Then and Now: Time Travel to 15 Cities During Prohibition
For 13 long years, Americans couldn't get a drink. Not legally. The 18th Amendment banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor, and as of Jan. 17, 1920, Prohibition began.
Until the 21st Amendment was enacted on Dec. 5, 1933, legalizing alcohol again, Americans had to find other ways to enjoy a cold one (or three), which led to bootlegging and other crimes.
These 13 years shaped the country in more ways than one. From the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression, Americans were undergoing serious changes. Take a look at how this period in time shaped some of America's largest cities then and now.
New York City Then
When people think of Prohibition, they think of speakeasies. These secret and hidden places to get a drink were entirely illegal, so one would "speak easy" about their locations or when inside one so as not to alert the police.
But they weren't always so quiet. One of the most famous speakeasies was Harlem's Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway led jazz and swing bands.
New York City Now
In fact, the Cotton Club was part of the Harlem Renaissance, when the neighborhood became a mecca for Black culture following the post-slavery Great Migration.
The nightclub is still standing, with live jazz and blues performances, along with another one of Harlem's world-famous performing arts venues, the Apollo Theater.
With alcohol sales and manufacture illegal came the rise of the mob with one of the most notorious, Al Capone, earning millions bootlegging and distributing booze in Chicago.
His mob was responsible for a number of violent acts across the city, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929 in which 14 rival gangsters were killed execution-style. Capone was eventually arrested for tax evasion and sent to prison in 1931.
Capone's mob pal Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn ran a popular speakeasy called the Green Mill. Speakeasies from Prohibition were no longer needed when traditional bars could once again serve alcohol, but Machine Gun's popular jazz club remained in fashion and is still a staple of the Windy City to this day. You can grab a drink and listen to jazz like it was yesteryear.
The city's attractions also include gangster tours that will show you where historic mob moments took place — and that includes Capone's former home.
Massachusetts was one of the first states in favor of National Prohibition, itself launching its own temperance law in 1838. But like Chicago, the ban of booze only inspired Irish-American gangs to emerge. As the largest immigrant population in the city, the Irish also dominated the police force.
A tight-knit community, the Irish gangs and Boston police were soon working together, with many police officers accepting bribes and looking the other way as gangs distributed alcohol to the thousands of speakeasies throughout the city.
The Irish-American communities of Boston are still very strong in the city, and many police officers still have Irish roots.
One of the largest St. Patrick Day Parades in the U.S. (along with New York City and Chicago) takes place in South Boston, a predominantly Irish neighborhood. During this March event, the Boston Police's bagpipe and drum band are featured and have even won awards for their musical talents.
Las Vegas Then
Before New York mobster Bugsy Siegal brought the glitz and glamor to Las Vegas with the Flamingo Hotel, the desert town in Nevada emerged in the 1920s as a place to drink and gamble.
Its original "Strip" was located on Fremont Street (pictured), and clubs aimed to provide Harlem-style entertainment for Westerners.
Las Vegas Now
The Flamingo inspired casinos to grow bigger (and bigger) along the Las Vegas Strip, and Fremont fell to the wayside. That is until 2002 when Fremont East District became a new-and-improved entertainment district filled with old school charm.
Visitors will feel they are stepping back in time while experiencing the more hipster side of Vegas. And don't forget to visit the Mob Museum, where you can learn all about the history of the mob's presence in Vegas.
The 1920s may have resulted in a loss of alcohol, but the decade brought automobiles to the people. Henry Ford introduced the factory concept that would allow for speedy mass production of his Model T, making it cheaper and easier for those outside the upper class to purchase one.
Cars brought a sense of freedom, particularly in the time of Prohibition.
Ever since, Detroit's nickname has been Motor City, and it remains home to America's biggest auto manufacturers: Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. There is a museum dedicated to Henry Ford, which even houses the bus that Rosa Parks, of Detroit, refused to give up her seat on.
But the Michigan city offered the country more than cars. It is also considered the birthplace of Motown music (so-called as a spin-off the city's nickname) and features the Motown Museum. Here, Studio A saw the likes of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Smokey Robinson.
Prohibition may have been enacted in January 1920, but later that year, women would win their hard-fought battle for the right to vote.
This right was enacted as the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920.
Philadelphia remains a city renowned for its grit. Women didn't just march as suffragettes in 1920, but 100 years later, they participated in the Women's March, proudly carrying signs advocating for women's rights as they walked along Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The largest 100-year celebration of the women's suffrage movement is currently taking place in Philadelphia, and although sidelined during the pandemic, it will continue through 2021. Entitled Women 100, Drexel University presents a series of programs and events celebrating American women.
Before streaming television kept us entertained in our homes, there was radio. Families would gather around a radio to listen to their favorite programs. On Nov. 28, 1925, at 8 p.m., George D. Hay debuted his one-hour barn dance featuring country music. In 1927, he renamed his live music show the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1943, the radio show moved to the Ryman Auditorium, where it debuted country acts for 31 years before relocating to its current home — making the Grand Ole Opry the longest-running radio show of all-time.
The Grand Ole Opry remains a fixture in Nashville and has expanded beyond its Sunday night barn dance to offering live shows on Friday and Saturday nights.
The current venue is found at Opryland, but you can visit the birthplace of the Opry with a visit to the historic Ryman Auditorium, which not only continues to offer live performances but is open for tours to uncover the secrets of country music throughout the decades.
Hollywood, California, Then
Star-studded movie premieres and awards shows seem to take place every other week. But it wasn't until 1922 that the first red carpet was rolled out in Hollywood for the big premiere.
That first event took place at Hollywood Boulevard's Egyptian theater, owned by Sid Grauman. By 1927, Grauman opened his Chinese Theatre, and it became home to red carpet events, even to this day.
Thanks to Grauman, Hollywood Boulevard is a tourist attraction for anyone who loves movies. Marked into the concrete outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre is celebrity hand- and footprints that have made up the Hollywood Walk of Fame since Prohibition.
Grauman invited 200 of Hollywood's elite to leave their mark in the courtyard of his theater after his friend, actress Norma Talmadge, accidentally stepped into the wet cement. The first official autographs and prints were left by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
In 1960, the first Walk of Fame Star was added in honor of actress Joanne Woodward. There are now nearly 2,700 stars you can find on the self-guided tour.
San Francisco Then
The 1920s also saw the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924, limiting the number of immigrants arriving in the U.S. Not only were droves coming through New York City's Ellis Island, but on the West Coast, San Francisco's Angel Island served as an entryway for immigrants arriving from Asia.
The act placed a quota of 2 percent per nationality as of the 1890 census and reduced the influx.
San Francisco Now
The largest subgroup from Asia to the City by the Bay remains its Chinese population. In 2012, the population of San Francisco was 21.4 percent of Chinese descent.
Arriving in the 1890s, the Chinese immigrants lived in a community of their peers that came to be known as Chinatown. This neighborhood of San Francisco stands today at 24 square blocks and is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the U.S. Visitors will find the best dim sum, tea shops and even karaoke bars this side of the Pacific.
Miami Beach Then
When Henry Flagler introduced a railroad that would travel from Jacksonville to Key West, he opened Florida to tourism. The Florida East Coast Railway opened in Miami in 1896, and by the 1920s, Miami was the place to be.
Visitors flocked to the beach, and during Prohibition, Miami was considered one of the "leakiest" cities. But the real estate market busted when the city was hit hard by the Great Miami Hurricane in 1926, which caused millions in damages.
Miami Beach Now
Like the ocean that laps at its shores, Miami Beach has been a wave of ups and downs. In the 1950s, it experienced an Art Deco rebirth, and although it went into decline in the 1980s, the '90s saw another rebirth that has kept it alive and well through 2020.
The beach always beckons, and Miami is considered the Latin America capital of the U.S., which means visitors can enjoy the spoils of Latin American communities that make up this American city.
America's version of football began in the late 1800s and was so popular that leagues began to form for competition. As Prohibition began its first year, a group of four Ohio football leagues converged to create the American Professional Football Conference, the precursor to the National Football League.
The rest is history, as 37 percent of Americans polled still claim football as their favorite sport, and 99.9 million people tuned in from around the world to watch the 2020 Super Bowl, the 54th penultimate game.
Football fans can make a pilgrimage to where it all began with a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame outside Cleveland in Canton, Ohio. This historic space has stood here since opening in 1963.
For the 55th anniversary of the Super Bowl, it features a Vince Lombardi Trophy Exhibit, and visitors can see the trophies from the NFL championships.
Atlanta had a long way to go in its reconstruction following the Civil War, but by the 1920s, the city had once again become a "full-fledge metropolis."
As with any city attracting businesses, evenings and weekends were meant to be enjoyed, and Atlanta saw a slew of grand theaters open, including the Fabulous Fox Theater and its mosque-inspired building, which debuted on Christmas Day in 1929.
Its very first show? Walt Disney's "Steamboat Willie," introducing all to Mickey Mouse.
Many of the theaters were lost during the Great Depression, but the Fox remains a beacon on Peachtree Street. In 1940, the theater, just blocks from author Margaret Mitchell's home, debuted the classic "Gone With the Wind." The theater continues to be the city's location for grand premieres.
Atlanta has also become a filming destination for new movies and TV shows, being dubbed "the new Hollywood" and "the Hollywood of the South."
It wasn't always a party during Prohibition. The unrest of the 1920s and '30s unrest led to uprisings in various cities. In Denver, which was experiencing extreme population growth — 12 percent throughout the 1910s — the heat of summer in 1920 combined with the strike by Denver Tramway Co. led crowds to riot when traffic was brought to a gridlock.
Soldiers were brought in to control the situation. Seven people were killed, and 50 more were seriously injured.
Things are much more calm in Denver these days. Visitors can enjoy Latimer Square, the oldest square in the capital, to be surrounded by the historic buildings from Prohibition days.
Here, Union Station may not be filled with trams, but the train station is filled with restaurants and shopping, and the entire Victorian-styled neighborhood is a treat.
Kansas City, Missouri, Then
The unrest that led workers to strike continued as the country fell into its Great Depression. With many out of work, Americans struggled to stay afloat.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow gained notoriety when the couple began robbing banks across the Central United States. The handsome couple were cheered and revered by the public as they made their way around the small towns of Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri, killing police and bystanders along the way.
The couple had one of their deadliest shootouts just outside of Kansas City, where they and their gang rented tourist cabins at the Red Crown Tavern.
Kansas City Now
You won't find famous criminals making headlines in KC these days. Instead, you'll find a charming city filled with family-friendly attractions.
Take your pick from the hands-on Science City museum, LEGOLAND Discovery Park, the Kansas City Zoo and the National Museum of Toys for fun, or learn something about our historic past by visiting Harry S. Truman's home, the American Jazz Museum and the Negroes Leagues Baseball Museum.
Washington, D.C., Then
Prohibition was first enacted by President Woodrow Wilson as a means of rationing during World War I. Congress followed with its amendment. But it came to an end, with Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigning on ending Prohibition in 1932. He won by a landslide and was the only American president to serve three terms.
It is said FDR enjoyed his victory with a dirty martini.
Washington, D.C., Now
While President Herbert Hoover, who said Prohibition was "a great social and economic experiment," may not have imbibed (in public), Old Ebbitt Grill has welcomed presidents since it first opened near the White House in 1856.
Considered one of the oldest restaurants in the country, even President Warren Harding is said to have bellied up to the bar during Prohibition. The restaurant claims President McKinley lived upstairs while he was in Congress and that patrons included Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt.
Today, you can legally get a drink here. We recommend the Oak Fashioned.