Written By: Ben Cosgrove
The Prohibition era in America, which lasted nearly 14 years and effectively banned the sale and production of booze in the United States, ended with the ratification of the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933. The time when Prohibition imperfectly reigned, meanwhile, has endured in the national consciousness and the pop-culture pantheon as a period of unparalleled violence, gangsterism and corruption.
These photos were made in a number of New York speakeasies by Margaret Bourke-White. Most famous for her work as a LIFE photographer along with Peter Stackpole, Thomas McAvoy and Alfred Eisenstaedt, she was one of the weekly’s original four staff photographers Bourke-White was for years an editor and photographer at FORTUNE; the pictures in this gallery were shot for that storied Time Inc. monthly, three years before LIFE began publishing.
Bourke-White’s photos ran in the June 1933 issue of FORTUNE, under the simple and evocative title, “Speakeasies of New York.” It also included some the below text in which the locations of these places were not, of course, specifically revealed.
The speakeasy [FORTUNE told its readers, betraying a bit of hauteur] has flowered successfully only in New York. In San Francisco it is dull and obscure; in Chicago, tough and noisy; in the South almost nonexistent. In most cities, drinking, like eating, is done at home or in the country club. In New York alone has the speakeasy become the instrument of a civilized social life, something between a pre-prohibition restaurant and a coeducational club. There are, therefore, in New York, speakeasies for every taste and purse. . . . The pictures on these pages present a fair cross-section of the reputable ones.
Liz Ronk, edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.