In the first entry of this two-part series, we explored the bar’s journey from a generally alienated, diversified (in terms of the variety and number of drinks which were served), and largely unpopular type of establishment wherein few individuals gathered only occasionally, to the ultimate social platform that we know and love today. While this first entry was certainly accurate and factual, it painted in broad strokes; the emergence of the old-style English pub, its journey to America, and the effects of the Wild West on this style of pub were all significant, and greatly molded the style of bar that we enjoy today, but many other factors contributed to the development of taverns as well—most notably, Prohibition.
Prohibition signed into law in 1920 and not repealed until 1933, prohibited the sale, consumption, transport, and ownership of all forms of alcohol in the United States. While many adopted the belief that this measure would curb the public desire for alcohol, it actually further amplified most individuals’ interest in adult beverages, and in response to this increased interest, a black market was formed.
At a massive markup, numerous bootleggers, smugglers, and professional criminals obtained and sold alcohol to the public. Some ultra-popular gangsters—Al Capone, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Myer Lansky, for instance, all turned massive profits during this time. Interestingly, even Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., father of the 35th President of the United States, made money during Prohibition as a result of his bootlegging interests. Everyone was suddenly involved in spirits in one way or another (distribution, limitation, enjoyment, or a combination of these things) and undoubtedly, consumption during Prohibition was greater than it was before its enactment.
This thirteen-year period, which is historically significant in so many different ways, had a massive effect on the development of the style of bar that we know and love today. As more and more individuals frequented establishments that served alcohol—which was technically illegal—because they were so raw and exciting at the time, and also, because bars were steadily increasing in popularity prior to Prohibition, they emerged as the ultimate social hangout.
Think of it like this—alcohol-equipped businesses were interesting enough before Prohibition when they simply provided individuals with a way to socialize and relax with intriguing persons. During Prohibition, the number of patrons at each bar (or then, each speakeasy) increased, as did the general excitement of the establishments, because, for whatever reason, there is something inherently thrilling about overtly breaking the law, for many—especially in a relatively innocent fashion.
This increased excitement led to increased profits, and as more business professionals got word of the financial possibilities of bar ownership, the number of alcohol-serving establishments multiplied. And even after Prohibition, most of these establishments thrived—many more were opened-up as well. Bars also had more fans than ever before, and the large customer bases of Prohibition largely remained intact after its repeal.
In short, Prohibition hastened the development of the modern bar by attracting more individuals to the establishments—both patrons and business owners—and igniting an interest in the socialization opportunities provided by these places, which in-turn, allowed for the long-term growth and acceptance of the bar as both respectable and fun.
Be sure to discuss this information over a drink at your favorite local bar!