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The speakeasy was a type of illicit drinking establishment that flourished during the Prohibition era in the United States. These hidden bars offered a refuge from the strict alcohol laws of the time and were often decorated in a stylish and sophisticated manner. If you are a fan of the Art Deco era and are looking to create your own speakeasy bar, here are some tips that are inspired by historical speakeasy bars across the country.
In the 1920s, speakeasies were often hidden in basements, behind secret doors, or in other out-of-the-way locations. To create a true speakeasy atmosphere, choose a hidden location for your bar, and make it difficult for outsiders to find.
To make your basement bar feel hidden and secretive, like a speakeasy, you can use a few different techniques. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Build a hidden entrance. Create a hidden door or trapdoor that leads to your speakeasy bar, and require a password or secret knock to gain entry. This can be as simple as a bookshelf that slides open to reveal the bar, or you can use a more elaborate mechanism such as a lever or a button that opens the door.
- Add curtains or screens. If you can’t fashion a true hidden entrance, use curtains or screens to cover windows or doors that lead to the bar to keep the space hidden from outside view. You can also use these to create private or semi-private areas within the bar.
- Install dim lighting. Dim the lighting in your speakeasy bar to create a cozy and intimate atmosphere. You can use a combination of overhead lighting, floor lamps, string lights, and candles with warm-toned bulbs to achieve the desired effect.
- Use sound-dampening materials. If necessary, use sound-dampening materials such as thick curtains, rugs, or foam panels to reduce the sound of music and conversation to keep your speakeasy bar hidden from outside ears.
- Paint walls or furniture in a dark color. You can always paint basement walls, especially if moisture is an issue. If you can, dark paint colors can create a cozy and intimate atmosphere in your speakeasy bar. Consider using shades of dark blue, navy, or black for a classic speakeasy look.
Decorate in a sophisticated manner.
Speakeasies were known for their stylish and sophisticated decor, often featuring Art Deco antiques and other fashionable design touches. Choose decorations that evoke the glamour and excitement of the period, and create a sophisticated and inviting atmosphere.
This is just a general list of supplies that you may need to decorate your speakeasy bar. Depending on your specific theme and plans, you may need to add or remove items from this list. Be sure to plan carefully and gather all necessary supplies before starting your project.
- Bar or table
- Bar stools or chairs
- Bottles and glasses
- Bartender’s tools and equipment
- Decorations (vintage posters, feathers, beads, etc.)
- Props (gramophone, antique telephone, etc.)
- Music (record player, radio, playlist on a device)
- Games and activities (cards, dice, etc.)
- Choose a theme for your speakeasy bar. This can be based on the Roaring Twenties, with vintage decorations and jazz music, or it can be a modern take on the speakeasy concept. Keep your plan consistent, so the final look feels cohesive.
- Plan the layout. This should include the bar area, seating, and other features like a stage or dance floor. Drawing up a makeshift plan will help you spend less time rearranging furniture.
- Set up the bar area. This should include a bar or table with a selection of bottles and glasses, as well as a bartender’s station with a sink and any other necessary equipment. A dry sink will work if you don’t have access to plumbing.
- Add plenty of seating. This can include bar stools, lounge chairs, or even a few small tables with chairs. Be sure to arrange the seating in a way that encourages conversation and mingling.
- Add decorations to enhance the theme of your speakeasy bar. This can include vintage posters, feathers, beads, and other decor items that fit the Roaring Twenties theme. You can also add props such as a gramophone or an antique telephone to add to the atmosphere.
Serve classic cocktails.
The speakeasy was a haven for lovers of fine spirits, and many classic cocktails were invented during this era. Make sure to stock your bar with various high-quality spirits like gin, whiskey, and vodka, as well as mixers and garnishes. You don’t need an entire bar shelf to be impressive. Stick to filling up an Art Deco bar cart and build on your collection from there.
Offer a selection of 1920s-inspired cocktails and include them on a custom menu (stick to one or two options to start). Here are some popular cocktails and drinks from the 1920s you might want to make in your speakeasy bar:
- Bee’s Knees: made with gin, honey, and lemon juice
- French 75: made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and champagne
- Gimlet: made with gin and lime juice, served over ice
- Gin Fizz: made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water, served over ice and topped with a dash of cream
- Manhattan: made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a cherry
- Martini: made with gin and vermouth, garnished with a green olive or lemon twist
- Mint Julep: made with bourbon, sugar, and mint leaves, served over crushed ice
- Old Fashioned: made with whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a twist of orange peel
- Sazerac: made with rye whiskey, absinthe, and bitters
- Sidecar: made with cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, served over ice
In addition to these cocktails, you may also want to have a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, such as soda water, lemonade, and iced tea, as well as snacks and appetizers to serve alongside the drinks.
In the 1920s, speakeasies were often the center of the social scene and offered a variety of entertainment options. So, plan some entertainment for your guests. First, provide dim lighting and soft jazz music to help create a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Next, consider some of these special entertainment ideas for your at-home speakeasy bar:
- Live music. Hire a jazz or blues band to perform at your speakeasy bar, or invite a musician or singer to play for your guests
- Burlesque show. Hire a burlesque performer or group to provide a sultry and glamorous entertainment option for your guests
- Murder mystery game. Host a murder mystery game set in the world of speakeasies, with guests taking on different roles and trying to solve the crime
- Dancing. Encourage your guests to hit the dance floor and show off their moves, with a mix of swing, jazz, and other 1920s-inspired dance styles
- Casino games. Set up a table or two with classic casino games such as poker, blackjack, and roulette, and let your guests try their luck
- Karaoke. Set up a karaoke system and encourage your guests to take the mic and sing their hearts out
- Movie night. Show a classic film from the 1920s or a modern movie with a speakeasy theme, such as The Great Gatsby or Boardwalk Empire
These are just a few ideas for entertainment at your speakeasy bar. Be creative and think about what activities and experiences your guests would enjoy, and plan accordingly.