If you think New York packs in a lot of bars today, imagine what it was like in the 1920s.
During Prohibition, 32,000 speakeasies were operating in New York City, twice the number of legal saloons that existed in 1920.
Cousins Jack Kriendler and Charles E. Berns ran one of them: a little basement space called the Red Head, opened in 1923 off Fourth Street in Greenwich Village, then under the dark and grimy Sixth Avenue El.
“The Volstead Act had gone into effect in January 1920, so the illegal club in a tea room was an immediate hit,” states Dorothyparker.com.
After it was gutted by a fire, “the pair moved their speakeasy to a basement at 88 Washington Place at the height of the bootlegging, Jazz Age New York.
“Called the Fronton, it was now a real speakeasy, complete with live music and huge tables.”
Club Fronton had a Spanish theme and catered to artists and writers, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay (below) and Dorothy Parker (above), plus nightlife-loving politicians like Mayor Jimmy Walker.
Police raids didn’t close the Fronton down—eminent domain did. After a year, the property was condemned by the city so the West Fourth Street subway station could be built.
Kriendler and Berns moved to midtown this time. In 1928, they set up a speakeasy at 21 West 52nd Street. The 21 Club was an instant success—and 80 years after Prohibition, still packs them in.
[Above photo: 88 Washington Place today, a condominium residence]