Lonely Planet Writer

Inside Savannah's new hidden speakeasy and prohibition museum

America’s first ever Prohibition Museum opened this Autumn, complete with a mysterious speakeasy named Congress Street Up, which you can enter through the gift shop, or via a clandestine street doorway when the museum is closed.

Congress Street Up. Image by American Prohibition Museum

To get in, knock on the door and tell whoever answers that ‘Gus sent you’. Inside, you’ll be transported back in time to a wooden-style European bar, with a painted copper ceiling. Then, relax and order craft prohibition-era cocktails including a classic Gin Ricky or Mary Pickford. “The museum is meant to be as immersive as possible and a speakeasy was crucial to get a true feel for the era,” said Caity Hamilton, assistant director of the American Prohibition Museum.

Speakeasies are trending in many cities across the US due to their “clandestine nature,” explained Hamilton, “people like the act of getting and giving a special password for admission, and going to a place that isn’t advertised.”

Savannah, Georgia. Image by Tetra Images/Getty Images

The Prohibition Museum and Congress Street Up speakeasy couldn’t have found a more suitable home than Savannah, Georgia. The State had the first alcohol prohibition in the country; Georgia voted for statewide prohibition in 1908, 12 years before the rest of the country. Savannah disagreed with the ruling and became a haven for illicit goings on, including transporting moonshine by road and water. “The temperance and prohibition eras caused such rapid social change in our nation’s history the subject never fails to fascinate us,” explained Hamilton, “one could also point to the romanticizing of the gangster era in movies, TV, etc. Shows like Boardwalk Empire and movies based on 1920s organized crime popularised the criminal culture of the time.”

One of the exhibits at the museum. Image by American Prohibition Museum

Exhibits at the American Prohibition Museum took three years to research and gather artifacts from all over the country. Visitors can learn about stories from the Temperance Era to the 18th Amendment (prohibition) and the effects it had on the country, and the criminal line up that dominated the roaring ‘20s, then when prohibition was eventually ratified in 1933. “We also feature more than 30 wax figures, costumed guides, and a few surprises along the way,” said Hamilton.

McCurdy’s at the American Prohibition Museum. Image by American Prohibition Museum

On 5 December the American Prohibition Museum will host a huge party to celebrate Repeal Day in 1933. “Patrons to our speakeasy will be able to celebrate the passing of the 21st Amendment just the way they would have on that day 84 years ago – with classic cocktails and food,” said Hamilton. In the meantime, look out for the well-dressed man of an evening (after museum hours) lurking on Congress Street, who will help you find the best new edition to Savannah’s nightlife scene.

Find out more about the American Prohibition Museum at here.