MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — During Prohibition, speakeasies were about the only place to go if you wanted a drink.
Now legal, there are a number of entrepreneurs keeping the spirit of these clandestine bars alive. One speakeasy has been doing brisk business in Uptown, and it’s strictly word of mouth. That’s the way to Volstead’s Emporium in Minneapolis.
The early 1900s were one of the most tumultuous periods in our nation’s history. We took flight, changing the way we transported ourselves, and after helping turn the tide in the First World War, a lot of Americans thought it was a good time to have a drink.
But many disagreed with that notion and thought alcohol made people “corrupt.” One of them was a “tea-totaler” from Minnesota named Andrew Volstead, who just happened to be a member of Congress.
“And many don’t know this, but it was Volstead who wrote the bill making it illegal to buy or sell alcohol,” David West, co-owner of Volstead’s Emporium in Minneapolis, said.
Thus, the “speakeasy” was born — and America soon learned that prohibition was to drinking, what gasoline was to a campfire.
Speakeasies became so prevalent, some estimate there were as many as 50,000 in New York alone. Given their secretive nature, they were usually located in seedy, unseemly places. Entering a speakeasy was usually a scary proposition, and you’d better know the password.
“We don’t have a password or anything like that,” West said.
But to get into Volstead’s emporium in Minneapolis, you still have to navigate a somewhat scary alley, around a few dumpsters.
“So the whole thing is built around this new experience that you haven’t had before,” West said.
The first thing you’ll notice about Volstead’s is the decor, and the attention to detail. And like most successful endeavors..
“it started out as a napkin drawing,” West said. “John and I painstakingly built this entire bar. It took us a year to build.”
Their hard work is evident with a tasteful blend of nouveau and art-deco designs. But just as important is what you don’t see.
“The whole thing is about mystery and intrigue — a hidden place that had many secrets,” West said.
Like the peacock room that has no doors — only secret passages, or when you’re sitting in one of the private booths and it’s time to place an order.
“We have antique mirrors that open up at the tables, and people are usually pretty surprised,” West said.
But no surprise is the quality of food and drinks they serve. Word on the street is they’re “the best in town.”
“We’re known as a cocktail bar and the food is fantastic,” West said. “Not a bad choice on the menu.”
Ironically, all this is happening right under the nose of the man who is ultimately responsible – a portrait of Volstead looms over the dining room.
“He’s just rolling over right now,” West said.
When you get there, tell them Andrew sent you!
If you can find Volstead’s Emporium, you’re welcome to drop in for a drink anytime. But if you’re looking for dinner on the weekends, it’s better to make a reservation.