The Speakeasy bar: a celebration of 1920s US rebellion

To me ‘Speakeasy’ bars conjure up images of enigmatic and illicit glamour, with the name itself going back to the whispered access passwords required during the 1920s prohibition era. Having managed to have a rare weekend away sans children a few years ago, we finally had an opportunity to visit a bar styled as a ‘speakeasy’, and went scouring the streets of Barcelona (not the classic setting I am aware!) looking for a dimly lit doorway, with a disguised bouncer awaiting our excited whispers of the secret password.

Unfortunately our expectations were not met. This ‘secret’ bar, only accessible through a fridge door inside the frontage of a pastrami bar, was lit up like the Blackpool illuminations, with a queue of at least twenty tourists waiting for their bit part in Bugsy Malone. After a thirty minute wait, we did eventually get let to a couple of recently vacated seats, but whilst the atmosphere was great, the premise was more of a ‘one cocktail photo opportunity,’ rather than spending a whole evening reliving the 1920s; sipping spirits, smoking cigars and listening to the gravelly tones of the local jazz band.

You cannot deny however, the colourful and almost revolutionary history behind the concept, which started off with the abolition of drinking saloons, which were only open to men. The prohibition era made alcohol a contraband substance-it was available for ‘medicinal’ or ‘religious’ purposes although I am not quite sure how this was governed. Those who liked a tipple would have had to resort to bootleggers or speakeasies, the latter of which taking the revolutionary step of welcoming female patrons. Table service, live music and an emergence of Italian cuisine actually made many of these venues a far cry from the dingy basement establishments that are often associated with the era. On the downside, importation of illegal alcohol led to an explosion in organised crime: it is rumoured that Al Capone made $60 million yearly through supplying and controlling speakeasy establishments in the 1920s.

‘Speakeasy’ bars represented freedom. Young couples were allowed to meet without parental introduction, women did not require chaperones and what went on behind those concealed doors, stayed behind them (with the help of a few bribes exchanging hands on a regular basis). Whilst I am entirely aware that bars and alcohol are a lot more accessible now, and that authenticity may be a little hard to find, I would love to try one or two more ‘Speakeasy’ bars around the world, just to see if there are any that have preserved the enigma of their American origins (yes I know, maybe the States may be the best place to start!). And even if there aren’t, a little bit of imagination in reliving and understanding their exciting past may be the key.

For more historical information about the Speakeasy tradition, visit these interesting articles from The Mob Museum, History.com and BBC News. Advice on visiting Barcelona can be found here and you can find the best things to do in this city in this blog post. Those interested in cocktails will find this article from Vinepair very informative and an extensive range of cocktail recipes can be found at TheBar.com. TheNudge.com brings you a guide to hidden bars in London, with further detailed guides at The Bon Vivant journal and WhereTraveller.com.

Malaga city: a cultural gem

Malaga is often merely seen by the British holiday maker as the airport that provides the gateway to the popular ‘package destinations’ in the Costa del Sol, and as a city, it is often overlooked by it’s neighbouring city travel destinations such as Granada and Seville. However, Malaga is a gem in its own right, and offers everything from the cultural delights of its cathedral and museums, to relaxed beach cocktails and barbecued sardines at the ‘chiringuito’ beach bars.

Apartment with a view

Families can often be put off with the idea of a city break, and I must admit that I was glad when we could ditch the buggy, and were able to navigate Malaga’s winding cobbled streets and squeeze into lovely authentic tapas bars without having to apologise every ten seconds for inadvertently bashing into somebody. One of my daughter’s favourite places to ‘hang out’ in the evening was Artsenal, an eclectic museum/bar/music venue that was set under the road(!) by Malaga’s port, which came alive at night time with live bands and great cocktails set against a backdrop of fabulous local artistry. There, families were welcomed, and you could lounge around on their pallet furniture and comfy cushions whilst watching the sunset, accompanied by the ever changing rotation of local bands and DJs. As many have correctly said before me, children are very welcome in Spain, all the way through the evening into the small hours should they have the stamina! Even after living in Spain for six years, I still found it amusing when a family (complete with toddlers and grandparents) would sit down for their evening meal in a restaurant at 11pm!

Artsenal mural

The beauty of Malaga city is that it is easily navigable (lots of good tips in Guide to Malaga) and the general advantage of the British traveller is that we are often up and about far earlier than our Spanish friends, so it is easy to beat the crowds (and then be deemed very strange by the locals when we are eating lunch whilst they are on their breakfast!). You also have great diversity, from the cultural charms of the old town, to the cosmopolitan feel of the shopping district and cruise port, right through to a sandy beach where the kids can entertain themselves when walking around takes its toll on little feet. We stayed in a flat in the port, and felt that this was the best family option; the package holiday companies have not stretched out towards Malaga city, which almost preserves its authenticity, particularly when the cruise ships have departed. Malaga gets extremely hot during the summer season, but is perfect in spring or autumn. If you want a real treat, go and see the Malaga Christmas lights: a strong competitor to the London lights and you can even eat your lunch ‘al fresco’ without your coat on!