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A Run For Your Money by Nigel Roth


It’s a hot and steamy night in the summer of 1926, and the Del-Fey Club in Miami is hopping with the sounds and sights of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age.

Stay awhile and you’ll see young men and women, rising like phoenix from the horrors of the first World War, and recovering from the economic collapse of the early twenties, swinging the Turkey Trot or the Buzzard Lope, the Chicken Scratch and the Monkey Glide, doing the Shimmy and the Bunny-Hug, and ‘losing their innocence again’ with the Charleston.

Of course, at times like these you want your mind to be as intoxicated as your body, and a glass of lemonade just won't cut the mustard. What you need is “alcohol, the rose-colored glasses of life.”

That’s not an easy thing to come by if you’re in the middle of the temperance movement’s greatest hour, the Volstead Act, or, to you and I, desperate for a cold beer or a large whiskey and ginger, Prohibition.

But we’re in luck, because the Del-Fey Club is also a speakeasy, so the evening can and will include an alcoholic beverage, or two. And, we can thank a Texas-born actor for that, whose rise to fame as an entertainer, hostess and bon viveur, means we can enjoy a very full evening indeed.

Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan, later known adoringly as Texas Guinan, was born in 1884, just as the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty was being laid on Bedloe’s Island. There’s a certain irony to that, as Texas Guinan’s freethinking made Del-Fey’s, and before that the Beaux Arts Club, the El Fey Club, and the Texas Guinan Club, a hub of Prohibition rejection.

So, in the comfort of one of the Del-Fey snugs, it’s art deco lamp’s orange glow adding the perfect light to the evening's surreptitious activity, we can sip our drinks in peace. While we’re so relaxed, listening to Jelly Roll Morton’s band, the Red Hot Peppers, play the Smoke-House Blues, we should probably take a moment to consider how our drinks got here, given the widespread restrictions on alcohol in the United States at the time.

Before we do that though, there is something happening just up the coast on Daytona Beach which may be of interest to you. It's a car race, and it’s being run on a six-and-half kilometer course, made up of a stretch of the beach and a bit of road called the A1A.

These aren't exactly racing cars, though, they are 'stock' cars, which, as you might already know or can guess, are cars that are exactly that. Every part is generally available to the public, and every modification must use off-the-shelf components.

The two cars are battling it out, and the sand and dust and smoke they’re throwing up, the roar of their engines, and the shouts of these pioneering petrolheads, is a far cry from the elegant inebriation of Texas Guinan’s establishment that we're enjoying.

Hello suckers”, Texas Guinan bellows, which has become her catchphrase, blocking out the argument over bootlegged whiskey prices going on near the bar. She’s a veteran of distraction, and has kept the authorities at bay plenty of times before. Which gives you the answer to our earlier question.

Bootlegging, of course, is why she has alcohol in the place.

Since the American Civil War when soldiers smuggled beer and whiskey into camps in their boots or inside their trouser legs, bootlegging has taken on a different meaning, and we have to go to Appalachia, where our hearts can entwine in the pale moonshine, as American Oliver Hardy and Englishman Stan Laurel’s did in 1913, to find the source of the sauce.

From Virginia to Tennessee, from the Blue Ridge to the Great Smoky Mountains, that moonshine provided the light, and the moniker, for the nighttime distillation of illicit alcohol. And whether you’re making moonshine or corn whiskey, white whiskey or mash, the next step is to get your hooch to Hialeah, your shiney to Shalimar, your choop to Chipley, and, in the case of the Del-Ray Club, your mountain dew to Miami.

And to do that quickly and safely, you need a car, one that’s small, easily modified with off-the-shelf parts to improve its performance and durability, and typically with all but one seat removed to increase capacity.