When you see the red carnation you’ll know you’re in the right place.
Go down the stairs, ring the bell for the “postmaster” and give the password. Then walk through the door into the era of gangsters, flappers and Prohibition.
From the 22-foot translucent Italian quartz bar lit with color-changing lights to the photo-ready pink couch beside a flapper-dress coat rack, everything about Nucky’s Speakeasy in downtown Anoka exudes ambiance and class with 1920s flair.
The Prohibition-style bar opened Wednesday, Nov. 18, in the basement of the old post office building, just in time to host guests for three evenings before shifting to takeout only, due to Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Owned and operated by the same team that recently opened Club 300, the upscale “Jamasian” restaurant upstairs in the same location, Nucky’s takes advantage of the 104-year-old building’s exposed brick and character and the basement’s secluded feel.
“People try to create what we have down there naturally,” said Sen. Jim Abeler, who owns the building along with his wife, Barb.
The building at 300 E. Main St., which is on the National Register of Historic Places, served as a post office from 1916 until 1977. Since then it has been home to a variety of uses, including businesses, a charter school and a church.
Chefs Rowan Brown and Von Inthisone co-own Nucky’s with the Abelers. Brown said he’d visited several other buildings looking for the right space to open a speakeasy. The old post office basement was exactly what he sought.
Guests at Nucky’s can choose from a variety of appetizer-style dishes, from Nucky’s Surf & Turf (sautéed prawns and steak bites) to Gangster Fries (crispy fries with bacon, cheese, gravy and green onions) to Gatsby’s Wings.
But the drink menu is the real focus.
“We intend to have a lot of drinks from back in the day,” Brown said, adding that the bar will focus on scotch, rums and bourbons.
The signature cocktails list features several rum drinks, including the dark rum-based Liquid Marijuana and the coconut-rum based Jamaican No Problem.
Classic cocktails include whiskey favorites such as the old fashioned and mint julep, as well as the scotch-based “rusty nail.” Those who prefer other spirits can choose from the side car, Tom Collins, Moscow mule and more.
Members at the speakeasy can also opt to purchase their own bottle of higher-end liquor and have it kept behind the doors of the safe from the former post office for their enjoyment when they visit.
Like many speakeasies, the bar takes its name from a former crime boss, but one whose name is less well known and less “shopworn” than the likes of Al Capone, Abeler said.
Enoch L. “Nucky” Johnson, the former Atlantic County treasurer, essentially ran Atlantic City for three decades through fear and charm, according to The Press of Atlantic City. Some will recognize his name from the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” A section of the speakeasy called “Nucky’s Nook” features his photo, along with a plaque explaining who he was.
Nucky’s isn’t the only speakeasy coming to downtown Anoka. The Anoka Hardware Store Speakeasy at 201 Jackson St. also welcomed guests Friday, Nov. 20, and plans to reopen when the governor allows. Representatives of the Anoka Hardware Store didn’t respond to ABC Newspapers’ requests for an interview.
Abeler hopes new businesses such as Nucky’s and the Anoka Hardware Store will make downtown an even more desirable destination for shoppers and diners.
“I think it’s going to feed Anoka’s scene,” he said.
Abeler also expressed frustration with Walz’s order shutting down restaurants for four weeks except for takeout and delivery. He said the governor didn’t even allow time for his previous order closing indoor bar and restaurant service at 10 p.m. to work.
During the shutdown, Nucky’s is offering takeout 4-8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, but it will only bring in a fraction of the normally expected revenue. Abeler said he worries about his employees who won’t be able to work and those he must delay hiring.
Once it can resume dine-in service, Nucky’s Speakeasy’s hours will be 4:30-10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The dress code is smart casual, and 1920s-themed attire is encouraged.
Learn more and find the password for entry at facebook.com/nuckysspeakeasy.