You have to be somewhat of a detective to discover these meeting and event venues. Modeled after speakeasies—hidden bars operating during Prohibition, when it was illegal to produce or sell alcohol—they don’t boast well-lit entries or large outdoor signage. What they do have, however, is a fun 1920s vibe that is well worth the extra effort to find. And to give you a head start, we’ve uncovered some popular options for you.
Getting to Circa 33’s speakeasy takes a bit of networking.
“You have to be told how to get there,” says co-owner Josh Johnston. “You walk into the restaurant-bar in the front, then you go to the back and enter the hallway where the bathrooms are. At the end of the hallway there’s a bookshelf. You punch a code into a keypad, then the bookshelf opens, and you enter the speakeasy.”
Opened in 2010, Circa 33 was built in the 1920s as a laundromat. “We came up with the name Circa 33 because it’s on 33rd Avenue, and 1933 was the year Prohibition was repealed,” Johnston explains.
Whiskey barrels, wine crates, burlap bags and exposed plumbing pipes give the “Speak,” as staffers refer to it, old-time charm. You’ll also find dartboards, a player piano and a shuffleboard table.
Catering is provided in-house. Some of the bar’s cocktails are inspired by Prohibition-era classics; others are more progressive and trendy. Favorites are its Bourbon Fashioned, with house-soaked-cherry bourbon, sugar, orange peel and angostura bitters; and Catch 33, made with cucumber-infused gin, lemon, bell and serrano peppers and St-Germain liqueur.
The speakeasy can accommodate as many as 26 guests indoors for a seated dinner or 50 for a cocktail party. For larger parties, in addition to the speakeasy, a garage door opens to allow bar service in the alleyway that has been renovated into a patio.
And of course, when hosting an event at Circa 33, mum’s the word.
“We have no signage out front,” Johnston says, “but there is a lightbulb. If it’s red, the speakeasy is open to the public; if it’s blue, it’s not.”
KNEE HIGH STOCKING CO.
Owners Michelle and Jack Valko want guests to have a unique experience even before they take their first sip at Knee High Stocking Co.
“We want to give them a sense of what it was like to find a drink in the United States in the 1920s and early ’30s,” says Jack. “The building was constructed in 1907 as an apartment building, so it’s already got that vibe, that aesthetic, from the early 20th century. When we opened in 2009, we kept as much of the original architecture as we could.”
Most of the bar’s cocktails are modern but inspired by classics from the Prohibition era or, as Jack puts it, “from the golden age of the cocktail, which actually dates back to the 1890s. All of our juices are freshly squeezed every day, and we make our own syrups.”
Its private event space can accommodate as many as 40 guests for a cocktail party.
“We have a sign out front that’s maybe 6 inches by 6 inches,” Jack says. “People walk by all the time and don’t realize we’re here. Unless you know where you’re going, it’s hard to find.”
PRESS & PONY
According to Jordan Krema, “press” and “pony” are old bar terms.
“A press was the original citrus drink made of lemon-lime soda with soda water and the spirit of one’s choice,” says Krema, the “bar capn” of the aptly named Press & Pony. “A pony used to be a measuring device that we now consider the smaller end of the jigger.”
Opened in 2015, Press & Pony is under the same ownership as the adjoining Boise Fry Company, and has a definite speakeasy feel.
“We’re a small bar. It’s a quiet place,” Krema says. “We usually play jazz music in the background.”
The cocktail menu rotates seasonally, and includes the bar’s interpretations of both classic and beer cocktails. Popular choices are the old fashioned, Manhattan and French 75.
“We make all of our juices and sodas and we have four different house-made tonics,” says Krema.
Press & Pony can accommodate as many as 30 guests for a private event: 20 seated and 10 standing. Groups can use the Boise Fry Company for catering or use their own caterers.
Patrons can also access the bar from another establishment in the basement.
“The building has lots of history behind it,” says Krema. “One side of it was once a Chinese restaurant.” The signs aren’t big, “but we’re not exactly trying to be seen either.”
By definition, speakeasies are difficult to find. The Sawbuck, however, is impossible. There’s no building, no structure. A traveling speakeasy that was founded in Anchorage in 2014, The Sawbuck brings a speakeasy vibe to you, whether you’re planning a private affair or a public event at a bar.
“We’ve done groups of 10 people all the way up to 500,” says co-owner Stephen Trimble. “We even do cocktail-making classes.” Trimble and the other three owners—Trevor Fulton, Aaron Apling-Gilman and Spencer Shroyer—provide a bar top with bar lighting and vintage bar stools. They take turns tending bar and mingling. Two other bartenders help mix drinks.
“We all have day jobs, so it’s kind of been a labor of love,” Trimble says. “Many of our clients have never been exposed to the types of drinks we offer. It’s like a whole different world. Some of our 100 cocktails (which can be made into custom menus for specific events) are based off of tried-and-true classics, others we’ve created ourselves. A big hit is our annual Coffee Cocktails event. ‘Sawbuck’ is a Prohibition slang term for $10, and that’s what we charge per drink when we’re at a bar.” The Sawbuck serves only the Anchorage area.