Easy Speak

Wallace Morgan for The New Yorker, October 11, 1930

As you can see, illustrator Morgan was a master of movement, using his sketches to adeptly convey the energy and complexity of the speakeasy. Also called a blind pig or a blind tiger, a speakeasy was an illicit establishment that sold alcoholic beverages. I was today years old when I learned of the two blind terms. Now it makes sense that I went to a bar called The Blind Tiger in Shreveport 24 years ago, where I met comedian Mario Joyner, who invited my galpal and me to Harrah’s to gamble with him. But that’s another story for another time.

Contrary to the term, it was not a place where it was “easy to speak;” in fact, the opposite was true. It was a place that necessitated one speak easily or softly, as selling and consuming the bootleg booze was illegal. You can see the quiet conversations, imagine the hushed tones, of the clients, keeping it all on the downlow until sufficient intoxication raised their voices. That’s the power of the drink. We’ve all seen a gaggle of middle-aged women drinking margaritas at a Mexican restaurant. Speech is never soft.

From the last sip to a stolen kiss to gossip and entrances, Morgan was able to make the background just as engaging as the foreground.

When the comic was published, the country still had yet three years of Prohibition remaining.

But until then, speakeasies flourished. NYC claimed over 100,000 speakeasies alone. Saloons with player pianos and swinging doors made way for password-protected jazz-playing joints. Instead of aligning with the Prohibition moral compass, American women let loose with drinking, smoking, dancing, bobbing their hair, and donning shortened skirts. Make way the flapper. Gone were basic beer and liquor, as cocktails required mixers to make hootch drinkable. And once folks tasted sugary, fruity drinks, those who had never enjoyed beer and liquor found they enjoyed this new concoction. Organized crime soared. Cops couldn’t keep up with raiding and disposing. It was a losing battle. No wonder FDR repealed the 18th Amendment as soon as he was elected. The woman in the foreground clearly isn’t playing.

Time Magazine

 

 

Brooklyn Gutter Wine

Daily News

I don’t know what’s more disturbing; that federal agents dumped barrels of wine into the gutter, or that neighborhood kids are frantically trying to salvage it. I’ve never been a believer in the five-second rule. Once an item makes contact with filth, it is instantly defiled. And no amount of assuring me that “alcohol kills the germs” would convince me. But that’s 1926 for you.

In the next image, federal agents are actively pouring whiskey down a sewer, per the 18th Amendment, passed 99 years ago, come Wednesday. Such a waste.

Corbis-Bettmann

The Century by Jennings and Brewster