Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Learning | Speakeasies

Here's a sentence I never thought I would type: I recently visited a speakeasy in San Francisco, and it was a learning experience!

Here are a few facts I learned in connection to my visit:

from Francisco Meirino's photostream on
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The term speakeasy reflected the need for secrecy, when serving liquor that was prohibited by the Volstead Act (also known as the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.) Customers were asked to "speak easy," to avoid drawing attention to the business. You may have seen movies or cartoons showing people knocking on a door to give a password ("Al sent me") to enter. Speakeasies were also known as blind pigs, or blind tigers. As I poked around for information after my visit, I learned that blind pig probably got its name in the first half of the 19th century, long before the Prohibition Era. Illegal drinking establishments, selling poor-quality, unregulated liquor sometimes skirted the law by charging money to see an interesting pig...and giving a free shot of gin to those who paid admission.

That brings me to the subject of bathtub gin. I have heard that term ever since I was a small child, and thought it meant people used a bathtub to make homemade liquor. (Yuck!!!)  But that's not quite true. People found many ways to make liquor, during the period when they could not buy it, and they did make gin; they made gin in a container that was too large to be filled with water from the sink--it had to be set in the bathtub, in order to add water from the bathtub tap.

Cocktails, or mixed drinks containing alcohol and two or more ingredients, became popular during the Prohibition era. Think about it--in those days, it was much harder to obtain brand-name, quality liquor, so complicated recipes were invented to cover up bad flavors. Some have also observed that cocktails would be more practical in a speakeasy, because they are easier to consume quickly, before running out the back door to escape a raid. 

The term Old-Fashioned was invented to distinguish a simpler, older mixed drink from cocktails, which were considered to be complex.  Old-Fashioneds are made by muddling sugar with bitters, then adding alcohol, and finally a twist of citrus.  (That sounds fairly complicated to me, but, then, I'm not much of a drinker.)

For your vicarious, and totally legal, enjoyment, I have prepared a list of fiction books about Prohibition for adult readers. No pigs required!

If you are interested in historical facts and the social ramifications of the Eighteenth Amendment and its repeal, I have compiled a short list of

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