By Ambar Ramirez
Admit it. When a friend tells you they have something to say to you, something that you can’t tell anybody, you feel piqued, eager and dare I say … excited. There’s something about secrecy that activates some sort of primal reaction. Which begs the question, why are secrets so fun? Is it a sense of pride that your friend trusted you with some vital information? Or is it that with secrecy comes this unspoken role, that you are some undercover spy having to be very careful with what you say and do? I think, and maybe it’s just me, but anything that’s a secret can’t be overrated. It’s a unique piece of information that only a small amount of people know or in extreme cases, only one person knows. And in our digital age, where information is so widely shared, it makes you feel special to know that something that most people don’t.
Something that has always piqued my interest is a secret location, especially one with alcohol.
And no, I don’t mean any dive bar/hole-in-the-wall (those are cool too), but places that offer drinks and music — and a definite vibe. In other words, a speakeasy.
Speakeasies were created and established during Prohibition when alcohol was deemed a danger to society and ultimately made illegal. Basically the dark ages. If you didn’t guess or take a history class, speakeasies were places that illegally sold alcohol. The title came from “speak-softly shops” and alluded to the need for secrecy. New York City was a hotspot for speakeasies during the 1920s and ’30s, and such establishments even went as far as having two entrances, one meant to confuse law enforcers and the other for people to covertly enter or exit. Interestingly, something I didn’t know prior to writing this story, is that decades prior to the Prohibition, women were typically not allowed to be seen drinking alcohol in public. But speakeasies created a safe space for women to do just that, often camouflaging such activities under the guise of restaurants, dance rooms and powder rooms — and ultimately paving the way for our modern nightlife.
And now you’re probably wondering, what is the point of a speakeasy now that alcohol is (thankfully) not illegal. I, personally, am in my early 20s. I should be hitting up the beach bars every weekend or going to Root Down in 5 Points for silent disco. And believe me, I definitely was … two years ago. But the glitz and glamour of the beach bars has lost its appeal (and its glamour), and I can only go to silent disco so often. Plus I’m not quite ready for the casual after-work drinks at a restaurant. I most definitely still want to be on the dance floor or, if that isn’t an option, at the very least be in a setting so loud that I can ignore conversations without any repercussions. So naturally, speakeasies are the next best thing.
Our modern-day speakeasies are very much legal and offer an escape to the past. A lot of speakeasies still honor the code of needing a secret passcode or handshake to get past the door, but for the most part, you just need to know where you’re going. And this isn’t to say that you (or I) should or will stop going to the beach bars or to silent disco and so on, this is just to allow some variety to our repetitive nightlife routine.
Now you are fully prepped on the history of speakeasies, I’ll let you in on yet another secret. A list of some of Jacksonville’s hidden gems.
Shrouded away on Adams Street between a row of businesses is the moody speakeasy Volstead. When you first walk into the establishment, you may find yourself confused and thinking you’re in the wrong place. But if you find yourself in what looks like an abandoned barber shop, you’ve made it. There’s no secret handshake or passcode that I know of. All you need to do is walk past the hefty red-velvet curtains and allow your eyes to adjust to the dimly lit space. This is the place to be if you’re into a more low-key night out. Leather couches and small coffee tables are scattered throughout if you’re in need of some comfort, otherwise, stools encompass the rounded bar. The speakeasy is named after the Volstead Act which was co-written and sponsored by Andrew Volstead and essentially enacted Prohibition. The bar wanted to honor the time in which elegance, prosperity and change were at the forefront of our society. And they do just that by offering a range of unique crafted cocktails and vintage decorations. This is the place to be if you truly need an escape and detachment from the everyday. Specifically from your phone since I had no phone signal while inside the establishment.
Men’s clothing store by day, speakeasy by night, T-Dubs Mercantile located in Atlantic Beach definitely has some tricks up its sleeves. You wouldn’t have any idea that this store turns up when the lights turn down. Through racks and tables filled with polos and khakis, you’ll find a bar in the back that mainly serves beer, wine and sake-based cocktails. Not only does this speakeasy offer drinks but it also offers live music from local artists. And if you’re there earlier in the evening you can sip and shop. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Now this wouldn’t be a proper scavenger hunt if we didn’t get lost a few times. When my Apple Maps told me I had arrived at my location, I had to doublecheck I was in the right place as I was standing in front of a seemingly closed vapor shop on Edgewood Avenue in Murray Hill. Luckily, I saw somebody else walk in. Through its vapor shop guise, you wouldn’t guess that a German-themed speakeasy is located in the back of this shop. And boy, do I love themes. This speakeasy only offers German beers and wine, and I’m not complaining. Not to mention the amount of detail was impressive, from the menus to the decoration, this place screams German. And surprise! There’s more. Behind the speakeasy is the biergarden. Which I can only assume is the German way of saying outdoor patio. The garden was much more quiet and decorated with hanging lights (bonus points if you can find all the gnomes). Unfortunately, I got to this speakeasy after 11 p.m., but if you start your nights earlier and are in need of German-themed food, this is the place to go.
Funnily enough, when you search The Parlour on the web, it is listed as a beauty salon. They truly took that whole secret thing to heart even if this speakeasy is hidden behind Grape & Grain Exchange, which is a bar in San Marco Square. Despite the fact that the curtains were drawn back and essentially open to the rest of Grape & Grain, I wouldn’t have guessed what I was about to walk into. I walked through the misleading hallway and was met with hypnotizing live jazz music and a full bar. I quickly ordered some cocktails, and by quickly I mean I asked the bartender to make me whatever the couple next to me was having. Thankfully, the cocktail was delicious and so was the atmosphere. It was the kind of place I could get lost in. Are we rating? Cause this speakeasy gets a 13/10.
Secret Tiki Temple
Tucked behind Pagoda Restaurant on Baymeadows Road, you’ll find the Secret Tiki Temple. Its secret? You need a reservation. Luckily, you can usually make reservations day of and needless to say, it’s worth the visit. This speakeasy is decorated to the nines, and if you’re impressed by its colorful lights and island-inspired seating, you’ll be even more impressed by its cocktail menu and food menu.
Tipsy Duck Parlor
This one goes out to all of you Jeep and soap lovers. Let me set the scene. You’re casually spending the day shopping in St. Augustine when you stumble upon a soap shop. But not just any old soap shop. Located inside Bath Junkie in St. Augustine is the Tipsy Duck Parlor. A rubber duck-themed bar, with a few tables and bar stools styled to look like duck feet. Not only does this fever dream speakeasy offer specialty cocktails but they also have a make-your-own soda option with a range of flavors to choose from. Bonus points because pets are welcome.
The RL Lounge
Finding the address is easy: 712 N Hogan St. Finding parking is a cinch (there’s a garage next door). Finding this super hidden speakeasy … not so easy. You may even want to give up after your third drive around the block, but if you do, you’ll be missing out on a true hidden gem. The RL Lounge is located inside the NoCo Center (currently the home of the King Tut exhibit, which formerly hosted “Beyond Van Gogh”), so once you see King Tut on the door, you’re almost there (take a left after you walk in … unless you want to see the exhibit first) and just down the hallway, you’ll find a cozy, sophisticated lounge serving up craft cocktails, killer panini and their highly craveable nut mix. Not to mention some of the best service — with a smile — in town.