With the passing of the 18th amendment in 1920, prohibition hit the United States with a bang. Bars across the country held huge last drink parties counting down to the hour of temperance. A two decade long campaign for prohibition won out at a time when America was at it’s most volatile in decades. Hitting a mini depression in the first year of tolerance, unemployment reached almost 12% by the end of 1921 as a result of the economic effects of the end of the First World War two years prior. As such the country was full of jobless young men who had seen war and been trained to kill and survive in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. Add to the mix almost 14 years of prohibition and the result is a nationwide network of illicit entrepreneurs used to high risk and high reward in a nation largely supportive of their services while turning a blind eye to their methods. And at the heart of it all was the one place where the two groups (and often the two sides of the law) could come together in mutual appreciation – the Speakeasy.
First used in the early 19th century to describe an old English smugglers den, the Speak Softly Shop came to define a place where patrons were required to keep their voices down to avoid detection. While the word became repopularised during American prohibition, it was just one of many description used to describe a prohibition bar. Some neighborhoods referred to them as Hooch Joints, Buffet Flats or Beer Flats. The name Blind Tiger, Blind Bull or Blind Pig also became common.
While a little less obvious than the other names, Blind Pig can be referenced back to a 19th century tavern in the state of Maine where a proprietor “sold patrons tickets to view a blind pig he kept in the back room. Along with every admission, every customer was treated with a free glass of rum”. Naturally.