At Johnny’s Bar & Grill, we’re passionate about not only serving up the best food and drinks around but an amazing experience as well. This commitment to what we do have gotten us curious about how the American bar tradition really took off in the first place. So we followed the historical trail all the way back to the roaring twenties when the speakeasies rose to prominence. After learning the colorful history of early American bar life, we put together this brief history of the speakeasy for you to enjoy!

History of the Speakeasy

The History

America has always had a storied history with bars and alcohol. What’s more iconic of the Wild West than the saloon? This love affair with bar life skyrocketed at the time you would least expect. In 1920, prohibition was set into law and all sales of alcoholic beverages over 0.5 alcohol became illegal. Soon after, people looking to get their fix of beers and spirits had to do so in secret. Thus the speakeasy was born.

In the need for secrecy, most speakeasies opened within already established shops and restaurants. These speakeasies were often guarded by a doorman who requested a password that those in the know would be able to give him. This helped to prevent government agents from infiltrating the speakeasy and added to the members’ only environment. These hidden bars became host to a vibrant cultural and music scene and were responsible for the growing popularity of things like swing dancing and jazz music.

To put into context how popular these establishments became, for every bar or saloon that legally existed before prohibition, at least a half dozen speakeasies took their place. The term “speakeasy” came from the unspoken code to have a sense of anonymity and to prevent drawing suspicion when drinking at the bar. These spots quickly became a hotbed for crime and illicit behavior, with gangs and criminal organizations providing the liquor. Many of the famous gangsters of the time like Al Capone, gained notoriety hustling alcohol.

Many popular drinks were birthed during this era. Drinks like the Mule and Rum Monkey were created as code names to obscure that people were talking about alcoholic drinks. The lively environment and competition between speakeasies fostered many a great drink. During the time of prohibition between 1920 and 1933, drinking culture reached new heights and the party has never stopped since.

While the Volstead Act that started prohibition may be over, Johnny’s Bar & Grill is still carrying the speakeasy drinking environment alive. With tons of great drinks and a fun atmosphere that flappers and gentlemen back in the day would dance all night long, we’re the perfect place for your good times!