How Downtown Phoenix has reinvented speakeasies
Speakeasies were originally created in light of the Prohibition Act of the 1920’s as a way to keep the sale of alcohol secret after the ratification of the 18th Amendment, making the manufacture, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages illegal from 1920 to 1926, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website. Almost a century after the act came out of commission, speakeasies are still up and running in Phoenix, but have been reinvented as places of exclusivity and experience, as opposed to hideouts for secret alcohol sales.
Many downtown Phoenix speakeasies are hidden behind bookshelves and tucked away in alleys, like Melinda’s Alley, a 49-seat bar that can be recognized by a single red light glowing in an alley off of East Adams Street, inviting those who can find them to enjoy menus of top-shelf cocktails in luxury bars with limited capacities, making guests feel exclusive and well-taken care of.
Other spots value exclusivity so much they require passwords to enter; entry often also includes a dress code and a steep cover charge.
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An unnamed local speakeasy even requests to keep the name of their business out of the public’s earshot as much as they can, hoping to uphold their high-end reputation, claiming that “waiting in line is not luxury.” When lines do form, the owner provides guests with champagne flutes to maintain the high-class experience.
“It is supposed to be a luxury experience, it’s quiet and hurried. It’s elegant and it’s not rushed,” the owner of the location said. “It’s almost a house party, because people are introduced to people they don’t know.”
The owner takes pride in the luxurious design of the space, which is located behind a password-protected door that is “hidden in plain sight,” as traditional speakeasies were. Inside, patrons have access to top-shelf drinks, crafted by the owner to each guest’s taste using herbs grown right outside the bar; a large balcony designated to tobacco smoking, another common inclusion in classic speakeasies; and velvet couches located next to windows that give a view of the bar downstairs, but block sight up into the speakeasy. The entire space is 1920’s themed and is usually lit solely by candlelight.
“It’s more of an experience, just to experience the space and hang out up there,” the bartender described of the space. “On weekends, people can go up there and unwind when it’s crazy downstairs.”
Other locations use their hidden bars to attract customers, such as Ziggy’s Magic Pizza Shop, located on Van Buren Street.
Stardust Pinbar can be found behind a freezer door in the back of the pizza shop. The neon-colored speakeasy features a huge colorful dance floor, working vintage pinball machines and a full bar where guests can order a wide range of cocktails along with slices of pizza from the shop up front.
Employees of Ziggy’s encourage all patrons to check out the area free of charge, and have gained attention from people all over the world after posting a video of the space to TikTok, which has amassed over 700,000 views on the app.
Ziggy’s has many other sister concepts in the area, including The Van Buren, a local music and concert venue, and Cobra Arcade, an arcade-style bar that is a hotspot for late-night live music.
“I think we have another concept that’s really well known, Cobra, so we wanted something more exclusive, more of a hidden gem to find,” Michelle Sanchez, a bartender at Stardust said.
Speakeasies offer a more intimate experience for guests that differ from an ordinary bar experience. Those interested in finding some of the most exclusive spaces in Phoenix should talk to locals in the area to find out the guidelines for gaining access to each location.