Eighty years ago today, Prohibition ended. Time Inc. commemorates the occasion by revisiting its photos of speakeasies in the 1930s. The photos are a little more restrained and genteel than what I imagined speakeasies would be…they kind of look like modern day New York Sunday brunch, except with dressed-up people.
I love the originally-published intro to the photo essay (the photos were shot by Margaret Bourke-White), which describes why New York is way better than San Francisco and Chicago:
The speakeasy [FORTUNE told its readers, betraying a fair bit of patrician hauteur] has flowered successfully only in New York. In San Francisco it is dull and obscure; in Chicago, tough and noisy; in the South almost nonexistent. In most cities, drinking, like eating, is done at home or in the country club. In New York alone has the speakeasy become the instrument of a civilized social life, something between a pre-prohibition restaurant and a coeducational club. There are, therfore, in New York, speakeasies for every taste and purse… . The pictures on these pages present a fair cross-section of the reputable ones. They are probably the first pictures ever taken of speakeasies in action. They may be the last: no one can prophesy the future of these curious by-prodcuts of the post-War age if and when prohibition is repealed. If they survive it will be as restaurants with bars; locked doors will no longer spice the drinks. It is for a future that will want to know how New Yorkers of the ’20s lived that FORTUNE presents this portfolio of Margarte Bourke-White’s pictures.