Craft: Research

Speakeasy Rules (1933)

I’ve been trying to flesh out one of my characters’ favorite hang outs. In the 1930s it had to be a nightclub. A nightclub could also be called a speakeasy depending on whom was talking or where one was in the country at the time (New York City had the most). One of the most famous was The Cotton Club in Harlem run by gangsters, operated by blacks and run by whites with whites only clientele. That was the way things were, unfortunately.

Researching nightclubs during the early thirties, I came across Stanley Walker’s account of nightlife in New York City originally published in 1933 and the proper etiquette to follow if one found themselves in a speakeasy/nightclub.

85th W 3rd Street Club Rules:

  1. Reserve a table in advance so as to be certain of admittance
  1. Don’t offer any gratuities to the head waiter or the captain as you enter the door. If the service was satisfactory, tip one of them a moderate sum before leaving
  2. Bring along your own ‘atmosphere’ with you. It avoids controversy and it is much safer all around.
  3. Do not get too friendly with the waiter. His name is neither Charlie nor George. Remember the old adage about familiarity breeds contempt.
  4. Pinching the cigarette girl’s cheek or asking her to dance with you is decidedly out of order. She is there for the sole purpose of dispensing cigars and cigarettes with a smile that will bring profits to the concessionaire.
  5. Do not ask to play the drums. The drum heads are not as tough as many another head. Besides, it has a tendency to disturb the rhythm.
  6. Make no requests of the leader of the orchestra for the songs of the vintage 1890. Crooning ‘Sweet Adeline’ was all right for your granddad, but times, alas, have changed.
  1. Do not be over-generous in tipping your waiter. Why be a chump? Fifteen percent of your bill is quite sufficient.
  2. Examine your bill when the waiter presents it. Remember they are human beings and are liable to error intentionally or otherwise.
  3. Please do not offer to escort the cloak room girl home. Her husband, who is an ex-prizefighter, is there for that purpose [Walker, Stanley. The Night Club Era (1933). Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, pp 288-9].

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