Warning: this is gonna be hipster heresy.
Ok, I have something to confess. It’s a huge trend that I just can’t really get behind. The speakeasy bars.
Hold the Bitters
The handcrafted, infused with herbs and inflated prices, fancy cocktail bars. I get it though. It’s a creative ploy. Yes, prohibition-era places with dubious sounding names are super mysterious. In Orlando there’s Herman’s Loan Office and Hanson’s Shoe Repair. And right in downtown Jacksonville is Volstead. Throwback themes. I see what you’re doing. Old school, vintage, blah blah. Don’t get me wrong, the decor is unique and interesting – old jukeboxes, typewriters and cameras. On their own those items are totally fascinating. And the bartenders with their combed hair, vests and suspenders also make you feel like you’re on a 20’s movie set. But this only works as a backdrop. As a replacement for your usual Saturday night spot it totally falls short.
In my personal experience, these bartenders unapologetically take about 4 times as long to make drinks that costs 3 times as much as usual and taste 12 times as strange as anything you’ve ever had.
Maybe this makes me a little basic. I prefer gin and tonic WITHOUT huckleberry extract, bitters or a sprig of holly. When you look at the menus of a speakeasy, you will be confronted with a list of concoctions that sound enigmatic – and at first a bit romantic and intriguing. But they usually taste bizarre. There’s drinks with charcoal and egg whites. Why? I feel like I am in science class and we all started sipping the chemical compounds sitting in front of us. Now, sure, moscow mules come in cool glasses and ginger beer is fun. A well-made old-fashioned can be delightful. But 9 out of 10 times you’re getting something that costs more and tastes worse.
Maybe It’d be Fun in a Tiara
And so much pretentiousness.
We could talk about authenticity and say, “ok but these bartenders are sandwich, I mean cocktail, artists who enjoy the refined things. Really? I saw one extract one of the fancy giant square ice cubes out of a whiskey tumbler after hearing the guest wanted it neat. C’mon.
The thing is I love Hemingway. I love the drama, the class and romance that these places promise to be. But I’m not Miss Scarlet from Clue. Nor am I a starlette with a feather boa and diamonds dripping from my ears. If I were, I might accompany a duke, prince or mayor to have one Tom Collins, but then I would want to go to a more comfortable location – a place where the taste of my drink isn’t a gamble.
While there is an alluring vibe, aged bitters leave me with an unpleasant feeling.
Volstead’s saving grace was a kick-ass band that played Dave Matthews and Ed Sheeran. The band was soooo loud for the small place, and my group couldn’t hear enough for much small talk, but the tunes were so good. They almost made me forget about the black powder floating around in my cocktail glass. Almost.