Return of the Speakeasy

Orlando locals step back into the Prohibition era because clandestine meeting spaces are always cool.



Roberto Gonzalez

So a man walks into a bar. Actually, wait. It’s more complicated than that. To get into the bar, he must find it first. And once he gets to the secret location, then he has to figure out how to get in. Does he need a password? A code? A gorgeous girlfriend?
That’s the thing with speakeasies. They are very hush-hush, and the owners and patrons like it that way. Rather than scream their uniqueness on billboards and fliers, it’s all about word of mouth and a seductive, secretive appeal that lures people in. In other words, it’s truly an escape from the same-old scene. So how do you find them? Read on.

Hanson’s Shoe Repair

To get to know Hanson’s Shoe Repair, you must first rewind back to the late 1800s when the Pine Street building was occupied by Mr. Hanson the cobbler. His family’s business remained in the same location for about 60 years and was known for having the first electric sign in Orlando.

The spirit of Mr. Hanson is still present in the bar through decorative antique shoes and portraits taken during the early 1900s. “Having spent time in some of the country’s famous speakeasies, we felt it was time to open one in Orlando,” says Curt Littlecott, one of the owners at Hanson’s. “More than anything, we wanted to create an environment that would be an escape from the younger—and sometimes rowdy—downtown scene.”

That they did. It’s a chill hideaway that allows 20 to 30 people at a time and even has a rooftop space for occasional live music and racy burlesque. The conversation is kept polite and low, and the bartenders are constantly putting their own twists on classic cocktails, just to keep things interesting. The senior mixologist recently came up with the “NOPA,” in which he mixes bourbon, lemon and ginger beer with an aperitif wine. Another bartender just added the “Black Pearl” to the menu. It’s a delightfully tart blend of rum, demerara sugar, lime, mint and ginger beer.

HOW TO GET IN: Call 407-476-9446. You’ll reach a voicemail asking if your shoes have lost their spirit or are prohibiting you from walking properly. The message asks you to please speak easily into the phone with a time, date and number of people in your party. They will text you the code. Keep in mind: It changes daily. 27 E. Pine St., Orlando, 407-476-9446.

Pharmacy

This bistro-style hideaway has an industrial feel. Tables are made of upcycled lumber from a reclaimed 19th-century barn in Oregon. The tile floors are wide plank, natural, untreated and minimally processed slate. The lights are period specific and look like they could have once hung in a schoolhouse or library; they also don’t provide a ton of light, which just adds to the shadowy ambiance.

Belly up to a bar made of recycled zinc to place your order with a bartender sporting a bowler hat. You’ll be perusing the “medicine cabinet,” which contains “pharmaceuticals brewed from the finest ingredients to provide you with an antidote from all your troubles.” One crowd-pleaser is the Fizz, a classic cocktail with carbonation and citrus. Altogether there are usually about 18 cocktails on the menu, which changes monthly. (Hint: If you hit Pharmacy early in the week, you might have some one-on-one time with one of the owners. They sometimes tend bar.)
 

One thing is certain: Pharmacy is all about the details. “Our sodas, tonics, bitters, tinctures, cherries, garnishes—everything is made in house,” says Tyler Brassil, one of the owners. “Yeah, we are crazy like that, but if you think about it, years ago that’s the way it was done.”

Better yet, to go along with those handcrafted cocktails, you’ll find moderately priced appetizers and entrées. The changing menu focuses on the use of local, seasonal, organic and sustainable foods. Recently featured menu items included clams arrabbiata, whole garlicky Cape Canaveral rock shrimp and Neapolitan pizzas.

HOW TO GET IN: Pass through a nondescript hallway and enter the bistro through an out-of-the-ordinary door cleverly disguised as an elevator shaft. 8060 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando, 407-985-2972; thepharmacyorlando.com

The Courtesy

Here’s what you won’t find at The Courtesy: excessively loud music, an entry fee or young kids spilling PBR. What you will find: a mixture of turn-of-the century-type furnishings, a carefully crafted drink menu and Victorian-influenced steampunk decor. Overall, this is a dedicated cocktail lounge (a.k.a. an upscale “big kids bar”) where you’d feel comfortable bringing a date. So although this isn’t a place where you need to know a code word, The Courtesy definitely has a speakeasy vibe.

The drink menu is divided into “signatures,” which are handmade craft cocktails like the Sailor Mule, a variation on the Moscow Mule with Sailor Jerry Rum and some housemade special touches, and “standards” like a Sazerac or a Manhattan. Not a fan? No worries. They offer a thoughtful selection of craft beer and boutique-type wine, as well as absinthe service and housemade sodas. And if you’re there for happy hour, try the punch. It’s different every day and always creative. 

Expect fresh ingredients—even the sodas are made by local James Beard nominee and rock-star chef Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant. He also makes the garlic and jalapeño pickles for the Betty Ford Bloody Marys.

If you want to master these cocktails yourself, you’re in luck. Cocktail classes (the first and third Saturday of each month at 6 p.m.) give you some history on classic bevvies and some extra cred when you throw your next dinner party.

HOW TO GET IN: Walk through the door. No password needed. 114 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, 407-450-2041; thecourtesybar.com
 

 

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