It is ingrained within us as individuals, our hunger for freedom, to fight when our rights are threatened. Imagine sitting at home after a long day relaxing in an over-stuffed chair with your feet before a roaring fire as the rich, intoxicating aroma of a cigar intermingles with the crackling of the flames and the smooth, oaky taste of a fine scotch sits warm on your lips as it leaves your glass. Now, imagine this simple freedom was suddenly forbidden by the heavy hand of the Government and your time of peaceful unwind was taken from you. What would you do? Shrug your shoulders and move on? Or would you fight back with all the dignity of a hard-working contributor to society who has earned his (or her) God-given right to enjoy a stiff beverage?
In the 1920’s, spirited revolutionaries did just that in the wake of Prohibition – when the Government laid down the hammer on its citizens in the form of the 18th Amendment which banned all alcohol production, sale and consumption. To be fair not all government agreed with the amendment, Rhode Island and Connecticut rejected the 18th Amendment’s ratification in 1919 and President Woodrow Wilson later vetoed the Volstead Act which set forth the means for enforcing prohibition rules. President Wilson’s veto attempt was short-lived however as the House of Representative and the Senate both voted to override the veto on the following day.
In rebuke to the Government’s attempt at controlling the masses, Speakeasies were born and became the hot item of the decade. Speakeasies were hidden locations throughout cities that moonlighted as an ordinary business (i.e. a café or a book store) but contained a secret entrance to another part of the building where one could purchase and drink alcohol under the radar. The location of these secret places was not advertised save for word of mouth (hence the term, speakeasy) and every location contained an exit route in case of police invasion. (This is how the term “86’d” was born as people escaped the clutches of the law by ducking out through these secret exits spots). These locations sprouted up across the US throughout the Roaring 20’s until Prohibition ended in the 1930’s.
Within the speakeasies themselves, additional cultural changes began to occur. Prior to the Prohibition era saloons were primarily a place for males and in majority of cases Caucasian males. The desire to imbibe and share experiences with likeminded individuals served as a catalyst for a large underground desegregation movement. Speakeasies became safe havens for both men and women alike, and people of all colors, shapes, and sizes. People who came together with little to no dispute about their previous differences. As one might imagine, the introduction of women into the speakeasy culture was big draw for many prospective patrons.
Perhaps the best-known result of Prohibition was the rise of organized crime that resulted. The mafia and other gangs quickly took advantage of the opportunity to bootleg and distribute alcohol to the ever-popular speakeasies. Al Capone being the most famous kingpin of the era, generated an estimated $60 million annually from the bootlegging and speakeasy operations he owned. In addition to bootlegging, prostitution and illegal gambling reached new heights during the era as well. An amendment that was enacted to reduce the amount of crime and disorderly actions of the American people had clearly backfired in this regard.
The history of Speakeasies is a good reminder that for generations, we as free individuals have fought to preserve our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It speaks to our innate desire to seek out what makes us happy and keep that happiness alive. Whether it’s running a speakeasy in old time New York City, leading a hike through the Appalachians or simply taking a stroll through the historic downtown Boise, ID, we will always strive to live our best lives because that’s worth fighting for. That’s the Advanced Primate mission.