The prohibition of beverage alcohol in the 1920’s and 30’s in the United States is one of most famous, or infamous, times in recent American history. The intention was to reduce the consumption of alcohol by eliminating businesses that manufactured, distributed and sold it. Considered by many as a failed social and political experiment, the era changed the way many Americans view alcoholic beverages, enhancing the realization that federal government control cannot always take the place of personal responsibility.
We associate the era with gangsters, bootleggers, speakeasies, rumrunners and an overall chaotic situation in respect to the social network of Americans. The period began in 1920 with general acceptance by the public and ended in 1933 as the result of the public’s annoyance with the law and the ever-increasing enforcement nightmare.
The most famous outlaw in American History was neither Billy the Kid nor John Dillinger but Al Capone. Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone was an American gangster who led a Prohibition Era crime syndicate. The Chicago Outfit, which subsequently became known as the “Capones”, was dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging liquor, and other illegal activities such as prostitution, in Chicago from the early 1920s to 1931.
Born in Brooklyn, New York to Italian immigrants, Capone became involved with gang activity at a young age after being expelled from school at age 14. In his early twenties, he moved to Chicago to take advantage of a new opportunity to make money smuggling illegal alcoholic beverages into the city during Prohibition. He also engaged in various other criminal activities, including bribery of government figures. Despite his illegitimate occupation, Capone became a highly visible public figure. He made various charitable endeavors using the money he made from his activities, and was viewed by many to be a “modern-day Robin Hood”.
The Al Capone’s Dinner and Show Speakeasy in Orlando, Florida is a throwback to the spirit and mentality of that time.
A “Chicago mobster” escorted B. J. and me to a comfortable table beside a banister in the dimly lighted carpeted balcony overlooking an expansive dining area and a large stage. “Thugs” moved among us carrying “guns” in shoulder holsters and wearing hoodlum suits and hats. If we had not known that it was just a show, we would have thought that it was all for real.
At 8:00pm, the bountiful buffet of Italian food opened and we were “ordered” to “go gitcha grub.” Because of our location to the balcony buffet, B. J. and I were first in line.
The food was genuinely Italian and truly delicious. There was lasagna, spaghetti, a variety of pasta dishes, Italian bread, parmesan cheese and several unidentifiable things. The spaghetti was the best.
We loaded our plates and wormed back through the crowd to our table. The theater, now filled to capacity, was abuzz with happy excitement. Our “goon” waiter attended our table with grace. When our glasses were empty, he promptly refilled them with Sprite and Coke. He tipped his hat to B. J. and even had his picture made with her.
Soon, the band struck up a loud and lively tune, the lights became even dimmer. Then with a roll of the drums the spotlights came on, the heavy stage curtain was pulled and out came the dancing girls. The show was wild and hilarious at first. The scantily clad dancers kicked their heels higher than I could reach. There was comedy, laughter, and cutting up and carrying on that seemed to go on forever. We were told that what we were experiencing was as near to the real thing inside a Chicago speakeasy that you could be subjected to without really being there.
The grand finale came when all the dancers and performers on stage with one last big blast of music and singing. Al Capone’s had indeed been different.
As we were making our way through the crowd to the entrance, I told B. J. “Since it is this late maybe the traffic won’t be too heavy.” We were in for an Orlando night awakening. At nearly 11:00pm, the traffic was bumper to bumper as far as you could see in any direction.
Orlando was living up to its reputation as Fun City. We were midnight getting to bed.
A footnote: Al Capone was convicted on federal charges of tax evasion, and sentenced to federal prison. His incarceration included a term at the new Alcatraz federal prison. In the final years of Capone’s life, he suffered mental and physical deterioration due to late-stage neurosyphillis, which he had contracted as a youth. On January 25, 1947, at the age of 48 he died from cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke.