Entry in progress—B.P.
A speakeasy was an establishment that surreptitiously sold alcoholic beverages during the period of United States history known as Prohibition (1920–1933, longer in some states), when the sale, manufacture, and transportation (bootlegging) of alcohol was illegal. The term comes from a patron’s manner of ordering alcohol without raising suspicion — a bartender would tell a patron to be quiet and “speak easy”.
Speakeasies became more popular and numerous as the Prohibition years progressed, and also became more commonly operated by those connected to organized crime. Although police and federal Bureau of Prohibition agents would raid such establishments and arrest the owners and patrons, the business of running speakeasies was so lucrative that such establishments continued to flourish throughout the nation. In major cities, speakeasies often were elaborate, offering food, live bands, floor shows, and stripteases. Corruption was rampant; speakeasy operators commonly bribed police either to leave them alone or at least to give them advance notice of any planned raids.
Other slang terms for an establishment similar to a speakeasy are blind pig, and gin joint or gin mill.
A blind pig, also known as a blind tiger, originated in the United States in the 1800s, when blue laws restricted the sale of alcoholic beverages. A saloonkeeper would charge customers to see an attraction (such as an animal), and provide a “complimentary” alcoholic beverage, thus circumventing the law.
The differences between a speakeasy and a blind pig were that a speakeasy was usually a higher class establishment (some in New York and other large cities even required coat and tie for men, and evening dress for women), and speakeasys invariably offered food, music or entertainment, or all three, besides drinking. A blind pig was generally a lower class dive, where only beer and liquor were available.
Estimates of the number of blind pigs in some major U.S. cities in the mid-1920s are:
. Chicago, Illinois: 10,000
. Detroit, Michigan: 15,000
. New York City, New York: 30,000-100,000
The federal Volstead Act, passed with new authority from the Eighteenth Amendment, put prohibition into effect on January 16, 1920. It lasted for almost fourteen years. After years of lobbying from Progressives (mainly the Anti-Saloon League and other militant organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union), the temperance crusade successfully lobbied states to pass new “dry” laws prohibiting “booze” and “Demon Rum”. The first state to go entirely dry was Kansas in 1881 (see Alcohol laws of Kansas). States which did not go dry were referred to as “wet” states.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
blind tiger U.S. = blind-pig
1857 Spirit of Times 23 May 182/1, I sees a kinder pigeon-hole cut in the side of a house, and over the hole, in big writin’, ‘Blind Tiger, ten cents a sight.’.. That ‘*blind tiger’ was an arrangement to evade the law, which won’t let ‘em sell licker there, except by the gallon.
1884 Arkansas Digest Laws 1883 493 Any person..who shall sell..any alcohol..by such device as is known as ‘the blind tiger’,..shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.
23 February 1885, New York (NY) Times, pg. 4:
A Calhoun County man, during a recent visit to a prohibition town, ran upon what is known as a “blind tiger.” The “blind tiger” is a house where the people can get whisky but do not know from whom they buy it. There is a hole in the side of the house with printed instructions above it. You place your bottle and money in the hole and both disappear, but in a few minutes your bottle returns full of whisky. No word is spoken and not a sound is heard except the rolling of the bottle.—Calhoun (Ga.) Times.
20 May 1885, New York (NY) Times, pg. 4:
“Blind tigers” is what they call the illicit whisky shops which dot the line between Northwest Georgia and Alabama. Several of the “tigers” have been raided within the past few days.—Savannah (Ga.) News.
The City in Slang:
New York Life and Popular Speech
By Irving L. Allen
New York, NY: Oxford University Press US
The old terms blind tiger and blind pig were revived for humorous use during the Prohibition and New Yorkers applied them to any speakeasy. Blind tiger dates back to the 1850s and blind pig was first recorded in 1887; blind pigger, the proprietor, was in used by 1894. Both terms are of Western and Southern origin and of obscure etymology. The idea of “blind” in both terms might refer to the old custom of covering the windows of such establishments—“blinding” them. Or the idea of getting “blind drunk” might have influenced the names or their subsequent popularity. For a more fanciful explanation, consider the title of a song of 1908, Bl-nd and P-g Spells Blind Pig, by Junie McCrea and Albert Von Tilzer.
New York City • Restaurants/Bars/Coffeehouses/Food Stores • Monday, January 12, 2009 • Permalink