"Shh... speak easy boys, speak easy!"
Kate Hester, McKeesport, Pennsylvania

The Speakeasy

Prohibition and the rise of the Speakeasy

Long before prohibition, back in the 1880s when Pennsylvania hiked the state saloon licence fee by a thousand percent, the number of illegal, unlicensed bars in the state grew. Kate Hester, a saloon owner in McKeesport, would regularly tell her rowdy patrons to"Speak easy, boys" and so The Speakeasy was born!

After 1919, as Prohibition took hold in major cities across North America, illegal drinking was once again on the rise and so were the Speakeasies. Folks from all walks of life rubbed shoulders with two shared goals; getting their hands on the best illegal liquor around, and having a damn good time.

The anything-goes drinking clubs soon became the centre of a social scene through the Roaring Twenties in North America, Berlin, London and Paris and past the '29 crash into Great Depression. Even after the repeal of Prohibition in '33, these in-the-know destinations became full of folks who liked to indulge their vices without being watched.

Where the saloon had previously been off limits to women, they now flocked to the speakeasies to enjoy the new "cocktails". In an age of fads, the speakeasy quickly became the "cat's pajamas" and the "bee's knees" and almost overnight America became a society of alcoholics.

At the centre of these hideouts was the music and especially in major cities, they rapidly became much more than just "Blind Pig" backstreet hillbilly drinking dens. They took influence from their own Frontier history where every saloon had an out of tune piano in the corner, a floor show and possibly some unconventionally-moralled women upstairs. And they drew further still from the Music Hall, Burlesque and other decadent movements from around the world until they could often became elaborate affairs, offering food, live music and floor shows.

Henhouse Slang

It's not surprising that an establishment like Minnie's evolves its own Vernacular. Below are a few examples to help you find your way through.

The Henhouse : 'Henhouse' is Minnie's variant on the frontier term 'cat house'. Minnie's Henhouse is more speakeasy than bordello though. Or is it?...

The Hens : The performers - singers, dancers, and every other artiste that calls The Henhouse 'home'.

The Henhouse Boys : The band and other players that provide accompaniment for the entertainment, The Henhouse Boys live inside Minnie's world. They enjoy exclusive access to it, but are mostly immune to its exotic charms. There are exceptions, but they don't usually last too long.

Barn Dogs : Dogs have no place in a henhouse, and men have no place in a locked bordello, but some of these men were raised here from cubs and they're pretty much all house-trained. As well as helping to serve drinks, they provide security, keeping the Chickenhawks out, and the Battery Chicks from getting too close to the Hens.

Chickenfeed : Everybody's gotta eat and Minnie is no exception! Leave your credit cards at the door, this Henhouse is a cash only establishment!

Swill : Some venues only serve mixers and non-alcoholic cocktails but if customers bring their own hip flasks, what is Minnie supposed to do, throw them out?

The Battery Chicks : The poor, unsuspecting punters don't realise that they'll soon be somebody's Sunday Roast. They spend their hard-earned cash at The Henhouse for an earful of the best entertainment in town, a glimpse of thigh, and a glass of something wet with a kick. Texas Guinan may have welcomed her customers at the 300 Club with a "Hello, Suckers! Come on in and leave your wallet on the bar." but Minnie is (usually) a little more polite.

Chickenhawks : Any authority figure looking to upset a happy Henhouse; police, licensing officers, fire marshals, traffic wardens clamping customers' cars; a Chickenhawk is the kind of person who normally carries a badge. The Barn Dogs can usually deal with them outside, but sometimes they need 'feeding', and Minnie or The Rooster will have to share a little hard-earned chickenfeed to keep them sweet.

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