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

CORN Vodka?? Hmm…

Last weekend, my man surprised me with a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka, one of those huge bottles with a handle. The vodka came highly recommended by his “spirit” guide at the liquor superstore. I stared at the massive bottle with open skepticism, and said out loud, “This better be good!”

At 40% alcohol and 80 proof, it had respectable stats. Then I twirled the bottle to see:

“Distilled from…CORN”??

Nothing against corn; I’m a huge bourbon fan, and prefer to drink it straight. But vodka, though…what the hell IS this, moonshine??

My eyes instantly narrowed with hostility and suspicion! I’ve tried other vodkas, made from distilled potatoes (Monopolowa) and grapes (Trader Joes, I love ya but come on now!). And I’ve always ended up running back to the waiting, open, comforting arms of grain vodkas.

But…I had to keep an open mind. Corn vodka??
Hmm…

Right above “Crafted in Texas”, the bottle stated on its label that it was “six times distilled”. My first thought was, it’s like traveling around the world, trying out cuisine beyond your comfort level, and finding the answer to the age-old question of “Is anything pretty much edible, if it’s deep fried enough?”

So it was time to set up the testing environment. With The Smith’s “How Soon is Now” playing on my virtual assistant app, I pulled out a slim, sexy shot glass, and started pouring.

The Smell

First I sniffed it. If I got even the smallest whiff of turpentine, or any strong odor at all, it’s going down the drain. But, nope, it smelled clean. Slightly sweet because of the corn, and not at all like rubbing alcohol.

The Taste

Took a large sip, held it in my mouth, and let it slowly trickle down my throat as I breathed in and out. Fairly smooth, with minimal burn (I mean, this is hard liquor after all, not water).

So, yup, turns out this corn vodka is smooth enough to use for 2-3 ingredient cocktails, and smooth enough to drink straight. Okay, I don’t know if all corn-based vodkas are distilled this much to get this smooth, but this one was truly made for easy drinking.

I tip my hat to y’all, Texas!