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Rookwood Speakeasy
Museum


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Lauren Barnett
- Montana Nuggets


Voices rise in conversation and laughter sounds over the swanky, scratchy tunes drifting from the record player in the corner. Smoke fills the tiny room, heavy crystal shot glasses, both empty and filled, scatter the 10 or so tables, as a solid crafted bar cranks out the booze and keeps the good times rolling. Poker, gambling, short skirts, dim light, and the excitement of rebellion made this illegal oasis a desired hot spot. Such was the scene at the height of its popularity. A haven for the uninhibited hidden directly below the sidewalks of Uptown Butte, in the basement of a well-known hotel. Stained glass panels in the sidewalk above allowed rays from the sun to permeate this roguish atmosphere; but those above were none-the-wiser. Only the chosen few gifted with the daily password were permitted to pass. Systematically guarded by a manned cloakroom, three knocks, a two-way mirror watching every move you make, a voice demanding “speak easy,” and then one chance to give the magic words…it was sin, booze, and the roaring 20’s at its fullest.

 

Illegal drinking establishments displaying a similar scene sprung up, practically over night, across America when Prohibition took effect in 1919. The bustling, mining town of Butte was certainly no exception. Estimated to have some 250 operating bars throughout the city prior to the “dry law”, it is no wonder that the Rookwood Speakeasy is said to have been one of possibly hundreds of establishments like this in Butte at that time. Mike Byrnes, of Old Butte Historical Adventures, happened upon the hidden room in the summer of 2004, during a cleaning of some historic Uptown buildings owned by Jeff Francis. Before its discovery, the building had passed through the hands of 2 separate owners from the time of the speakeasy’s likely demise in the early 1930’s— all the while, untouched and obscured from the public’s knowledge. It was an astonishing moment for Byrnes and the others as they stumbled upon this room, uncovering what has recently been described as one of the most beautiful and complete speakeasies west of Chicago.

 

Today, this amazing piece of Butte, and American, history is open to the public for tours and is available for private receptions. Having been kept as close to the original setting as possible, visitors are able to observe this illegal watering hole as it probably appeared decades ago. From its original terrazzo tile flooring and stained glass skylights to the mahogany wainscoting and mythical griffins carved into the pillars, the room beams with stories of its boisterous past. It is a historical display, complete with a 1927 Butte City phone book; dated currency found behind the bar; a “Hoover for President” button; original 1920’s posters; and, as a testament to its popularity, an article pulled from a 1928 Butte newspaper telling the story of the largest illegal drinking bust in Butte’s history, taking place at the Rookwood Speakeasy. With so much to see and stories to hear, this museum truly is an experience that hits a chord with all those who enjoy history or to entertain an active imagination.

 

Tourists and Montana natives alike should not miss the chance to catch such a fascinating glimpse back in time. Visitors can stop into Old Butte Historical Adventures, located on Main Street in Uptown Butte, and take the City Underground Tour that runs daily, departing on the hour and usually last about 45 to 60 minutes; or the West Walking Tour that leaves at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. everyday during the summer— the Rookwood Speakeasy is the centerpiece for both tours. This is a wonderful and enchanting opportunity to travel back to a time of Flappers and Dapper Dans, and to the hustle-and-bustle of Butte’s rich, colorful past.

 

For more information, please contact Mike Byrnes of Old Butte Historical Adventures at (406) 498-3424, or email at mbyrnes@in-tech.com. You can also visit their website at www.buttetours.info.


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