We live in confusing times. Back in the '90s, it was very easy to define the word “cool” because there were clear critera to be met. In high school movies from the '80s and '90s, the scene would always be set with a cafeteria sequence identifying the popular kids from the geeks. Nowadays, we hear that geeks are the new jocks and sensitive hipsters are the new popular kids. In addition to that, people go out of their way to find an unpopular thing, whether it be a religion, music, or restaurant, which eventually becomes popular with the people who don’t consider themselves popular but who really are.
One of these movements gaining momentum in the last three years or so is the speakeasy bar. The trend kicked off in New York, where bars were licensed, unlike their historical format, but still followed the speakeasy code: no loud noise, dimly lit interiors, offbeat locations, classic and strong cocktails, efficient bartending…The concept now seems rampant, with different bars around the world claiming the speakeasy title from the U.S. all the way to Manila (we know of two successful ones: Prohibition and the Blind Pig.)
Speakeasies were illegal bars (which still had licences, except these were controlled by corrupt government workers and policemen), set up during the Prohibition era in the United States. There was a ban on alcohol, so these makeshift, tucked-away establishments were a godsend to a depressed nation and their mob kings. You can try to replicate that forbidden effect in your own home.
STEP 1: THE LOCATION
You want to try and find a place that is low-key, not anywhere close to commercial (restaurant and bar) establishments, unless you are willing to do this in your house or apartment. No need to dress the place up much, use whatever furniture is lying around, and keep the lighting as low as possible, (candlelight is a good option). Make sure that it is large enough to accommodate the number of people you want to draw in and hire the amount of staff accordingly. The whole point of a speakeasy is to speak easy, so no loud noises, make sure your patrons are aware of that and don’t invite people who are going to be blasting NWA through their car speakers as they roll up to the spot with their windows down (yes, people like that still exist).
STEP 2: THE BAR AND THE DRINKS
You’ll need an actual bar, so build one with a set of 2x4s or use an existing high table. There is nothing more off-putting than a low din-ing table last-minute set up.You are probably not a mixologist, but you should by now have a well-stocked bar if you’ve been reading this magazine for a while. If not, make sure you have the basics for making cocktails and if you are looking to invent your own mixes, follow the standards below.
TOOLS: Boston shaker, cobbler shaker, bar spoon, jigger, Hawthorne strainer, grater, lemon press, tweezers, muddler, julep strainer, fine mesh strainer, XL ice cube trays. (David Wondrich gives great tips on essential home bar tools.)
ALCOHOL: Light rum (Mount Gay), bourbon, tequila (Patron), gin (Hendricks), vodka (Standard), Cointreau, bitters, whisky (Johnny Walker Black), blended or rye whiskey, spiced rum (Don Papa), anis (Ricard Pastis), fortified wine, port wine, Champagne (Moet), sweet vermouth, brandy, cointreau, maraschino liqueur, St. Germain. SYRUPS: Simple syrup, grenadine, rose syrup, almond, maple, honey.
It’s actually more difficult than you think to mix drinks on taste alone (unlike cooking), because if you put too much or too little of something, there is no going back and fixing, you will have to start a whole new batch. It’s handy to have, just like in math, a set of formulas in your head that you can apply to the drinks you want to create.
- Sour Style and Sweet Liqueur Cocktails: 3:2:1 ratio of spirits:liqueur:citrus
- The David Wondrich standard that can be applied to ran-dom combinations: Use 2 ounces of spirit for 1 oz fortified wine, a tsp of liqueur, and 2 dashes of bitters.
- The not-a-fan-of-strong-drinks ratio:2:1:1 ratio of spirits:liqueur:citrus. Add a dash of juice to taste (maybe 1 tbsp) and ice.
- Shaken: Simply break ice and mix it in with the cocktail to make it a little lighter. You can either strain the cocktail onto more ice, or just simply strain it.
- Stirred: Mix the cocktail with ice just to get it cold and then either strain it or leave in the ice.
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.