Posted On: 02/01/2009
If The Speakeasy at The Thaxton has one thing going for it, it’s authenticity. Speakeasies, by their nature, are notoriously hard to locate, and this one is no exception. Three blocks south of the bustle of Washington Avenue, the dark, secluded corner of Olive and 11th streets has a foreboding air. A subtle neon sign in a window beckons you toward The Thaxton, then around the side of the building through a grimy back alley scattered with Dumpsters. Just as you’re convinced a mugger is about to jump from the shadows, the entrance is upon you. If you arrive after 9 p.m., you’ll be prompted to ring a bell for the doorman, who eyes newcomers through a slat on a nondescript metal door. A red-lit antechamber leads to a set of stairs winding toward the subterranean lounge.
The corny theatrics aside, The Speakeasy is a smart, innovative bar tailor-made for discerning drinkers and history enthusiasts alike. Designed in 1928, the Thaxton building is a veritable portal to the early 20th century. The place even smells old – in a good way. Of course the real gem is the lower level, which has been gutted and redesigned as downtown’s newest underground saloon. The relatively small space is decked out in a serious art deco motif. The bar, awash in colors and art, flanks a narrow dance floor. Behind those, a lounge area offers random leather couches and chairs perfect for losing yourself in comfort while knocking back a few with your friends.
Open since mid-November, the Speakeasy has remained hush-hush – much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the eager-to-accommodate bar staff, who were in top form throughout both my visits. Selections behind the bar are standard, not too pricey, not too special. (The entirely A-B InBev draft selection is expected to change soon.) The managers also saw fit to sneak in a few unique bottle selections and craft beers: Old Rasputin, Hobgoblin, Acme IPA, along with several large $10 Italian beers with higher alcohol content. Nothing surprising on the hard stuff, which seems odd for a speakeasy. But an official, kitschy, Prohibition-era drink menu is purportedly in the works – good news for those of us perfectly famished for a bathtub Mint Julep.
It’s hard to make much of the crowd, which is still a bit sparse on weekend nights. Most of the seats are taken by a chatty, diverse, 25-and-older group of patrons. Definitely not the place for backward caps and flip-flops. The low-key, lounge atmosphere is amped up on weekends, when DJs pump out a dance-friendly mix of not-so-current hits and classic selections. Sorry, no 1920s jazz – though that wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, now would it?
Looking around the gorgeous bar and ducking out into the alley to steal a smoke (not welcome downstairs), you can tell The Speakeasy is primed for an explosion as a welcome alternative to the cookie-cutter club scene on nearby Washington. An ideal after-hours destination, this is the type of off-the-beaten-track, upscale joint you should be proud to brag about even knowing how to get to. The Speakeasy is an experience in itself – both a toast to the past and a promising nod to the future.
STL AFTER DARK
Check it: Slick back-alley entrance, stylish Prohibition-era decor.
Hipster or Hoosier: Flirty singles, casual professionals, loft dwellers, baby boomers.
Suds or 'Tinis: Start with a Manhattan, finish with a craft beer.
Where: The Speakeasy at The Thaxton, 1009 Olive St., St. Louis, 314.241.3279 When: Fri. – 4:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sat. – 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
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