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Speakeasies Abound in Prohibition Era Brooklyn

Nov 21, 2013 3:41 PM | 0 comments

Prohibition has always held a certain level of fascination in my mind and, dare I say, I'm not the only one. Long has the era been immortalized by Hollywood through movies, TV shows and the fashion trends they inspire. However, living in the current day and age that we do one might find it difficult to navigate what's real from what's merely a romantic reinterpretation of a profound, if not completely befuddling, time in our nation's history.

 

 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 6, 1928.

The Morgue hosts not one, but three drawers stuffed with newspaper clippings from the prohibition era, but it was the recent discovery of the "Bedford Nest" file that piqued my interest. Located at 1286 Bedford Avenue, the Bedford Nest was one of Brooklyn's most infamous speakeasies. Close to a dozen articles detail the notorious raid on Bedford Nest proprietor and ex-dry (or prohibition enforcement) agent, Francis Conly.

Desk Atlas Borough of Brooklyn, 1929. 

Raided on Feburary 17, 1930, the headlines following the bust were littered with scandalous accusations, as if raiding an ex-dry agent wasn't exciting enough!

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feburary 24, 1930.

The three aforementioned policemen were later acquitted, having proven the checks were cashed by a third party who in turn cashed the checks at the Bedford Nest. It all sounds a bit dubious to me, but apparently the excuse carried some weight with the judge who deemed this chain of events legitimate according to the customs of the time.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 3, 1930.

Prohibition was highly unpopular with New Yorkers who made quite an effort to get their "hooch" despite the law. In fact, one Brooklyn Daily Eagle article went so far as to claim that it was unsurprising that "there had been no cessation of drinking in the State and that the number of speakeasies had been holding it's own, if not increasing" ("New York Speakeasies Under a New Attack," May 1, 1932).

The law was also unpopular among politicians including then-Governor of New York Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised to repeal the 18th Amendment if elected president in the 1932 election.

 

The New York Times, 1931.

In February 1933, Congress adopted a resolution proposing the 21st Amendment and in December of that year enough states voted to ratify the Constitution, effectively ending prohibition and just in time for New Year for these happy Brooklynites:

Court Grill, December 6, 1933
Brooklyn Collection

Unfortunately, relief didn't arrive soon enough for the Bedford Nest. In 1931 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that government agents seized $40,000 worth of property from Francis Conly, gutting the establishment of all its furnishings and ensuring "Brooklyn's ... most ornate speakeasy" remained a short-lived affair ("Act to Confiscate Bar Furnishings of Bedford Nest," November 23, 1931).

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 30, 1930.

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