Along the U.S.-Canadian and U.S.-Mexico borders, saloons and liquor stores and distilleries did business supplying thirsty Americans and Canadians, while those who could not reach a foreign country made home brew and bathtub gin or bought rotten booze from bootleggers.
Somebody is always thinking up schemes for getting ahead of the law and somebody thought up the “hole-in-the-wall.” That was Just after the provincial governments had begun to regulate the liquor trafflc and enforce the licensing of the retail sale of spirituous liquors. Somebody who didn’t feel like paying a stiff license fee invented the “hole-ln-the-wall.”
In the hole- In-the-wall system there was no bar. The liquor was kept in a closed room. High up In one wall there was a hole about a foot square. The man who wanted to quench his thirst tapped discreetly on the wall, having previously deposited the exact price of the drink. Change was given by the man inside the hole in the wall, for various reasons. Then the person who desired the drink would say quietly “beer,” or whiskey” or name whatever he desired to have. – A hand would reach up pull the money in the room, and in due time the beverage would he forthcoming.
The man inside the hole in the wall never spoke. That was the understood part of the game. Drinkers used to like holes In the walls as there was a flavour of mystery about them. The man who bought never saw the man who served. The reason for this precaution was that if the house was pulled, the Crown could never find a witness who could truthfully swear that the owner of the hotel or any of his employes (by name) had served him with liquor.
But the government soon found means to put the hole-in-the-wall out of business. They enacted that if liquor were found in any part of any hotel other than the bar, or in any unlicensed premises it could be seized and the vendor heavily fined. Power was given the officers of the law to search any unlicensed places. This power, together with the fact that It was illegal to have liquor on unlicensed premises, soon spelled the doom of the “holes-in-the-wall.”
Licensed dealers who paid the government fees and obeyed the law, more or less were apt to speak with contempt of the hole-ln-the-wall places. So the expression soon became applied as one of contempt to other than places where liquor was sold. For Instance, one man would say of another. “Oh, his places is only a hole-ln-the-wall.” Thus that is how the name got started.