It was just past noon on Friday, June 24,  when Jimmie Coslove peeped through the hole in the gate, glimpsed a pair of men he didn’t know, closed the peep, walked into the club, and said to Jack, “I have a hunch we’re about to be raided.”
Jimmie’s instinct was enough for Jack. Clinking two glasses together, he got the attention of the patrons in the barroom and said quietly, “Ladies and gentlemen, please finish your drinks and keep calm, we might have a few visitors.” He cracked a smile and added, “In other words, it’s a raid, so bottoms up.”
As Gus Lux triggered the mechanism to set shelves awhirl, waiters collected emptied glasses and delivered them to the bar while muted sounds of smashing bottles and the aroma of excellent liquor wafted up from the chute.
Back at the gate, Jimmie let the callers in. But when Benjamin La Rosa and Benjamin Lippi rushed into the restaurant they found a bare bar and tables, bemused people doing nothing illegal, and the powerful odor of an illicit substance which had been in plain sight just moments before….
Undaunted by the lack of evidence and customers’ giggles, the feds roamed all over the building for twelve hours — rapping knuckles against the walls, using measuring tapes, examining the interiors of closets, thumping their feet on the floors, and even plunging arms elbow deep into pots of meat sauce and soups in the kitchen.
Trying the button that activated the shelves above the chutes, they were met with a gust of air from below that was so rich with the smell of dumped liquor that I wondered if a man could get drunk just by inhaling the fumes….
On Sunday the New York Times headline read:
WET SPOT GOES DRY AS RAIDERS ARRIVE
Agents Armed With a Warrant Get a Cordial Welcome at Speakeasy, but No Liquor
TRICK SHELVES REVEAL WHY
Push Button Had Dumped Bottles Into Chutes and Only Odor Remained, Federal Men Complain.
As if this failure had not provided enough embarrassment for the raiders, when they gave up their searching and left the club they found that their cars had been ticketed for illegal parking. As the raid was in progress, Charlie Berns had phoned our friends in our neighborhood police station to request a small favor.
As fate and a long-overdue return of common sense among the American people would have it, the fiasco of the big raid turned out to be the last we had to endure. After a dozen years, the end of “the great experiment” of Prohibition was in sight. — H. Peter Kriendler in his book “21”: Every Day Was New Year’s Eve (read for free)