Easy Street: Prohibition-Style Cocktails Pack Speakeasy-Inspired Establishments

By / Magazine / March 13th, 2014 / 4

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby harkens back to a time when the sky was the limit and the livin’ was easy. It was just after WWI and the economy blossomed, putting new material goods firmly within reach. Breaking with convention, women sported bobs, ventured out alone and dared to don silk stockings and slim-fitting swimsuits. Jazz captivated the nation and the Charleston, One Step and Black Bottom had couples swinging and swaying to a different beat.

Fitzgerald captured the glitz, glitter and glam of the Jazz Age in his story of the wealthy Jay Gatsby and his lover Daisy Buchanan. In the May 2013 film release, Director Baz Luhrmann recreates the over-the-top opulence and extreme overindulgence of Gatsby onscreen. Leo DiCaprio is resplendent in the role of Jay Gatsby and Carrie Mulligan is delicious as Daisy.

The Great Gatsby is set during prohibition in the early 1920s, when the production, sale and consumption of alcohol were outlawed. Despite being illegal, alcohol flows freely. Gatsby gets rich through gambling and bootlegging. In the movie, Gatsby goes to a barbershop with a hidden entrance to a speakeasy. Speakeasies were secret spots to knock back hooch, frequented by flappers and their fellas. Mentioned in the movie are the Mint Julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and the Gin Rickey, thought to have been a favourite of Fitzgerald’s.

Relive the Roaring ‘20s at jumpin’ juice joints in cities across Canada, where bartenders concoct classic 1920s cocktails. Channel your inner Al Capone or Mary Pickford, if only for an evening. And don’t take any wooden nickels. All of the cool cats will be there dolled up in glad rags, ordering tall glasses of giggle water.

cube tasting lounge: calgary nouveau speakeasy

Franz Swinton, bartender at Anejo Restaurant and bar manager at soon-to-open Cube Tasting Lounge in Calgary, represented Canada recently at the Bombay Sapphire World’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition in Florence. The Calgary bartender has noticed an interest in 1920s-era cocktails as a result of the May release of The Great Gatsby. “It has been trending at a few different places. People have been doing some Gatsby parties.” As Swinton explains, “It’s this allusion to an old time. It’s like clothing styles that come back. That’s the way drinking is.”

Swinton loves making classic cocktails because “Classics don’t go out of style.”

Of the quality of the ingredients, he notes, “A lot of the recipes have some extravagance to them. You are seeing ingredients that are being brought from France, the top ingredients, as well as some American Whiskeys coming forward. You see things like the Champagne Cocktail from this era and this shows this prestige.”

The Cube Tasting Lounge will have 45 seats and a very nouveau speakeasy-style feel. According to Swinton, “It will have some of that throwback to the speakeasies, something that is a little bit exclusive — a little bit selective — but at the same time have new touches and modern flair in the mixology and some of the accents in the room.” The Lounge will be attached to a restaurant called Brix and Morsel located upstairs. Swinton says that there will be a small bit of signage. “You’ll know about it but you won’t necessarily know about it. It won’t be completely secretive. It will be social media guerrilla-style marketing — a small bit of signage for the lounge itself. It will be tied into the main signage for the restaurant.” When asked why the lounge would not remain hidden, Swinton explains, “Right now we are trying to get people excited about cocktails and maybe get them off rye and coke and Budweiser.” With classics like the Mary Pickford, the Bronx, and the Bronx Bomber, getting patrons to give up Budweiser should be a snap.


mary pickford

2 oz white rum

1 1/2 oz pineapple juice (pressed is best)

1/4 oz grenadine (real, pomegranate)

Bar spoon (1/8 oz) maraschino

Shake and fine strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with maraschino cherry.



2 oz gin

1/2 oz dry vermouth

1/3 oz sweet vermouth

1 oz orange juice

Shake and fine strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.


bronx bomber

1 1/3 oz gin

1/2 oz genever

1/2 oz sweet vermouth

1/2 oz Lillet Blanc

1 oz clarified orange juice

Stir over ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Flamed orange twist.


toronto temperance society: for members only

Three years ago, Sidecar Bar and Grill owners Bill Sweete and Casey Bee and cocktail writer Christine Sismondo came up with the idea for a speakeasy in Toronto. The Toronto Temperance Society is a membership bar along the lines of Milk and Honey in New York with no signage and a hidden entrance. Patrons enter the club through Sidecar Bar and Grill. Bar Manager Oliver Stern describes the allure of the Toronto Temperance Society as, “Going to a place that is off of the beaten path and you can walk in and be in a different environment. You walk up the stairs on a Saturday night, it’s crazy out on the street and you can come upstairs and it’s comfortable and there’s live jazz playing.”

Toronto Temperance Society members have plenty of room to relax and enjoy quality cocktails. As Stern says, “If you are having a seat at the bar, there’s never going to be someone behind you pushing up against the bar trying to order a drink. This is a place where you can come and be comfortable.”

Stern, one of the regional winners of the 2013 Grey Goose Pour Masters Cocktail Competition, travelled to New Orleans to attend Tales of the Cocktail in July. “As far as cocktails go, in the early 1900s, that was an era when bartending was becoming a real job and making these cocktails was a profession,” he says of prohibition-era bartending. “All of the drinks we are making now except for molecular gastronomy stuff were based on that foundation.” As Stern explains, the Toronto Temperance Society strives to carry on that legacy: “Certainly the cocktails from back then and what the bartender was is what we are trying to maintain here.”

Stern’s goal is to “make the cocktail that the customer wants.” At the Toronto Temperance Society you can try a classic cocktail such as the French 75, the Boulevardier or the El Presidente.


french 75

1 1/2 oz gin

3/4 oz lemon juice

3/4 oz simple syrup 1:1

Shake and strain into a flute. Top with 3 oz Dry Sparkling wine. Garnish with lemon zest.



1 1/2 oz bourbon

1 oz Campari

1oz sweet vermouth

Stir strain into coupe or rocks with a large rock. Garnish with orange zest.


el presidente

1 1/2 oz aged rum

3/4 oz dry vermouth

1/4 oz Cointreau

Small bar spoon of grenadine

Dash orange bitters

Stir strain into coupe. Garnish with orange zest.


noble: password-access bar in halifax

You’ll need to check Facebook to get into Noble, a new underground speak-style bar on Barrington Street in Halifax. A fresh password posted each Thursday afternoon allows access to the unadvertised bar underneath a desserterie called Middle Spoon.

As Jenner Cormier, bartender at Middle Spoon and Noble explains, “You actually have to travel through the kitchen down a series of hallways to get to this other bar that’s called Noble. It’s built in an abandoned boiler room in a building that dates back to the ‘50s, but we’ve got the same sort of theme as a 1920s speak, very dark, very intimate.” All ice is hand-chipped and there is no refrigerator. Everything is on ice to mimic the speakeasy style. A record player and 1910 grandstand piano complete the picture.

On June 10, 2013 in Toronto, Cormier was named Canada’s first-ever World Class Bartender of the Year, and represented Canada in July, competing against 50 elite bartenders from around the world in the Diageo World Class Global Final. It was just over two years ago when Cormier travelled to Toronto to take an ABCs of bartending course where he learned “how to shake, how to strain, what vermouth is, how to make a martini.”

Cormier had this to say about classic cocktails: “If you dig a little deeper into 1920s cocktails they were trying to mask some pretty terrible spirits. You end up with cocktails like an Orange Blossom, which is equal parts orange juice and gin just to cut that gin […] Or an Alexander, which is equal parts heavy cream and gin and a little bit of chocolate liqueur.”

Noble has a cocktail on their menu called the Gatsby, a subtle twist on an Aviation that they released a few months ago in anticipation of the movie. According to Cormier, “A lot of cocktails are built off of the framework that a lot of the speakeasy cocktails were built upon. If you take an Old Fashioned, that’s your quintessential framework for a cocktail. You’ve got spirit, bitter, sugar and water. If you tweak a couple of things with an Old Fashioned you end up with a Sazarac. Or, change the way it’s served and you’ve got a Manhattan.”

A few classic cocktails recommended by Cormier are the Diabola, the Hanky Panky and the New 1920s Cocktail.



2/3 parts Dubonnet

1/3 parts gin

2 dashes Orgeat syrup

Shake well and strain into a chilled coupe glass.



hanky panky

2 dashes Fernet Branca

1/2 part Italian vermouth

1/2 part dry gin

Shake well and strain into chilled Nick and Nora cocktail glass. Garnish with zest of orange expressed on top of drink and discarded.


new 1920 cocktail

1 dash orange bitters

1/4 part French vermouth

1/4 part Italian vermouth

1/2 part Canadian whisky

Shake well and strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with lemon zest expressed over the drink and drop into cocktail.


Merle Rosenstein is a freelance travel, food and beverage writer in Toronto with a passion for purple and a yen for the open road. She is also staff writer for Vancouver-based Canadian Traveller magazine with published articles in wherecanada.ca, AOL Travel Canada, Edible Toronto and TAPs magazine. You can catch up with Merle on Twitter and at www.newfreelancewriter.wordpress.com.

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