Prohibition last Friday stationed an exuberant black-vested jazz combo in its doorway in a bid to lure customers to the new 1920s-themed cocktail den, which recently took over the upper King Street space previously occupied by Mercury Bar. But at least in the early evening, the room beyond the tooting musicians looked relatively staid, raising the question of whether the speakeasy trend is played out.
Probably not, says cocktail writer Jeff Berry. As the world’s foremost expert on tiki history, Berry is a scholar of themed bar culture. According to Berry, the current celebration of illicit watering holes isn’t the drinking nation’s first dalliance with the decade.
“The first Roaring Twenties revival was in the 1960s, when bars and restaurants themed themselves like speakeasies, played Dixieland Jazz, and dressed waiters in shirt garters and straw hats,” Berry says. “They had names like Sneeky Pete’s or Rod’s 1920s Roadhouse. The trend lasted about eight years, with a final shot in the arm when the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby hit movie screens.”
Thanks to Baz Luhrmann, we’re in the midst of another big-screen Gatsby year. But that film isn’t likely to close out the Jazz Age-redux era, since the current strain of bathtub gin revivalism represents a rare intersection of fantasy and quality.
“Since we burn through trends much faster now so you’d think the current speakeasy revival would be on its last legs, but this revival has one thing the previous one didn’t — great drinks,” Berry says. “As long as today’s speakeasies keep pouring those, there’s no telling how long the trend could last.”
As for Prohibition, it appeared to draw a healthy crowd later in the weekend with its post-Prohibition TVs. Because while cocktail fads may come and go, football fandom is forever.
Prohibition is open daily at 547 King St. from 5 p.m.-2 p.m., with brunch served on weekends from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. The bar promises live music, dance lessons and “cocktail wizardry” from Jim McCourt. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/ProhibitionCHS or call 793-2964.