I have always thought I was born several generations too late. I get nostalgic for decades that passed long before my birth. Perhaps that’s the reason I love writing about the past. There are several periods I wish I could have been around to experience, among them: 1940s London and 1960s San Francisco—but most definitely near the top of my list are the 1920s. The decade brings to mind jazz, illicit cocktails, gangsters, flappers, literary salons, and smoke-filled speakeasies.
The speakeasy has always fascinated me. The National Prohibition Act was ratified as the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at midnight on January 16, 1920. The nightmarish law made it illegal to “manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor.” When American cities were wrung dry, the speakeasy was born. It was a portal to another world, transporting those lucky enough to know where to look into a parallel realm of sinful entertainment and strong drinks.
I’ve always considered the speakeasy to be my kind of place—so, you can imagine how cool it was to find out there’s one not far from the Arizona town where I live. It’s beneath an Italian restaurant downtown. Access is gained via an unmarked stairway. At the bottom is a single door beneath a red light bulb. Walk through the door and you find yourself in a dark, subterranean cavern with low-hanging lights, exposed brick walls, red leather booths, and a well-stocked bar. My wife and I took a seat and immediately soaked in the ambience.
The cocktail menu is fun to browse. Alongside each listed drink is the year and city in which it was first created. The drinks are made as they were back in the day. I was torn between the Trader Vic Mai Tai (Oakland, CA, 1943) and the Aviation (New York, NY, 1916). My wife settled for a Cosmo (alas, I failed to note the details of its provenance). I opted for the Aviation, a strong concoction of Aviation American Gin, Maraschino liqueur, Crème de Violette, and lemon juice, served in a coupe champagne glass with a Maraschino cherry.
It was excellent—and I’m happy to say I’ve found my new regular drinking haunt!