Friday, March 17, 2017

Prohibition project: Conradt's soft-drink parlor

The vacant building at 1519 Main, now in the path of imminent redevelopment, once housed Charles Conradt's speakeasy.

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Last month marked the start of a new continuous series on Prohibition. Specifically, Prohibition in Kansas City, 1920 to 1933, those years the Eighteenth Amendment was in effect. Posts take the form of encyclopedic entries about surviving buildings and other structures with stories to tell about moonshine, bootlegging, speakeasies, "wets" and "drys," and associated events, activities and personalities.

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Conradt's soft drinks – Speakeasy at 1519 Main. The son of German immigrants, Charles Conradt ran a series of "soft-drink" saloons in the vicinity of Sixteenth and Main during Prohibition. In 1921, when his place was at 2 W. Sixteenth, he employed a man to work the street for thirsty customers. One day a pair of such customers drank two rounds of whiskey and then revealed themselves to be plain-clothes cops. Conradt went free when his bartender took the blame for serving them. His joint had moved to 1519 Main by 1929, when one day two policemen in uniform walked in. “There were about fourteen men in the place,” one cop later told a reporter. “The Negro porter dumped the whiskey.” The cop admitted he swore at the patrons as he lined them up for the ride to headquarters. One man approached with a business card from a law firm and suggested the policeman could lose his job. “I told him to get over in line with the other ‘big shots,’” the cop told the reporter. “Conradt’s place long has been a bootleg place. Conradt has made boasts that he had ‘big shots’ behind him.” The man with the business card turned out to be a former assistant prosecutor. “Other officers told me that it would be better for me not to raid the place,” said the cop a month later, after his discharge from the force. Today, 1519 Main is vacant and reported to be doomed to demolition and redevelopment.

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