By RACHAEL FREY
In the Prohibition era of the early twentieth century, going out for a night on the town was a clandestine affair. Bar patrons would quickly glance around for the coppers before slipping into an alley and rapping out a secret knock on an unmarked door to be admitted into a speakeasy for a glass or three of bootlegged moonshine.
Now that alcohol is as legal as apple pie, there’s no need for stealth. But, the impact that Prohibition speakeasies had on social diversity, operating practices, and even cocktail recipes still reverberates through drinking establishments nearly 100 years later.
Over the last few years, modern speakeasies have been popping up all over North America—genteel bars with a vintage or retro vibe, nattily dressed bartenders, and a focus on classically inspired and crafted cocktails. Don your fedoras and flapper dresses (or whatever kids are wearing these days) and check out Calgary’s contemporary interpretations of the speakeasy—secret knock not required.
Milk Tiger Lounge
Like the speakeasies of old, there’s no sign marking the entrance to Milk Tiger Lounge, just a little black and white tiger icon. That hasn’t hindered it in the slightest from becoming one of Calgary’s hottest cocktail bars. Though the bartenders—led by award-winning mixologist and co-owner Nathan Head—aren’t afraid to get creative, they haven’t abandoned the classics either. From the dark and bold Old Fashioned to the light and fresh Sidecar (a defining cocktail of the Prohibition era), sipping a Milk Tiger classic is like travelling back to 1920, but with much better quality liquor.
• 1410 – 4 St SW, 403-261-5009, milktigerlounge.ca
Off Cut Bar
Located in the historic National hotel in Inglewood, Calgary’s oldest neighbourhood, Off Cut Bar and adjoining restaurant The Nash are the brainchild of renowned chef Michael Noble. Off Cut pays respect to the building’s heritage, from the tables made with old radiators to the sharply dressed, mustachioed bartenders. The cocktails are, fittingly, contemporary takes on the classics, such as the Buckskin Sour: Ungava gin, Lillet blanc, lemon juice, house-made salted cardamom cordial and egg white are shaken and garnished with three dashes of grapefruit and hops bitters.
• 925 – 11 St SE, 403-984-3365, thenashyyc.com
Tucked away upstairs from the bustling National on 10th beer hall, the Bourbon Room has that “for those in the know” speakeasy cachet. The shiny, leather-covered banquet seating and vintage pin-up photos add to its old-fashioned charm and the limited number of seats gives it a cozy, exclusive feel. Obviously whiskey is the star of the show, including sample flights of three bourbons, but they also offer an authentic two-tap absinthe fountain complete with all the accessories needed to invoke the Green Fairy.
• 341 – 10 Ave SW, 403-474-2739, ntnl.ca/national-10th/bourbon-room-ntnl10
Standard Modern Speakeasy
While there’s no need to evade the police, you do have to duck down an alley to find the entrance to Standard Modern Speakeasy, which is located off the alleyway between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue Southwest. Dress to the nines for this exclusive, upscale joint, which transforms into a dance club on Friday and Saturday nights. The suspendered bartenders give homage to the old favourites, and they’re not greedy with their knowledge—groups can book a cocktail class and learn to make the perfect Old Fashioned at home.
• 111 – 7 Ave SW, 403-474-4828, www.standardyyc.com