anyone who needed to be bribed and would pay protection.
Protection was usually included in the price of the liquor, which means it was up to whatever gang the owner got his booze from. That would also determined the political connection he would count on. In addition to this, owners had to tip or bribe the local police, the cop on the beat, the occasional prohibition agent who wandered in.
The percentage for protection also varied. In Chicago, it was around 20% of the owner’s earnings, but it rose (allegedly) to 25% during Big Bill Thompson second run for mayor in 1927.
Managing a speakeasy wasn’t a cheap business.
This article is part of my A to Z Challenge 2015 – Roaring Twenties. You can read the entire series on my blog The Old Shelter.
Available for preorder
I’m offering the book at $ 0,99 (€ 0,92 – £ 0,69) only for the pre-order period and since I love everyone who will order it (as authors should) I want to give you a gift. If you email me the receipt of your purchase at this email (firstname.lastname@example.org) I’ll send you a wallpaper inspired to my cover for you phone. It is a very exclusive wallpaper I will offer only for the preorder time of Give in to the Feeling and never again.
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