When there was a bar under every corner

by DRM

For thirteen years, an entire nation introduced a law that made the sale of liquor illegal, but did not outlaw the consumptionof liquor. This inconsistency created an entire culture of play, where an entire generation connived to find ways to get a hold of booze, get drunk and have fun. This game funded the explosion of the mafia, a seaboard culture of smuggling and depleted the coffers of local governments. It was a misguided social experiment that attempted to appease the sensibilities of a Puritan minority.

In an odd quirk, my family’s history bookended Prohibition: my great grandfather had a saloon in Brooklyn that was put out of business at the start of Prohibition, and my grandfather opened a bar in Miami as soon as prohibition was repealed. Both businesses embodied rich dreams and failed hopes, and left a legacy that burdened both men, in life and after.

The map above captures the subterranean vitality of the speakeasy culture. As the map says, the bars will come and go, but rest assured, you’ll find one wherever you turn.

That was the Jazz age and its decline: contradiction, energy, glee and an essential disconnect with the memes of the body politic.