Shh! Come closer, as we’re about to reveal the secrets behind the origins of speakeasy bars.
The humble drinking establishment takes pride of place in many communities across the world. Most of them spring up naturally, because, rather like a cathedral establishes a city, a pub or bar can establish a village. But how many drinking establishments can say that they were the product of rule-breaking, boldness and community conspiracy in a secret act? The Book Cover, the one and only speakeasy bar Exeter has to offer, continues to live and breathe by this foundation.
The Prohibition in 1920s and 30s America is easy enough to understand; due to its bad reputation for inciting violence in the 19th century, alcohol was prohibited in 1920. The ban halted production lines, transportation and the sale of alcohol, making it impossible for anyone to get their hands on the good stuff…
…or so the authorities thought.
Using every ounce of their wit, innovation and cunning, those who valued the flavours, spirit and community that alcohol can bring decided that a ban wasn’t going to stop them from drinking. You may already know, here at The Book Cover, Exeter’s own speakeasy bar, both our name and our front of house ‘library’ are a homage to the innovative ways in which bars were concealed, or disguised from the prying eyes of law enforcement.
Various plans and inventions were used to avert the authorities’ eyes from the location of illicit businesses. For instance, who can resist the sight of a Greenland pig, rarely seen around these parts? For a small fee, everyone could catch an exciting glimpse – oh, and have a cheeky cocktail thrown in on the side. If it was free, it wasn’t illegal, right? This gave rise to nicknames for the bars such as ‘blind pig’ and ‘blind tiger’. The plan was quite simple: hide in plain sight.
Some speakeasies took things to the next level. For example, the 21 Club in New York City had a complex security system involving a spying doorkeeper, a chain of whispered warnings and an incredible mechanism that could transform the bar into an ordinary social room in a matter of seconds.
On the other hand, some bars would choose to keep everything concealed – even the identity of the seller. At their most extreme, speakeasies would be designed as saloons, where patrons could gather well within the sensibilities of the law. But the third cabinet to the left, fifth drawer up? If you put in a coin or two, a gin might be pushed out just moments later. This speakeasy bar in Exeter has taken after these cunning innovators; every evening, Mrs Lebowski dusts off books in her store whilst listening out for that all-important password.
Despite being illegal, speakeasies were incredibly popular during this thirteen year period. Many even hail them as early tacklers of racism, as people of all races gathered together within the national community of alcohol aficionados. Whilst the quality of the cocktails wasn’t always top notch, due to difficulties in obtaining the alcohol, it was, nonetheless, a silent revolution against the austere laws placed on society. By emulating this commitment to a great atmosphere, great people and great drinks, the Book Cover speakeasy bar in Exeter aims to welcome people from all walks of life; whether you love jazz or are completely new to it, whether gin is your thing (or not quite yet!).
So, when you visit The Book Cover, you are, in essence, being transported back in time. Take on the secretive and mysterious aura of those who rejected the strict laws of the Prohibition to embrace life and the love of alcohol. You can take it a step further (quite literally!) and enjoy the toe-tapping beats of jazz that got people up and dancing on the tables back in the 1930s. Most importantly, remember how lucky we are to have great music, great drinks and great company at the top speakeasy bar Exeter can offer, here in the modern day.