One of Binghamton’s top hang-out spots may have been a popular underground drinking site during the Prohibition era, according to archaeologists at Binghamton University.
After a mystery find in the CyberCafe West parking lot last month, the local eatery has been attracting media and professional attention as historians research the cafe’s past as a speakeasy.
Secret rooms were discovered during a renovation of the parking lot next to the CyberCafe West on March 27, by artist and local landscaper Dan Carruthers.
Speakeasies were establishments which served alcohol during Prohibition, a time when the sale and consumption of any alcoholic beverage was outlawed.
Carruthers, a Binghamton local, arrived at the site during the early hours of that morning. His task for the day was to break apart a cracked concrete slab and then fill in the resulting hole with stones.
‘We thought that it would be a simple job,’ he said.
But neither Carruthers nor CyberCafe West owner Jeff Kahn had guessed how deep the cavity would be.
‘It was still dark outside,’ Carruthers explained. ‘So I grabbed a flashlight and crawled down [into the hole].’
Once inside, he saw the remnants of what had once been housed in the hidden underground rooms ‘ three decaying wooden kegs.
Though Kahn had long believed that there had been a speakeasy in the building he now owns, he was shocked by the extent of evidence found in the two adjoining 12-by-20-foot rooms found underneath the lot.
‘It looks like the rooms used to be connected to the basement of the cafe,’ Kahn said. ‘There is the same brickwork and plaster in the basement and in the rooms that were found.’
The chambers appear to have been used as an avenue to get alcohol into the speakeasy and as a quick and hidden exit for patrons.
News of the discovery intrigued many people, among them Michael Jacobson, a project director at BU’s Public Archeology Facility. After hearing the news, Jacobson quickly contacted Kahn, hoping to be able to study the site.
‘This is a very unique find,’ said Jacobson, who is working on the rooms as a volunteer project with his colleagues Claire Horn and Shannon Glazer. ‘We feel that this is a good opportunity to research how they stored and transferred the alcohol as well as any other purposes that the room might have had.’
Jacobson first visited the site just two days after the initial finding and worked on photographing and documenting kegs, bottles and a pulley system in the room; he will be continuing to study the location over the next month.
‘We’re working with the geology department to use a ground penetrating radar,’ Jacobson explained. ‘Then we’ll hopefully be able to see if there’s anything else down there.’
The CyberCafe will be hosting a tour of the rooms tomorrow, Wednesday, April 18, at 3:30 p.m.
Check out Friday’s issue for a photo spread of the interior of the uncovered speakeasy.