Speakeasy Bars

Get a taste of the bootlegging days at these bars in New Hampshire

The Cave at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods was once an actual speakeasy.

In an age where life plays out publicly every minute of every day on the Internet and social media, the Prohibition era seems mysterious and oh-so attractive.

Speakeasy bars have been popping up in big cities like Boston, Washington, DC, and New York over the last five years and now have surfaced in New Hampshire’s urban hubs.

Four months ago, a vintage bookstore opened on Nashua’s West Pearl Street — or so it seemed. Those who try to enter the shop can’t get in. But walk around the corner, open a door and you’ll see a bookshelf on a wall. Pick the right title and you enter Codex — a Prohibition-style saloon and restaurant. Once inside the ambience is gaslight-dim, servers are dressed in period costumes and vintage furnishings are arranged in vignettes conducive to retro-schmoozing.

The bookstore theme is continued with large, cameo-style paintings of famous authors.

Earlier last year, 815, a modern cocktail bar with a speakeasy feel, opened at 815 Elm St. in Manchester. Entry to this second-floor establishment involves a vintage phone booth, a code and a brick wall that slides open as if by magic.

The owners of Codex (named for Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks) and 815 are a trio of 30/40-somethings — Ryan McCabe, Liu Vaine and Sarah Maillet. 

“The speakeasy may no longer be a necessity,” according to the owners’ statement on their website, “but the temptation of a secret, little-known place for imbibing spirits remains as alluring as it did during the Prohibition era.”

 “We did this for the love of proper, crafted cocktails,” says McCabe, a 30-year veteran barkeep. 

“We do everything fresh — there’s nothing made out of a gun. Our juices are hand-squeezed. We make cocktails the way they were made 100 years ago. A lot of bars and restaurants have gotten away from the properly made drink.”

At Codex the cocktail menus — bound in the covers of old books — include Manhattans, old-fashioneds, gin martinis and some drinks that harken back to World War I, like the French 75 or soixante quinze, made with gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and Prosecco. “It was named after the French 75mm field gun, because it’s light but packs a big punch,” says McCabe.

The food at the bistro is crafted in the same retro spirit. The concept appears to have caught on.

McCabe says the bars have drawn fans from 21-75 year olds. “On Friday and Saturday night, people show up at Codex in period costumes.”

But while nouveau-speakeasies may be a hot, new trend, one New Hampshire institution has never really abandoned its Prohibition-era bar.

The Cave at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods started as a squash court when the resort opened in 1902. But during the Prohibition era the former squash court became a stone-ceilinged, sequestered space where “libations continued to be served in teacups, while lookouts in the back room kept watch for the police,” says Craig Clemmer, spokesperson for the resort. “Our porous border with our neighbors to the north allowed for a free flow of Canadian whisky.” The Cave celebrates its speakeasy roots with a special Prohibition punch served in a teacup, ragtime dance parties and an occasional staged raid.  


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