Congress Street Up in Savannah

Congress Street Up in Savannah, a speakeasy connected to the American Prohibition Museum

Moonshine, Speakeasies and Blind Tigers: Georgia’s ‘Secret’ Drinking History

Georgia's relationship with alcohol is, well, complicated. Get a taste of it at these places around the state.

Georgia has always had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. It was founded as a dry colony in 1733. In 1908, prohibition was passed statewide, a full 10 years before the 18th Amendment was ratified nationally.

But Georgians didn’t move to temperance easily. After the 1908 vote, Savannahians were so angry they pushed to secede and form the State of Chatham.

In North Georgia, moonshiners built souped-up Fords to evade authorities chasing them through the mountainous backroads. Those high-speed chases grew into the much-loved sport of stock car racing and NASCAR. Catch a modern-day chase at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Making moonshine began as a respected way for a poor farm family to make a few bucks, but it turned into an illegal activity when moonshiners refused to pay the taxes on their ‘shine during the Civil War. When alcohol was outlawed altogether, moonshiners took on a gangster type of persona.

Moonshine revival

History tends to come full circle, and today, moonshine is enjoying a respected revival. Georgia has several legal distilleries and a few moonshine festivals.

Moonshine Cruiz-In in Hiawassee, Georgia
Moonshine Cruiz-In in Hiawassee, Georgia

In July, the Moonshine Cruize-In in Hiawassee combines a 60-mile ride through the mountain roads with a festival in the mountains. In addition to traditional festival fare, see a real moonshine still in the woods and sip a little homemade spirits.

Related: 52+ things to do in Hiawassee on beautiful Lake Chatuge

American Prohibition Museum

American Prohibition Museum in Savannah, Georgia
American Prohibition Museum in Savannah, Georgia

Although there are several museums and festivals dedicated to moonshine in Georgia, there is only one Prohibition Museum. The American Prohibition Museum is located exactly where you would expect it: Savannah. Take a trip through history to truly understand how the anti-alcohol movement came into vogue in the early 1900s and the impact the 18th Amendment had on the country.

Congress Street Up cocktail
Congress Street Up cocktail

Afterward, belly up to the bar at Congress Street Up, a period-authentic speakeasy attached to the museum that serves Prohibition-era drinks. Children are welcome to enjoy a mocktail during museum hours, but this turns into a true bar in the evenings.

Modern Speakeasies

Savannah also has modern-day speakeasies. Patrons must secure a special key to enter the Mata Hari, where they serve absinthe the traditional way by pouring it over a sugar cube then lighting the cube on fire.

Eleanor’s is another speakeasy in Georgia that is hidden behind what looks like a walk-in cooler for Muss & Turner’s Deli in Smyrna. Named for a favorite employee Eleanor Seale, this luxe little joint is known for its afternoon delights menu as much as for the booze.

The Speakeasy Bookstore in Hampton is a coffee house, not a bar, but if you ask the owners nicely, they just might take you down to the basement to see the once-thriving speakeasy with its original Chicago brick floors. It's mostly used for storage now, but it’s not hard to imagine it as a rockin' nightclub during the height of Prohibition.

The Perfect Soundtrack: Jazz

Blue Ridge Mountains Wine and Jazz Festival
Blue Ridge Mountains Wine and Jazz Festival

Often, the code word for entering a speakeasy was a request to see the "blind tiger." More often than not, instead of an animal, you’d be entertained by great music. Prohibition and speakeasies are tightly woven into the fabric of jazz, and Georgia has some amazing places to see the best modern jazz in the world, starting with the Atlanta Jazz Festival held each Memorial Day weekend in Piedmont Park. In September, head to North Georgia for the Blue Ridge Wine and Jazz Festival and then to the Savannah Jazz Festival, held in several venues, including the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

For those who don’t want to wait for a yearly event, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta hosts monthly Jazz Nights.

Published: September 2018
Written by: Sue Rodman
Scroll To Top