Prohibition in the United States lasted from 1920, when the 18th amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol went into effect, until 1933, with its repeal via the 21st amendment.
During the Prohibition, and forbade any sale, production importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, the speakeasy became the place to socialize at. These speakeasies were bars that illegally sold booze to their customers behind locked doors. Some of these popular places were run by criminals, and even though the police would sometimes raid the bars and arrest both the owners and their customers, the speakeasies were so profitable they continued to flourish.
Photographer Margaret Bourke-White were able to take some photos at a few of these notorious bars in 1933 – the year the Prohibition ban was lifted, and therefor meant the speakeasies could take the locks off their doors. Bourke-White’s photos ran in the June 1933 issue of FORTUNE, under the simple and evocative title, “Speakeasies of New York.”
(Photos: Margaret Bourke-White—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)