The Unmarked Door

When one walks through the North End-specifically Hanover street- it is impossible not to get distracted with the amount of restaurants, bars and pastry shops the neighborhood has to offer. It’s hard to believe that a place so small (is less than 1 sq mile big) can offer so many sources of entertainment. One particularly charming thing about this neighborhood is its European-style coffeehouses, where you buy your coffee and actually sit down to drink it. Does this not sound like a marvelous idea? Well in the north end you can find a wide range of cafes to do that, including the famous Caffe Vittoria (290 Hanover street) which was the first Italian coffee house to open in Boston.

However, before serving the best espresso in Boston, Caffe Vittoria was prohibition era’s biggest and most important speakeasy in the city. Here, for the nifty price of $2000, you could buy a key that represented a membership to the place. This gave you the right to booze and debate with your fellow members til’ the sun came up. Now how exactly did Caffe Vittoria work during prohibition? Well Stanza dei Sigari once used to be a part of Caffe Vittoria, and its members would walk in through the espresso bar and go through a narrow set of stairs to the basement of Sigari, which served as the Caffe’s speakeasy. Even today, when you visit Sigari you can see that it has multiple hidden exits that served as escape ways in case the police ever raided the place.

Although it is no longer prohibition and one can drink freely, both Caffe Vittoria and Stanza dei Sigari continue to exist. Caffe Vittoria is not one of Boston’s most popular coffeehouses which is really popular among local politicians, and Stanza dei Sigari is an cigar bar and one of the few places in Boston where you can still smoke indoors.

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