Burying the Speakeasy

Each year at "Tales of the Cocktail," a drink deemed too uncool to live gets a decent if raucous New Orleans-style burial. Trends have an odd way of zigging and zagging through the culture, but it's possible that one day the speakeasy will be relegated, as it was after repeal of Prohibition, as a funny anachronism of old fashioned drinking.

Not that the well-established speak style bars aren't doing well today, and cities previously without seem ready to accept the concept. The restrictive and unknown qualities of speakeasy culture played an important role in the rebirth of the cocktail - attract the cool kids with mystery and exclusivity, and once inside, they'll welcome the drinks as worth the wait that they might otherwise have passed by. Made sense then, and the best still do.

But now that cocktail creativity is everywhere, and bars continue to open with impressive beverage menus, well-developed drink concepts and interesting creative approaches, it's getting hard to entice customers with the hidden bar trick. And if you're really interested in sharing an interesting place with friends because of the great drinks, the hassle of secret passwords and cramped quarters are not as appealing as they once were.

I've been thinking about this for a while, as Tiki bars and other conceptual drinking establishments gained traction. Two recent cocktail bar developments have firmed up for me the idea that speakeasies may not be dead, but they ain't what they used to be. Tony Conigliaro, of the No Name Bar at 69 Colebrooke Row and Zetter Townhouse in London, recently announced he's developing with Eric Fossard and Thierry Daniel Le Coq, a Parisian bar that will "channel the relaxed yet exuberant glamour of the 1970s...inspired by iconic fashionistas and musicians such as Marianne Faithful, Yves Saint Laurent and Bianca Jagger." Having survived 1970s drinking, I'll withhold comment on the quality of drinks from the era, but Conigliaro's got some interesting drinks lined up, as always - Almond Pina Colada, with rhum, almond milk and lime Orgeat stands out.

And just this week, the boys from Alchemy Consulting, where the current roster includes Joaquin Simo, who won this year's American Bartender of the Year award and consultant par excellence Toby Maloney, came down firmly on the anti-speak side. In announcing their work at NYC's Pouring Ribbons, where the guests will be as important as the cocktails (there's a novel idea), and as quoted by Thrillist, "The speakeasy is dead. There were funeral services, but seeing as how they were behind an unmarked door, no one attended." That may be overstating the case, but it seems undeniable, with pioneer speakeasy Milk & Honey in Manhattan moving uptown to more accessible digs and folks within the industry starting to scorn the idea, that being unknown and unknowable ain't what it used to be.

Drinks at the opening of Pouring Ribbons can be seen here.


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