The way that the term “speakeasy” has been adopted and thrown around in America has always been funny to me. The traditional speakeasy term, which has its roots in prohibition, is defined as those places that illegally sell alcoholic beverages. Back in the day, they were often underneath or through secret entrances of legit businesses. Today, however, it seems that the term has gotten lost in translation and is often applied to just about any “vintage” cocktail bar. Some places have certainly earned the title more than others, such as Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco, which actually housed a speakeasy during prohibition.
But then enters Blind Barber, with locations in New York City and Los Angeles, which appears to have captured the essence of the original speakeasy. The Blind Barber doesn’t bill itself as a speakeasy. In fact, it doesn’t even bill itself as a bar first and foremost. It’s a barbershop—barber pole, bench, sign, cushy chairs, and all. The common person walking in wouldn’t even realize that there’s a bar on the property. That is until they were asked what type of cocktail they wanted. That’s right, you get a free drink when you get your ears lowered at the Blind Barber. (Sorry ladies, this is no beauty salon, though you can go into the bar for a cocktail while your boo is getting his beard trimmed.)
To enter the bar of the Culver City location, you’ll walk through the barbershop to a door in the back that looks like the entrance to a closet. I, too, had a quizzical look when a guy holding a pair of shears opened the door for me, leading me down a dark hallway to a cocktail parlor like I’d expect in Gotham City. I could totally picture Mickey Cohen sitting in one of the vintage buttoned booths in the corner, sipping on a glass of whiskey.
The cocktail parlor essentially consists of the L-shaped bar and a number of vintage booths that line the wall. The space between it becomes a dance floor late at night on the weekends, when they have local deejays spin music. Belly up to the bar and one of the bartenders will hand you a menu with a number of specialty cocktails that up the ante on your local dive’s cocktail offerings. Standouts include the “Sweeney Ted,” featuring Irish whiskey, lemon juice, honey, egg white, and bitters, and the seasonal “Good Boy,” with whiskey, strawberries, sage, lemon, amber agave, and orange zest.
Oh, and did I mention the grilled cheese menu? A GRILLED CHEESE menu! Some of the combinations include Spanish chorizo and manchego and smoked bacon. They bring out the big guns for their dessert grilled cheese. Yes, dessert grilled cheese featuring a couple of different options, most notably the Nutella and mascarpone (drops mic, walks off stage).
While I’ve predominantly talked about the Culver City bar, it originated in New York City with the East Village barbershop and cocktail bar, and has recently added a Brooklyn locale. If you go to the Culver City bar, tell them I sent you, and if you’re feeling brave, ask for the bartender special.
Photos above from the Blind Barber while the video is shot by me. See photos below from the Whiskey Tango Globetrot launch party at the Blind Barber.