The Prohibition Era, also known as the "Roaring Twenties," was nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States from 1920 to 1933. The era lasted from 1920 to 1933, and New York City was one of the cities that was greatly impacted by this period of time. 

Introduction to the Prohibition Era

Prohibition in NYC had its roots in the temperance movement, which was active in the city for several decades prior to the passage of the 18th Amendment. The movement was driven by religious organizations, women's groups, and the Anti-Saloon League, who saw alcohol as the root of many social problems, including poverty, crime, and domestic abuse. The Prohibition Amendment, was passed in 1919 and went into effect on January 16, 1920.

Enforcement of Prohibition in NYC

The enforcement of Prohibition in NYC was the responsibility of the federal government, through the Bureau of Prohibition. The bureau was charged with the task of tracking down illegal stills, confiscating illegal alcohol, and arresting those involved in the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol. However, enforcement was often lax, and many speakeasies, which were underground establishments where alcohol was sold and consumed, were able to operate with relative impunity.

The Impact of Prohibition on New York City

Prohibition had a profound impact on NYC, one of the largest cities in the United States at the time, both socially and economically. On one hand, it led to a decrease in alcohol-related crime and a decline in the number of saloons, which had previously been seen as a major source of social problems. On the other hand, it also led to an increase in organized crime, as gangs took over the production and distribution of illegal alcohol. The city's economy was also impacted, as many legitimate businesses, such as breweries and distilleries, were forced to close.

The Rise of Speakeasies

With the ban on alcohol, a large number of underground establishments, known as speakeasies, emerged in New York City. These establishments were illegal bars that sold alcohol, and quickly became a staple of the city's nightlife during the Prohibition Era.

Increase in Crime and Corruption

Prohibition also led to an increase in crime and corruption in the city. Bootlegging, the production and sale of illegal alcohol, became a lucrative business, and organized crime syndicates, such as the notorious Mafia, gained significant power and influence in the city.

Cultural Changes

The Prohibition Era also brought about significant cultural changes in New York City. Jazz music, which was heavily associated with the speakeasies and the illegal alcohol trade, experienced a surge in popularity during this time. The era also saw a rise in the popularity of dancing, fashion, and other forms of entertainment.

The End of Prohibition

The Prohibition Era ended on December 5, 1933, with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment.The end of Prohibition was met with mixed reactions in NYC. While some saw it as a return to a more civilized society, others saw it as a defeat for the temperance movement and a victory for organized crime. It is safe to say, that the end of Prohibition brought about a wave of changes in New York City, including the re-opening of legal bars and the decline of speakeasies and organized crime.


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February 15, 2023 — Myrat Saryyev