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!

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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

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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

A Ballsy Tale: The Monkey Gland Cocktail

Weeks ago, I wandered over to my favorite watering hole – a bar that served mainly classic cocktails from the 1920s and 30s. Many of my faves were there, along with others I’ve never heard of, but planned to try. Including this one…the Monkey Gland!

I mean, with a name like that, how could you NOT want to taste one, am I right?? I had a feeling it had one helluva backstory.

The Backstory

Dr. Serge Voronoff believed cells from the younger beasts would re-invigorate the older animals. He transplanted organs, tissue and bones from younger horses and sheep into older ones. That was followed with experiments on transplanting monkey thyroid glands into humans, to help them overcome thyroid deficiencies.

The idea being that monkeys shared enough biological similarities to humans, as required for transplants.

Next, Dr. Voronoff focused on the impact of testicles. According to his book “Life: a Study of the Means of Restoring Vital Energy and Prolonging Life” (available on Amazon.com), the sex gland “stimulates cerebral activity as well as muscular energy” as it “pours into the stream of the blood a species of vital fluid which restores the energy of all the cells, and spreads happiness.”

He started transplanting the testicles of executed criminals into millionaires. However, there were more rich men who wanted the testicles than there were dead criminals to supply them.

So he used monkey testicle tissue instead. The testicle grafting became so popular that a special reserve was set up in Africa just for capturing and holding monkeys for gland transfers.

And now… the cocktail!

Disclaimer:
No monkey parts were harmed in the making of this beverage.

The Monkey Gland
Courtesy of the Spruce Eats

1 dash absinthe
2 ounces gin
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons grenadine, to taste
Orange slice, or flamed orange peel, for garnish

Swirl a dash of absinthe in a chilled cocktail glass to coat it, then discard any excess liqueur.

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes, pour the gin, orange juice, and grenadine.

Shake well.

Strain into the prepared glass.

Garnish with an orange slice or a flamed orange peel. Serve and enjoy. Cheers!

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Sources:

https://www.thespruceeats.com/monkey-gland-cocktail-recipe-759322

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serge_Voronoff

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-true-story-of-dr-voronoffs-plan-to-use-monkey-testicles-to-make-us-immortal

Photos by pexels