As Americans, we like to look back to the Roaring Twenties and the Prohibition Era with a fond feeling of nostalgia. It was a simpler time, and a time romanticized in movies. Prohibition was the ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, in place from 1920 to 1933.
It was not as successful in practice as it looked on paper. Organized crime rose, and bootleggers and speakeasies became popular, serving up cocktails, beer, moonshine and bathtub gin.
Chicago, interestingly enough, was a major center of Prohibition, complete with notorious gangsters and speakeasies.
Prohibition in Chicago - Fun Facts
- A few speakeasies and mob hangouts, like John Barleycorn’s and the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, are still in business today.
- It was estimated that Al Capone, Chicago’s most famous gangster, bootlegger and crime boss, raked in $60 million alone on alcohol sales in 1927.
- 227 gangsters were killed in the space of four years in the 1920s in Chicago.
- During the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where members of Capone’s crime outfit gunned down rival gang members associated with Bugs Moran, Capone’s men dressed as police officers and pretended to arrest Moran’s men.
- Chicago had hundreds of bars that remained open in the 1920s, with blank storefronts and secret side entrances.
- Speakeasies in Chicago not only had liquor, but also food service, live bands and shows.
- While speakeasies were regarded as higher class, with food and entertainment, the term “blind pig” was used for dive bars, where customers would pay to see an animal and receive a complementary drink.
- Beer was easier to produce, because it could be brewed and ready to drink after only a few days. Since hard liquors required aging, gangsters and bootleggers would have to acquire it from outside the country – from Canada, through Detroit.
- After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, many Chicago gangs turned their attention to labor racketeering and gambling. Interestingly, the Berghoff Restaurant in Chicago has the first liquor license issued in Chicago after Prohibition ended and it's on display in the restaurant's bar.