Charley's Speakeasy

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"Charley's" was a notorious Lower East Side speakeasy during the dry years of Prohibition (1920-1932). It was located at 94 St. Mark's Place, which now houses an independent theater situated below a tattoo parlor. Although this area is now known as the East Village, during Charley's' heyday, it was still the Lower East Side, a working class, immigrant neighborhood.


Famous Patrons

Although none of their biographers or press agents ever confirmed it to be true, Charley's boasted many famous entertainers, politicans and members of organized crime among its clientele. Hot Box dancer Annie Miller wrote in her diary, "Tonight was the most! I could not believe my peepers when I saw the very one, Mr. Charles Lindbergh, at the poker table. He could fly me any time!" Other sightings included gangster "Lucky" Luciano, entertainer Al Jolson, sports greats Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth ("What an old rummy!" writes Ms. Miller. "He kept eyeing my gams!"), dancer Jospehine Baker, and the "most famous person who ever lived" Charlie Chaplin. Legend has it that Governor Al Smith and Mayor Jimmy "Beau James" Walker even turned up a few nights.


The establishment's namesake, Charley, was a mysterious figure. Both his wife, Paloma Arizona, and his sister, Margot O'Connell, managed Charley's, but there is no record of where Charley went on his frequent, long absences from New York City. A faded postcard to Peru from Hot Box dancer Flower Power Piscosour alluded to an ill-fated romance with Charley, but other reports point to that being wishful thinking on the part of the young immigrant. There is only one known photo of him, and no one has been able to determine when or where it was taken.

The Raid

In the early morning of December 24th, 1931, a little less than two years before the ratification of the 21st Amendment (which repealed Prohibition), the Bureau of Prohibition took action in a years-long sting operation and shut down Charley's for good. Arrested in the melee were Charley's wife and sister, as well as Detective Seamus Michael O'Shaughnessy, who had been taking pay-offs to keep the establishment running. Charley was never aprehended, and remains at large to this day (although most people believe he must have died by the turn of the millenium).


A speakeasy was an establishment which illegally sold alcoholic beverages during the period of United States history known as Prohibition (1920-1932, longer in some states). During this time, the sale, manufacture, and transportation (bootlegging) of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout the United States.

The term may have come from a patron's manner of ordering an alcoholic drink without raising suspicion - bartenders would tell patrons to be quiet and "speak easy", - or from patrons' ability to talk about alcohol without fearing that a government official might be listening.

Speakeasies became more popular and numerous as the Prohibition years progressed and more of them were operated by people connected to organized crime. Although police and Bureau of Prohibition agents would raid them and arrest the owners and patrons, the business of running speakeasies was so lucrative that they continued to flourish throughout America. In major cities, speakeasies were often quite elaborate, offering food, live music, floor shows, and striptease dancers. Corruption was rampant - speakeasy operators routinely bribed police to leave them alone or to give them advance notice of raids.

Blind pig and blind tiger are terms for an establishment similar to a speakeasy.

"In desperate cases it has to betake itself to the exhibition of Greenland pigs and other curious animals, charging 25 cents for a sight of the pig and throwing in a gin cocktail gratuitously."

The difference between a speakeasy and a blind pig was that a speakeasy was usually a higher-class establishment that offered food, music, live entertainment, or even all three. In large cities, some speakeasies even required a coat and tie for men, and evening dress for women.

Thanks to the real Wikipedia for this info on Speakeasies!

Location and Details for Shhh... It's a Speakeasy

"Shhh... It's a Speakeasy" is a fundraiser for Rising Sun Performance Company. It takes place at Charley's - aka Under St. Mark's Theater - 94 St. Mark's Place (map). The date is Sunday, March 21. Starts at 7:00 pm, ante up at 7:30 pm. There will be free beer, $3 wine and champagne and free non-alcoholic drinks (for those of you into temperance). Games, prizes, dancing girls and the Tin Pan Blues Band are also on tap. Tickets are $25 at the door or $18 in advance at Smarttix. Dress to impress. 1920s style is encouraged. The password is "Jeepers Creepers".

Gordon's Grand Street Stompers