New York’s Prohibition Speakeasies

By Phin Upham

In the 1920s, a group of rural Protestants managed to pass legislation that banned the production, sale and distribution of liquor across the United States. The dry movement allowed for religious use of wine, but clamped down hard on illegal liquor sales and trafficking. The idea was to try and cure society of its ills with a bit of tough love, but ultimately the law would see repeal not long after its passage. It also gave birth to several important clubs.

300 Club

The 300 Club was one of the most well-known clubs in New York, and was raided several times by police. The emcee, who went by “Texas” Guinan, always managed to argue her way out of charges by claiming guests brought alcohol with them. George Gershwin often played impromptu piano there, and George Raft was discovered in that club.

El Fey

The El Fey was a high-class club that acted as a front for selling liquor. The club was fueled by Canadian liquor, brought in the trunks of cabs owned by Larry Fay. Fay had made a name for himself running booze, but “went straight” after he’d made a half million on the black market.

21 Club

When most people think about prohibition clubs, they probably envision the 21 Club. While the premises was raided several times, the owners were never caught in the act of selling liquor. The club used levers, and a sophisticated system of chutes, to dump bottles into the sewers so no one in the club would be caught handling bottles.


About the Author: Phin Uphamis an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.

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