Glenn Young Books
Hard cover, $32.95, 96 pp.
For 75 years, we saw the New York stage through Al Hirschfeld’s eyes. His fluid pen-and-ink caricatures captured the essence of a performance with a style that was unmistakable: elegant, stylish, witty but never cruel. In the theatre pages of the New York Times, a Hirschfeld portrait was the mark of theatrical success.
But before he was established as an iconic illustrator—before his style evolved into its familiar simplicity—he produced a book that unwittingly documented the end of an American era, The Speakeasies of 1932.
Hirschfeld and Gordon Kahn, who co-wrote the text that Hirschfeld illustrated, were in their twenties. The country was twelve years into the disaster that was National Prohibition, and three years into the Great Depression, and Manhattan made adjustments to both.
The two friends frequented the illegal establishments that had sprung up all over the city; they drank and ate in them, and got to know the bartender and the specialties of the house. But unlike the other habitués, they took their observations away with them. The result is a magical book, with drawings and short descriptions of 36 saloons, bars and speakeasies. A page of text and a single drawing of the barman—and here and there a cocktail recipe—is enough to conjure a lost world.
Many of these were not refined lounges, but gritty joints concealed behind false store fronts or anonymously located on the upper floors of office buildings.