Prohibition-style, speakeasy bars have experienced a rebirth in recent years in big cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego — and the trend now has spread to Paso Robles.
The new 1122 Cocktail Lounge opened June 8 in a separate space attached to the back of Pappy McGregor's Irish Pub, at 1122 Pine St.
The lounge has a dark, hideaway atmosphere to give patrons the feeling of going back in time to the 1920s and 1930s, with a high-end cocktail experience, according to Donovan Schmit, who is partnering in the business with his cousin, Troy Larkin.
The cousins also operate Pappy McGregor's on the same property and the Mexican restaurant and tequila bar Fish Gaucho in Paso Robles.
Their new 1,000-square-foot establishment, which fits about 30 people, backs up to Railroad Street, where its "new beautiful building is surrounded by industrial metal and tin buildings," adding to the secretive atmosphere, Schmit said.
"Our idea was inspired by the speakeasy-style places that we visited in cities like New York, L.A. and San Francisco," Schmit said. "We're open to anyone, and there's no dress code, but a lot of people have shown up in full suit and tie or nice dresses. People want to get dressed up and have an event."
Drinks start at $14. The interior design features old-fashioned decor, dimly lit spaces with tables for two or more and nine barstools.
The lounge doesn't serve food; the business is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
No password is necessary to enter — as sometimes is the case in speakeasies elsewhere — though customers must ring the doorbell attached to a light bulb. That triggers outdoor lights in the otherwise unlit area just outside of the building, as well as lighting internally in the vestibule to alert the doorman, Schmidt said.
Customers are then greeted by a host or hostess through a small, barred window that slides open.
If seating is available, the hostess will allow entry. But if not, customers will be sent a text message when a table or barstool is available, as the business is first-come, first-serve.
The new tavern features mixologists and popular drinks such as the "From Russia Without Love" (a play on a White Russian) that is made by pouring dark mezcal through a slow-drip system with espresso grounds, along with other ingredients such as Kahlua.
The lounge also stocks more than 100 whiskeys, with some rare offerings the owners have been collecting over the past year or two, Schmidt said.
BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in San Luis Obispo has a similar hidden feel, tucked away downstairs from a ground-floor barber shop on Chorro Street, though it serves only beer, while 1122 Cocktail Lounge serves a variety of mixed drinks, Schmit said.
Bartenders at 1122 Cocktail Lounge dress in 1920s to 1940s attire, and cell phones must be turned off upon entry to add to the feel of getting away from the routine, Schmit said. Customers typically stay up to 45 minutes to an hour before the next group moves in, though nobody is forced out.
Patrons' glasses are chilled with liquid nitrogen, and drinks are assembled by bartenders with carts rolled out directly to customers to enhance the visual experience as well as the sense of taste.
"We've been busy every night since we opened, even on the nights like Tuesday and Wednesday when things are usually slower," Schmit said.