At the flats I stay at, there is this place. I kept walking past the door, but one day it was open….
Well, as it turned out, it was a semi-secret pub, and was very popular with a sort of trendy young person. It was a facsimile of a speak-easy, those American drinking establishments of prohibition (January 1920 to December 1933). Of course my only knowledge of these sorts of places comes from old gangster movies. (Although my great-aunt Julia was married to a bootlegger and died of the drink).
True to the historicity of such places, one rings the buzzer and a face appears in the little window asking one for the secret code to enter. I said “Howdy” and the Russian at the door said “what is this howdy?” So I said “it’s American for Hello”, which was good enough to get in (I had not booked a table). And inside a small, dimly lit room, lots of young persons were sucking down drinks in this theme boozer.
Note that even the bear is wearing a blindfold, everything that happens in here is a secret.
I was reminded of a time, probably close to fifty years ago, when I had gone to a similar place. Me and my friends were home for Christmas, there were the obligatory family things, and then there was adventure. I was the youngest person in our group, but I had a fake ID so I could tag along. My friend L was older than me, and I thought she was very glamorous. She had grown up in a mansion, gone to private schools, then university and she was living a bohemian life as a street vendor. She wanted to go out and about and I was fool enough to follow her anywhere. She had a privately printed pamphlet listing gay clubs in the area. So, off we went, driving in her parents’ big sedan.
We were looking for this place across the river, in an almost abandoned urban area (it had made the list for most dangerous cities in America, and it’s still on this). Once upon a time it had been a prosperous place, with businesses, stores and jobs, but that time had long passed. And there we were in a cold, dark street, looking for a place without a sign to announce it’s presence, hoping to not be murdered (it was famous for this, after all). Then we found a door, with the requisite little door for the bouncer to scope out potential customers. I can’t imagine what we looked like, but we must have somehow passed muster, or maybe we had to pay money to enter and there we were, at a drag club, possibly the only females in the place.
To say that I was out of my depth is an understatement, but we went in, sat down and ordered drinks. It was a dive, probably last redecorated in the 30’s when it opened. Many of the patrons looked to be military from the nearby Air Force Base. There was a tiny raised area that served as a stage, and that was where the ladies lip synced to popular tunes. We were sitting on the left side and could see into the dressing area, which was just a flimsy curtain covering a small boxy area. It was fascinating watching a rather ordinary looking soldier turn into a prom queen with big hair and a massive sparkly dress. We on the other hand, looked like the young hippies that we were, we always used lots of eye makeup, and I’m sure that we had on jeans and pullovers of some sort. After a performance, she invited the artist to come over for a drink, and of course I don’t remember any of the conversation, I probably said nothing beyond “howdy”. Then it was time to go, and we made it out of this decaying town and back to our own side of the river.
Altogether it was a much more exciting experience than the modern speakeasy, located as it is in a good part of it’s town (possibly this is also the good side of the river there).