Faint notes of syncopated saxophone linger in the distance as you head down a dimly back alley. Knock twice on the nondescript wooden door and whisper the secret phrase. With a creek, the door opens a few inches and slip inside.
It’s 1920 and the 18th Amendment is in full swing. That’s right. Alcohol is outlawed, but that doesn’t stop the people of Los Angeles. From backrooms to basements, denizens got creative.
Mostly run by mobsters and gangsters and filled with an insufficient selection of barely drinkable, potent potables, these underground, hidden away operations garnered the name “speakeasy” because bartenders would remind their patrons to “speak easy” and keep the details of the joint under wraps. A secret network of underground tunnels was used to smuggle alcohol throughout the city.
Local and federal governments struggled to enforce Prohibition throughout the 1920s. From bootlegging — the illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor — and bathtub gin, those who wanted to drink found ever-more inventive ways to hit the bottle. Crime rates were up and the economy was down. Finally, on Dec. 5, 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, the 21st Amendment was ratified, bringing Prohibition to an end.
While there are several original speakeasies throughout the country, bars and shops are recreating the experience. Hidden in anonymity, tucked-away rooms reference an era of passwords and passageways and offer a glimpse into the past.
Intimate, candle-lit spaces provide a gentle ambience for Mixologists to shake up craft cocktails and patrons to tap their toes to the smooth jazz emanating from the 1920s-inspired speakers. There is something about finding secret doors and climbing hidden stairwells.