Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guys and Molls: secret doors, liquid fire and radio show

Guys and Molls
Event production by
Random Magic Tour
Sasha Soren (Random Magic)
Schedule of events
Nov. 10-17, 2011

...> Secret doors and liquid fire - Speakeasies <...

When Prohibition (1920-1933) arrived in the United States, making it illegal to sell, manufacture or transport alcohol, it seemed like the ongoing party that was the Roaring Twenties was over - but it had just begun.

Far from discouraging the public to give up alcohol, Prohibition just lent drink the irresistible allure of forbidden fruit. In New York City alone, there were already some 15,000 bars in business just before Prohibition went into effect. During Prohibition - when all bars were illegal - the number of bars reportedly doubled.

The 1920s saw the rise of 'blind tigers' and speakeasies. 'Blind tigers' or 'blind pigs' were bare bones establishments, often nothing more than a room with a handful of chairs and tables. They'd been around since the 19th century, and were basically a way for illegal saloons to stay in business.

The owner would officially charge customers to see an attraction (often an animal such as a goat or a pig), then serve a 'complimentary' alcoholic beverage alongside, getting around the fact that the barkeeper didn't happen to have a liquor license.

Speakeasies were typically a more glamorous sort of establishment; patrons would often be expected to dress in suit and tie or evening attire, and the entertainment was more likely to be a singer or a band, rather than a barnyard animal.

Patrons were expected to 'speak easy,' keeping the festivities to themselves and not drawing too much attention, but raids by police or agents of the Bureau of Prohibition were frequent, all the same. It was never a settled matter for the night whether the patrons of a speakeasy would end up having a marvelous night of cocktails and dancing, or end up cooling their heels in a jail cell. This ever-present danger, however, stopped no one from enjoying a night on the town.

Instead of bringing about a drop in crime, Prohibition caused it to spike; bootlegging was a brilliant money-making enterprise for mobsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, who'd otherwise had to get by on
gambling or protection rackets. The ban on alcohol and the resulting demand created profit potential into the millions on the upside, and turf wars soon erupted for a slice of that hugely profitable pie.

The merrymaking patrons of speakeasies weren't easily daunted by the prospect of street shoutouts outside or the prospect of being hauled off the the chokey. Why, no. They were evidently a dauntless group of individuals, indeed, as the act of lifting a glass could be enough to kill someone, all by itself.

The reason for this - well, Prohibition was on. Liquor distribution was irregular and the liquor procured was sometimes sketchy at best.

Bootlegged whiskey and gin, moonshine from hidden stills, could all contain an assortment of contaminants.

Perhaps more bizarrely, illicit drinks were sometimes poisoned, courtesy of the same government that'd banned alcohol, in the first place:

Rigorous enforcement had managed to slow the smuggling of alcohol from Canada and other countries. But crime syndicates responded by stealing massive quantities of industrial alcohol - used in paints and solvents, fuels and medical supplies - and redistilling it to make it potable.

To sell the stolen industrial alcohol, the liquor syndicates employed chemists to 'renature' the products, returning them to a drinkable state. Stolen and redistilled alcohol became the primary source of liquor in the country.

So federal officials ordered manufacturers to make their products more deadly. By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons [including] methyl alcohol. It was the last that proved most deadly. In 1926, in New York City, 1,200 were sickened by poisonous alcohol; 400 died. The following year, deaths climbed to 700.
(Source: The Chemist's War)

All told, it took a lot of brass to spend the odd evening at a new speako hidden behind an unmarked door or just around the corner...

But people did. The potential for starting off with cocktails and ending up in a psychiatric ward - or a coffin - deterred no one.

And what did these reckless folks fancy? Well, with the quality of the liquor running somewhere from tolerable to abominable to outright deadly, blended drinks were the top sellers during the Prohibition, mainly to disguise the taste of the alcohol.

There were like fizzes (made with lemon or lime), punches made of rum, like a Planter's Punch - or a Stinger, made with a shot of crème de menthe. Other drinks, like the Blue Moon or the Clover Club, were blends of alcohol with creme and syrup or syrup, lemon and egg white.

Preposterous concoctions! But, then, with all the danger from street shoot-outs to raids, and right down to the swish of dodgy alcohol in the glass, maybe a bit of contaminated raw egg white in your drink was the least of the trouble to anticipate on any given night.

After the repeal of Prohibition, speakeasies lost the luster of their illicit charm - but over a half a century later, in the 2000s, speakeasies (although this time of a legal variety), made a comeback.

Patrons yearning for the stealth of a 1920s-1930s speakeasy could get their fix at plain little appointment-only hideaways like Milk and Honey (New York City) or PDT (Please Don't Tell), the entrance to which is a phone booth.

Shown above: A hint of elegance is requested of patrons frequenting The Violet Hour

Also of interest, the Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco, with a secret library for book lovers; Purl in London; and the Violet Hour in Chicago, a speakeasy on which one patron comments glibly at eatery site, Yelp, 'There is a door hidden within the giant violet expanse that is the exterior, covered by an eye-test of geometric shapes...You'll never find the door if you're already drunk.'

Contemporary speakeasies do serve elegant and fabulous modern drinks but if you're curious about the real thing, here are some vintage Prohibition-era drinks to ogle.

Delicious - and, in that wild era of the 1920s-1930s - often deadly.

French 75
Mix Notes
About: Created in 1915 at a Paris landmark, Harry's New York Bar, by barman Harry MacElhone. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun. Also called a '75 Cocktail,' or 'Soixante Quinze' in French. The French 75 was popularized in America at the swanky Stork Club. (Source/Image)

Pink Lady
Mix Notes
About: The exact origin of the Pink Lady is unknown. During the Prohibition era (1920-1933) the cocktail was already established as a chic drink. During this time it was a popular drink in New Orleans and called the Pink Shimmy. In the 1950s it was reportedly the favorite pre-dinner cocktail of Hollywood siren Jayne Mansfield. (Source/Image)

Planter's Punch
Mix Notes
About: The recipe of Planter's Punch varies, containing some combination of rum, lemon juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, orange juice, grenadine, soda water, curaçao, Angostura bitters and cayenne pepper. The first known print reference to Planter's Punch was in the August 8, 1908 edition of the New
York Times
. (Source/Image)

Blue Moon
Mix Notes
About: Once a common ingredient in pre-Prohibition cocktails such as the Aviation, the Attention, and the Blue Moon, crème de violette slipped quietly out of sight when Crème Yvette, the best-known brand in the U.S., ceased production several decades ago. Although still available abroad, crème de violette soon became as elusive to Americans as absinthe. (Source/Image)

Mix Notes
About: The exact origin of the Sidecar is unclear, but it is thought to have been invented around the end of World War I in either London or Paris. The first recipes for the Sidecar appear in 1922, in Harry MacElhone's Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails and Robert Vermeire's Cocktails and How to Mix Them.

The Sidecar is often singled out as the only good cocktail to come out of the long national nightmare that was Prohibition. And when you're sipping one, you almost think it was all worth it. The luminous, golden-straw color, the perfectly controlled sweetness, the jazzy high notes of the citrus against the steady bass of the brandy. This is a drink whose suavité is beyond question. -David Wondrich, cocktail historian (Source/Source/Image


...> Theater of the air: Angels with Dirty Faces <...

We have a vintage treat for you! Before television, people gathered around the radio to enjoy stories of mystery, drama, suspense and romance...and gangsters.

In the dark days of the Great Depression, the reckless antics of outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde, or mobsters like Al Capone, fascinated a public weighed down with the grim daily realities of bread lines and soup kitchens.

There've been movies about gangsters released in every decade, from the 1920s through the 2000s, but the 1930s were really the golden age for mob films - and radio shows.

Tonight, we invite you to turn off the TV, dim the lights, and enjoy a vintage 1930s radio show about two childhood friends. Both of them involved in crime, both part of a fateful chase. One of them went on to become a priest. The other one, well...fate had other plans for this son of the mean streets.

Rocky Sullivan: What's the matter with you?

You want to get your skull full of lead?

Get out of here!

I thought you were smarter than trying to stick your kisser in a place like this.

Father Jerry Connolly: I couldn't stand by and watch them shoot you down, Rocky.

Starring James Cagney as loyal friend - and mobster - Rocky O'Sullivan, and Pat O'Brien as the sinner-turned-saint trying to save a group of street kids from the same fate as his friend, here we have a story about friendship, violence, loyalty and a strange kind of redemption: Angels with Dirty Faces (1939).

Listen: Part 1 of 5

Listen: Part 2 of 5

Listen: Part 3 of 5

Listen: Part 4 of 5

Listen: Part 5 of 5 (Conclusion)

Show notes:
Vintage radio show: Angels with Dirty Faces (1939)
Starring: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien

Note: Radio show (1939) in public domain (U.S.), but film version (1938) is not.

~-~-~-~-~ guest ~-~-~-~-~

This is a guest post for Guys and Molls
by Sasha Soren (Random Magic).

Shown above: Trailer for Random Magic

More about Random Magic can be found below, feel free to browse.

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There are all kinds of great features on this event, so feel free to visit some of the other posts, just click on any of the badges at the bottom of this post to find lots of other cool posts on 1930s gangsters.

~-~-~-~-~ guest ~-~-~-~-~


For more Guys and Molls...

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* image sources: flapper, flappers, flappers2, gal powdering her nose, violet hour, movie poster1, rocky and father jerry)

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