Marcelle Goes Back in Time at The Speakeasy
For those not familiar with a “Speakeasy,” it is defined as: “An immersive theatrical experience with an underground bar, crooked casino, and cabaret featuring the best routines of 1923.” Since alcohol was illegal until 1933, bars were also illegal, and therefore those attending any Speakeasies were always instructed to be silent during their time spent in the establishments. To take part in one of these experiences in the present day, one must dress in full 1920s costume, turn his/her phone completely off and put it away (no photography allowed), and remember to… Shh… SPEAKEASY!
Within each Speakeasy is a variety of actors, however, it is said that no one knows who is acting and who isn’t. The Palace Theater in San Francisco holds the shows each month at an undisclosed location in the city. They often say that the Speakeasy will soon be ending, however so far, they continue to go on. In January, a group of girlfriends and I decided to try out the experience.
When my ticket confirmation email read, “You have a watch repair appointment tomorrow night. Visit www.thespeakeasysf.com/redhat for details and meeting location,” I truly did not know what to expect. In order to find the Speakeasy location, I was directed to look for the person wearing the red hat and the red scarf in front of Mee Mee Bakery. Upon my encounter with the person wearing the red hat and red scarf, he directed me to another man, who directed me to another man. This third man asked me for my first and last name in exchange for my entrance ticket, which looked like an old school medicine prescription more than anything. After receiving the ticket, I was finally pointed in the direction of the Speakeasy entrance.
This particular Speakeasy entryway was below a clock shop, somewhere between Chinatown and North Beach. The doorman was dressed in 1920s garb and quickly knew where to point us to next. He told us to go down the stairs and through the broom closet, and on the other side, we would be just where we needed to be. At first, I was skeptical, yet as soon as I stepped through the broom closet door, I felt as if I were truly living in another century. The fact that both phones and credit cards were prohibited definitely added to this feeling, and I grew to love it.
We started off in the casino, where actors and actresses broke into character at random. My friends played a few rounds of craps (not for real money), while I found the nearest server to take our drink orders. I was handed a drink menu set in an old fashion style, unlike any other menu I had ever seen. The menu started with the “Lighter Fare” – two champagne-based cocktails; leading to the “Beer, Wine, & Bubbles” section. On the other side, were three different sections of cocktails, each divided by their price. The first section was $18, the second was $16, and the third was $14. As these high cocktail prices would never be found in the 1920s, they read “18 cents,” “16 cents” and “14 cents” – nice touch!
My girlfriends and I ordered a variety of cocktails including a “Black Manhattan,” “The Velvet Sea,” a “Vieux Carre,” and the “Russian Mistress.” We tasted each other’s drinks but found ourselves gravitating towards the ones that we ordered first. My favorite of all was the Vieux Carre – made with rye, brandy, carpano antica, and Benedictine. I tend to enjoy more spirit-forward cocktails, and whiskey is typically my go-to spirit, so I found this one to be particularly delicious. The ingredients used were clearly very high quality, and the bartender balanced everything perfectly. My second favorite cocktail was The Velvet sea – made with aged rum, velvet falernum, lime, and bitters – however I stuck with ordering my Vieux Carre as the night progressed.
After spending a good amount of time in the Casino, my group made our way to the bar, where a couple of very interesting scenes were acted out. I was impressed by the level of talent amongst the actors and actresses. After the bar, we headed to the cabaret, which turned out to be our favorite room of all. We spent most of our time there watching the stage set with dancers, short plays, and even contortionists. The night ended with a couple of faux police officers “breaking up” the evening and kicking everyone out through the backdoor, which again, simulated a real 1920s experience.
Overall, my friends and I truly enjoyed the Speakeasy. With everyone dressed up in outdated attire and in a secretive underground location, I felt almost as if it were a break from reality. I would recommend the show to anyone who is interested in doing something totally different and new – just be prepared to spend $100 on your ticket and $100 on a few quality cocktails. Bites and appetizers are also served should you choose to order food. Enjoy!