The Speakeasy: Secret Passages, Drag Shows and Booze

Speakeasies today are nothing like the OG hidden bars and hustle of the 1920s. Back then, a Speakeasy was a super-secret bar that served booze illegally, usually hidden inside some other kind of establishment – like a grocery store or unmarked building. You had to know somebody, who knew somebody, who knew where it was. And who knew the secret password. Then hope a police raid won’t haul your deviant ass to jail.

America Walks into a Bar: Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops by Christine Sismondo

Some trendy bars use the Speakeasy’s secretive, shady character as part of an overall theme, then go rogue from there. More on this later. Personally, I’m all for a really cool, authentic bar experience, but to a point – I will NOT drink booze made and served in a bathtub.

There’s no shortage of articles and posts online about Speakeasies, their history, Prohibition, yadda yadda. For those of you who’ve been living in a cave, or are new to the cocktail scene (same thing), here’s a VERY brief history.

During the Prohibition era in the United States, when the sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal, the Speakeasy – also known as a blind pig or blind tiger (Google it!) – became popular. Some say the word ‘Speakeasy’ came from 19th century England’s and Ireland’s ‘speak-softly shops’, in which customers spoke in discreet whispers to avoid detection.

And if you’d like to know more, The Mob Museum in Las Vegas has a section dedicated to Prohibition, bootleggers and Speakeasies. Enjoy!

Moving on…

The Ol’ Hide-a-Bar

Some new bar opened nearby that claimed to be a Speakeasy, so I had to get over there and see if it met the Speakeasy bar criteria. It was hidden inside another establishment – an Italian restaurant. No shady, well-dressed, darkly handsome Mafioso-looking gents at a corner table to add to the ambience, to my dismay. Then there was the secret password, which I had to get from the maître d’.

As instructed, I walked through a hallway, where a “secret” door opened to a warehouse. After walking to the other end of the warehouse, I saw the old-timey phone booth in a corner. I spoke the password into the receiver, and then was told where I could find the secret passage. So far it checked all the boxes.

The Speakeasy bar was a cozy lounge with a retro vibe. Old newspaper clippings on the wall about the Prohibition era icons and arrests, artsy posters of cocktails, and very tasty booze.

Also very cool – they can ‘smoke’ any drink on the menu, including my Old Fashioned cocktail! NIIICE!

I gotta say…if you’re here for the ladies, take my advice: Ladies like atmosphere. And Speakeasies have lots of it!

Speakeasy on a Sunday is a Real Drag

Another drinking establishment nearby claimed to be a Speakeasy-THEME bar, and I truly do respect the clarification. Went there on a Sunday afternoon, through the front door, and down to the basement.

It was a cozy dive bar. Hanging around were some gents, mostly ladies, and the Kings and Queens of Drag.

And then the show started! YEAH, baby! Speakeasy Sunday is how I do CHURCH!

Cheers!

_______________________________

The Southside

Signature cocktail at the 21 Club, a popular Prohibition-era bar. It’s also said to be the favorite drink of notorious Prohibition-era bootlegger, Al Capone.

2 oz. dry gin
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. superfine sugar (or use simple syrup)
8–10 mint leaves
Chilled club soda

Place mint leaves in shaker and gently muddle. Add the gin, lemon juice and sugar, and stir to dissolve. Fill the shaker with large pieces of ice and shake gently—to keep from pulverizing the mint—for about 10 seconds. Double-strain into a highball glass

_______________________________

Imbibe Magazine

The Mob Museum

America Walks into a Bar: Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops
by Christine Sismondo (Photo: 1927 Speakeasy owner Texas Guinan about to step into paddy wagon. Image donated by Corbis)

Britannica/Speakeasy

Wikipedia/Speakeasy

The Underbar

Giatti’s Speakeasy

Cocktail Backstory: The Communist and Tom Collins

commcocktail_5

 

A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.” – Noël Coward

 

commcocktail_2

 

“Barkeep!” says I.
“Aye, miss, what shall I make for ye?” says he.
“I would like a cocktail…with an interesting backstory.”

The gauntlet was thrown, and he met the challenge with two words,”Communist Cocktail.”

 

commcocktail_1

 

He didn’t know the details, but said the cocktail’s name had to do with the era during which it was created. As I sat waiting for my cocktail, he handed me a book entitled, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”.

 

I looked up The Communist:

“This enjoyable number with the unforgettable name derived from a crude and otherwise quite forgettable cocktail pamphlet from 1933 titled Cocktail Parade. As photographers say, though, it just takes one picture.”

 

commcocktail_4

 

Huh. Not much of a backstory. When my drink arrived, turns out it wasn’t much of a cocktail, either. My reaction after a couple of sips was a shrug and a “Meh.”

It became apparent that the only thing this cocktail had going for it was its cool name. And clearly, it did belong in a “Forgotten Cocktails” book. Not only should it be forgotten, they should also put a “Do Not Rescucitate” warning next to the recipe.

 

commcocktail_6

 

Here’s a cocktail that actually has somewhat of an interesting backstory:

Tom Collins

Back in 1874, someone decided to play a joke a bunch of New Yorkers. He’d go to one person, asked them if they knew someone named Tom Collins. “Nope, never heard of him.” they’d say. Then they’d be told Tom’s been bad-mouthing them all over town, ruining their reputation. Of course, the enraged person would go on a revenge-seeking manhunt for Tom Collins, ready to lynch the slandering bastard.

This would be done over and over again to different people, until what began as one upset person became a vengeful, angry horde. This lame joke went so viral it became “The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.”

One bartender decided to capitalize on this trend by creating a cocktail called Tom Collins. Anyone popping into his bar looking for Tom Collins would end up ordering the cocktail. Hilarious, right?

Here’s a youtube video, in case you wanted to try making this at home. The recipe itself is after the post.

Click on image to watch video

tomcollinsvidpic

 

Corpe Reviver #2

This cocktail doesn’t have an elaborate backstory, but I like the name. In my last blog post (Cocktails – Craft versus Cool), I ordered a Corpse Reviver #2. When made properly, it’s actually one of my favorite cocktails. Interestingly, it was one of several other concoctions of the same name that was originally created in the 1930s as a hangover cure…

Hangover cure = Corpse reviver.

Get it?  :^  )

 

corpsereviver

 


 

Tom Collins Cocktail
Recipe courtesy of New York Times

2 ounces Old Tom gin (like Ransom)
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
Soda water
Lemon wedge, for garnish
Cocktail cherry, for garnish

Shake gin, syrup and juice with ice until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with soda water. Garnish with lemon wheel or wedge and a cherry.