Get a Taste of Temperance on ‘Satan’s Seat’ Prohibition Walking Tour

September 30, 2011 at 6:00 am

After getting a televised fix of underground boozing, flappers and gangsters during Ken Burns’ new documentary, “Prohibition,” teetotalers and whiskey-fiends alike can engage with Prohibition history in the newest Big Onion Walking Tour, called “Satan’s Seat.”

“‘Satan’s Seat’ was actually the temperance nickname for New York,” said Seth Kamil, president of Big Onion Walking Tours. “There were an estimated 30,000 speakeasies in New York during Prohibition.”

Many of those speakeasies were located in Greenwhich Village, and their illicit social lubricants helped foster the city’s early bohemian scene. The secret bar scene was aided by New York’s booming illegal breweries; the city boasted more breweries than any other town in the nation.


Trailer for Ken Burns’ “Prohibition.” While the film covers the national side of the story, “Satan’s Seat” provides a local look at Prohibition on foot.

These are just a couple of the once very “hush hush” facts you’ll learn on the two-hour tour, which, like all Big Onion Walking Tours, is led by historians with doctorates in History.

“Satan’s Seat” begins at the true heart of of New York’s seedy past, the Bowery, and stumbles its way to the Village. Along the way, participants will learn about what lead to prohibition, its relation to the women’s rights movement, the relation between temperance and the rise of organized crime, as well as plenty of obscure details about New York’s important role in the 1920s bootlegging trade. And you’ll learn at the actual sites where many of these events took place.

“We’ll be stopping at John McGurk’s Bar on the Bowery for two reasons: One, it was the most notorious saloon in late 19th century and a temperance target; second, because in 1922 a fire broke out in building, which threatened the warehouse next door — where the federal government stored all of the liquor it seized,” said Kamil.

Other saucy stops include the former speakeasy Chumley’s in the West Village and Bigelow’s Pharmacy, which once offered prescriptions for liquor.

While the tour is kid-friendly, and thus booze-unfriendly (hey, it’s Prohibition), afterward you can feel free to get under the influence of more than just history.

Big Onion Walking Tours created the “Satan’s Seat” tour in conjunction with WNET.

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