Cocktails & teacups: Planning a 1920s speakeasy
By Wells Vintage Tea Party, Mar 1 2017 01:41PM
If you are planning a glamorous 1920s themed cocktail party (or teaparty), we have put together a few ideas to help you create an authentic event that your family and friends won't forget.
Before you get drawn into the finer details, it is important to understand a bit of the history of 1920s America and the Prohibition. So, here's a very quick history lesson ...
Synonymous with 1920s cocktail parties, speakeasies sprung up all over the US during the Prohibition years of 1920-1933 when there was a nationwide ban of the sale, production, importation and transportation of alcohol. However, despite being enforced by the government, this didn't stop people from drinking alcohol as they simply set up unlicensed bars which became known as 'speakeasies". The name comes from the practice of speaking easy (or quietly) about the bar so not to alert the neighbours or police.
The speakeasy quickly became a big part of American culture at the time. Many were operated by people involved in organised crime, and even though they were often raided, and the owners and patrons arrested, they were so profitable that they continued to flourish.
To enter a speakeasy, the doorman would require a secret password, this was no place for a policeman or secret agent! Owners went to great lengths to disguise their speakeasy and one of the most famous, the "21" club in New York, had four safety switches that could be used during a raid to short circuit and cut the access to all the doors that contained alcohol.
Although the vast majority of speakeasies were in fact dark, dingy places, serving bathtub liquors, there were some like the swanky joints seen in the movies. These select clubs were glamorous, high-class establishments offering drinks, food, singing and jazz performances. This is probably the ambience that you will want to replicate at your party.
CREATING YOUR OWN 1920s SPEAKEASY
Set the scene
It's the roaring twenties and all bars have been closed due to the prohibition. You and your friends are "flappers and dappers" and won't let this get in the way of a good night of drinking, smoking and dancing at an underground joint.
To recreate the secrecy of a speakeasy, make the entrance to your party hard to find. The legendary speakeasies of New York were hidden behind toy stores, or entered through fake phone booths. The less glamorous the entrance the better; there should be no obvious sign that a party is going on. Make it even more authentic and have a doorman (they don't have to stand there all night!). When your guests arrive they should be asked for a special knock, a password from 1920s slang or an object - a popular item at the time was a library book so that if the speakeasy was raided it looked like a reading club. All this must be mentioned in the invitations of course, or your guests won't be allowed in!
To create the intimate and secretive vibe of a speakeasy, the lighting should be subdued, a few table lamps or even candles will be sufficient. Props such as vintage books, print outs of old tabloid newspapers, art deco paintings and patterns, vintage style adverts and framed photos of famous gangsters and movie stars of the time will help you set the scene. Luxurious dark fabrics such as velvet and faux furs will also add to the ambience.
Play authentic music of the time such as jazz, the dixieland sound of the 1900s and swing from the 1930s. If your budget allows, a live jazz band will add a wonderful buzz to your evening.
The Charleston was the popular dance of the time, and was hugely popular with the young and contemporary. For the rest of society (the "drys") it was considered quite immoral and blamed for the decline in moral standards. Needless to say it was banned in most dancehalls for being so outrageous and provocative, but was all the rage in the speakeasies.
What to serve
If possible, have bar tenders wearing some form of uniform. Cocktails must be served in teapots and drunk from innocent looking teacups and saucers. This was an extremely popular way to serve alcohol at a speakeasy so that everything appeared to be above board in case of a raid.
Most cocktails that you choose will fit your speakeasy theme as the majority of the cocktails that we drink today were created in the 1920s to mask the strength and bad taste of bathtub liquors and moonshines. Champagne cocktails were also a big hit. Accompany your drinks with platters of sweet and savoury canapes, served throughout the evening to soak up the moonshine.
What to wear
The 1920s saw the birth of a new woman. One who smoked, drank, danced and voted. She was a risk taker and would have cut her hair short and worn heavy make-up. The typical flapper look comprised a short finger waved bob with a feathered headband, a drop-waisted fringed or heavily beaded cocktail dress, over the knee stockings and a pair of round-toed heels. Accessorise with a cigarette holder, a long string of pearls and a feather boa. Flappers often finished their ensemble with a felt bell-shaped hat called a cloche.
Successful gangsters lived extravagant lives and could be identified by their fashionable silk suits, expensive jewellery and guns. Guys should wear pin-striped suits, black or white ties, a black shirt, two tone brogues, and a fedora hat.
Alternatively, be a bit different and wear a collarless Henley shirt with long baggy trousers and braces. And for a genuine twenties look, add a hat.
So go on get dolled up in your glad rags and have a swell time at your juice joint. And try not to get too spliificated by drinking too much giggle water!