photo from: www.thecoast.ca
My interest was piqued the moment I heard there was something of a “speakeasy” just a short couple of blocks from where we were staying while we were in Halifax.
Enter the Drawing Room, the upstairs speakeasy at an unassuming pub [of which there are many it seems in downtown Halifax]. It’s only open two nights a week, Friday and Saturday. The space however, would not seem out of place in New York City, or any other city with a thriving cocktail scene. A dimly lit, well appointed bar, playing period appropriate music, with simple wooden seating. If this were in New York, you can be sure there’s be another 15 tables in here. But in Halifax? The tables were spread out far enough to give each party their own space. Though the atmosphere might have been a touch louder than other speakeasies, it never felt lacking in intimacy. The Gin Wife and I had plenty of space to enjoy our drinks.
Though, perhaps I am being unfair. Naturally, as an avid cocktail bar visitor in New York, it seems only natural to compare. This is the only place of its kind in Halifax [as far as I know.
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Little Branch is yet another bar in the “Cocktail Empire” of Sasha Petraske. For cocktail aficionados, you already know that is an indication that this place is top notch. For everyone else, give me a brief moment and I’ll tell you why Little Branch should be your unmarked door bar of choice.
Firstly, the decor is intimate and warm. There are plenty of cozy dim lit booths. The bartenders are decked out in suspenders and period dress. I’ve had good experience walking in and getting a seat. There’s a fair amount of booths, but very limited bar seating. That’s too bad because that’s where the action is. Fresh juices, large blocks of ice, and a bar that spans the spectrum of imaginable herbal liquors, bitters and high quality ingredients.
The atmosphere is a bit different than other similar bars. For example, live jazz several nights a week. Also, the shape of the bar causes it to feel more crowded than other similar speakeasy bars. The door policy is much more lenient meaning you’re likely to get in, but the place can fill up.
What’s Good: When in Rome, I do as the Romans.
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Of all of the speakeasy style cocktail bars I’ve been to, Dutch Kills holds a special place in my personal list of cocktail bars. Underneath the subway tracks that I take to work every day in an area of town that once was a wasteland of ten lanes of vehicular traffic (they’ve made some great improvements as of late though!),there exists this wonderful haven of cocktail-making.
Dutch Kills is just one of Saschaa Petraske’s “Hand Crafted Cocktail Empire,” which includes Little Branch, Mile and Honey, The East Side Company Bar, and White Star.
Getting In: The outside is marked by only a white neon sign. It says “Bar.” The insides are dark wood and dimly lit- it feels like a speakeasy and is very much in the line with the current trend. Its a cozy bar and a great place to take someone for a date or for an intimate gathering of a few friends. I don’t recommend it strongly for groups, but compared to other speakeasy style cocktail bars in the city you’re more likely to find space for your large group here than many other places.
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When in Alexandria, Virginia be sure to stop by Eamonn’s on King Street. And get a deep fried Milky Way Bar. The come back later that night and look for the Blue Light. But don’t come dressed in any less than your finest.
What’s Good: PX is a 1920’s inspired speakeasy where everything behind the bar: from juice to tonic water is homemade. So even the most quotidian of drinks is special here. Yes, order a gin and tonic. The tonic is among the finest in the world and worth asking for. This is one fancy cocktail bar where the basics are some of the best.
The bar itself reminds me of an apartment. There are several rooms adjacent to the bar area, so that even when PX is at its most crowded you can get away and sit with your friends. Think 1920’s chic. There’s glitzy chandeliers dangling overhead and a bit of overwrought prohibition era kitsch. Its all part of the experience, and although there’s nothing extremely secret about it, you could easily begin to feel like your in another place and time.
Getting In: Though you can get a table on off-nights by just ringing the bell and hoping for the best, I highly recommend reservations.
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Raines Law Room is one of those bars denoted by an unmarked door in midtown Manhattan. Of all of the so-called “speak-easy’s” in New York City, this is the one that I’ve been to the most frequently. I originally “discovered” this bar when a few of my friends surprised me for my birthday.
Firstly, the atmosphere is top notch. It is classy with curtains, upholstered seats, dimly lit booths with a well place “light switch” that you pull on when you need a refill. But despite the great seats, one of my favorite places in this cocktail bar is actually the bar area. It is small and only stands about 4 or 5 at best, but it is a great vantage point to see the care that and effort that goes into each cocktail. And of course, don’t forget to check the wall paper in the restroom.
What’s Good: This is the bar I fell in love with the Negroni at. One night this past winter, while tipping back a few with a good friend of mine I ordered the unassuming “Winter Negroni.” It was a seasonal cocktail made with the usual vermouth, Campari, and with Beefeater Winter Gin.
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