The 1920’s were a revolutionary time in America. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, penicillin was discovered for the treatment of bacterial infections, and Mickey Mouse appeared on screen for the very first time. None of these things proved to be as upending as the passage of the Volstead Act, more commonly known as Prohibition. This act was passed in 1920 in an effort to reduce crime rates across America by limiting the sale and production of alcohol to only medicinal use. This effort soon proved to cause the opposite effect as illegal “speakeasies” began to pop up across the country where bootleg alcohol was sold to patrons in the shadows.
Speakeasies were hidden sections of an establishment that were used to illegally sell alcoholic beverages during Prohibition. Some speakeasies were even much like today’s clubs with singing and live jazz performances. To enter a speakeasy, a password was required to be given to the door person. This was required to ensure that the would-be patron was not actually a government agent intent on shutting the operation down. Our location in the Courtyard Marriott shows a glimpse of what these speakeasies typically looked like. You find many similarities entering the Northside Speakeasy through our newsstand or phone booth entrances. It has been said that for every legal saloon before Prohibition, at least half a dozen speakeasies were established after Prohibition was enacted. Being the manager of a speakeasy was easy money as the demand for alcohol did not decrease even when it became illegal. The word speakeasy was a bartender’s term: people were supposed to “speak easy” when at their bar, meaning not to draw any suspicion from government agents by looking nervous or talking quickly.
During Prohibition, the U.S. Treasury Department authorized physicians to write prescriptions for medicinal alcohol. Licensed doctors, with pads of government-issued prescription forms, advised their patients to take regular doses of alcohol to stave off several ailments - cancer, indigestion, and depression among them. Patients would obtain their prescriptions through a local Apothecary. Folk medicine techniques in the early apothecary, incorporating herbs and distilled spirits, are among the oldest known healing methods. Many of these ancient flower and herb-based remedies are still in use today, with the modern resurgence of concentrated flower treatments and herbal bitters used in healing, cooking and craft cocktails.