About us: history, genealogy, Americana Catalog



Americana from Between the Lakes Group


Speakeasy Cards

The speakeasy -- illicit drinking places -- were a result of the Prohibition amendment to the US Constitution.  It seems that the right to get drunk and make a fool out of oneself is ingrained in the American character, and well-meaning efforts to rid society of the scourge of demon rum, which finally were manifested in the 18th Amendment, really had not only the effect of making alcohol abusers out of people who otherwise would probably not have touched a drop, but also had reduced the regard our populace held -- and holds -- for the rule of law.  (For an interesting view of the prohibition movement, see our download on the first 20 years of the WCTU in New York State!)

Because the nature of the speakeasy was that it was essentially a public place, yet one that was performing an illegal activity, some way of conveniently identifying people who were not associated with law enforcement was needed by the speakeasy industry.  Initially, word of mouth and personal recognition served to identify people who could be admitted to illicit drinking establishments. 

However, as illegal drinking became more and more widespread, and more and more people wanted to do it, personal recognition of customers no longer sufficed.  Some form of portable identification was needed, and the speakeasy card was the result. 

The cards which appear here are from the collection of the late Edmond B. Brown, and are c. 1928.  Most are from New York City, where he was employed in the then-booming automobile industry, and where good customer relations always required taking the customer out for a drink.

Click on any of the images to see a larger version of the card.

44th Street Club

The 44th Street Club.  Not much question what this place was.

44th Street Club - reverse

Whether the typographical error on the card was intentional (note the misspelling of "Goodmam") is open to question, but it could have been a technique for spotting counterfeit cards.  Presumably Harry was the proprietor.  The card imitates the format of a social card of the era where the gentleman's club's name would appear on his cards. 

Boboli Restaurant

"Private Restaurant" was clearly a device by which customers could be screened before admission.  Brown's wife was once heard to refer to this particular establishment as "that blind pig!".  The term "blind pig" referred to a particularly low-class form of speakeasy without entertainment.

Boboli Restaurant

It appears that this inscription on the back of the card further verified it as genuine and the holder as authorized to enter.

Bond Club

The private club device was often used by a speakeasy to restrict admission.  Dues were nominal.  Interestingly, the name of the holder of this card was not the same as the name on the card itself.  Possibly the holder wished to be more or less anonymous.  Note also that no address is given on this card, making it more difficult to find if law enforcement happened upon the card.

Bond Club - reverse

On the reverse of the previous club, we see just how hard the place was to find -- instructions are written to facilitate finding the place from the Hotel Ten Eyck in Albany, NY.

Drury Lane

We do not know for sure that the Drury Lane Inn was a speakeasy!  This simply looks like an ordinary business card for a law-abiding restaurant, which the establishment probably pretended to be.  This is, frankly,  guilt by association -- there was no good reason to keep a legitimate restaurant's business card with one's speakeasy cards.

Drury Lane - reverse

We also do not know who these ladies are.  Brown was not married until 1929, so they could have been young ladies whom he met at that establishment.

LaSalle Restaurant

Again, the LaSalle Restaurant could have been a legitimate restaurant.  However, the color printing would have made this card more difficult to copy than others, and the additional typefaces used would further compound the problem in an era before color copiers.

LaSalle Inn reverse

The back of the LaSalle Restaurant card -- a calendar of the year 1928 -- increases the probability that this was a membership card masquerading as a business card.  The artifice of the calendar permits the person checking cards to ensure that the membership is current.

Richmond Grill

The Richmond Grill may or may not have been "A Unique Place" but it says it is.

Richmond Grill reverse

The back of the Richmond Grill card.

Hawthorne Club

We know nothing about the Hawthorne Club -- perhaps it was a reading group for the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, but we seriously doubt it.


CLICK HERE to return to our Americana page



Visit our BLOG



Find us on Facebook

Contacting us:

Between the Lakes Group is located at 372 Between the Lakes Road, in Salisbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut.  More specifically, we're in Taconic -- a hamlet  in the Twin Lakes area of the Town of Salisbury.  Questions about us or about our products?  Go to our Frequently Asked Questions page.  

Postal address:
Post Office Box 13
          Taconic, CT  06079-0013
Electronic mail:
Please Contact us to contact us via e-mail