New York has always been a source for excitement. The city never seems to stop, even during the darkest hours of the night. From McGurk’s, the famous “suicide” concert saloon of the 1800s, to the 300 Club spawned by prohibition regulations, New York has been the source for what’s hip.
Prohibition was a particularly interesting time for New York, which saw several prominent rumrunners use the city as a playground for a period of time. Outlawing liquor seemed to have the opposite effect, and speakeasies sprang up to service this need for illegal booze. One of those rum runners was an ambitious man named Larry Fay.
It’s said that Fay made a half million dollars by funneling illegal liquor shipments into the city’s limits. He used those profits to go legitimate, first opening a taxi cab company and then a club.
The El Fey was hosted by Texas Guinan, a rootin’ tootin’ gal who took on the persona of a Texas cowgirl. He hosted a floorshow, and used the club as a front to run even more booze from a man named “Big Bill” Dwyer.
Dwyer had worked his way into the underworld from humble beginnings as a dock worker. He had travelled into Canada, moving rum in through the ports, and he needed a classy establishment to sell his liquor.
One night at the El Fey, Guinan was helping an act off the stage. She gave her signature line “give the little ladies a big hand”, but something was off. From the back, a prohibition agent was approaching the stage. He slapped handcuffs on her and spoke into the microphone, “give the little lady some big handcuffs”. The El Fey was raided that night, but no one went to prison for long thanks to Dwyer. Larry Fay, and everyone else involved kept cashing checks.
About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or Twitter.