Mob Museum to open hidden Prohibition-era speakeasy

Downtown Las Vegas’ newest watering hole aims to combine cocktails and education, with more quality and consideration than any campus bar or frat party ever has.

On Thursday night, the Mob Museum will host a VIP grand opening party for The Underground, a permanent exhibition on the history of Prohibition that will double as a working speakeasy and distillery. It promises to be an only-in-Vegas spot for enjoying beer and cocktails while learning a thing or two about gangsters and flappers.

As the name indicates, The Underground is in the basement of the former Stewart Avenue post office and courthouse that houses the museum. As guests descend the stairs from the lobby to the subterranean speakeasy, there’s a slightly forbidden feel that lends itself to exploring a period when enjoying a cocktail was a criminal offense. The space demonstrates how Prohibition pushed drinking underground, culturally and sometimes even physically.

The walls of the stairwell are plastered with political posters from the time, calls from the so-called “wets” to repeal the 18th Amendment on one side with the appeals of pro-temperance “drys” on the other side. Once downstairs, a more festive mood is set by antique posters advertising the entertainment of the day: a film by Howard Hughes, a concert by Cab Calloway, a pack of Old Gold cigarettes. From there, guests can explore the distillery, which will be used to create the museum’s own brand of moonshine, and the speakeasy, which will offer cocktails made with that spirit, as well as others.

Both sides of the attraction are decorated with artifacts and information worthy of a serious educational institution such as the Mob Museum. Bottles recovered from a rum-running tugboat that sank off the coast of New Jersey accompany a lesson on how ships brought illegal booze into the country. Antique gaming equipment shows how people once gambled, and music on display demonstrates the influence of African-American entertainers on speakeasy culture. (And although the machine gun prop used by Sean Connery in “The Untouchables” that’s on display under glass in the bar may not be true to the period, it’s still pretty cool.)

This is, however, a high-proof history. The gallery for the museum’s Prohibition collection will be the speakeasy, with bartenders who will shake history into their work as they try to steer patrons toward period-specific cocktails, but gladly serve beverages from whatever era suits your fancy.

The in-house brewing program will provide some of the draft beer, including a monthly selection by neighbor and sponsor Zappos, called Zap on Tap. Across from the bar, an uncharacteristically modern automated system will dispense high-end whiskeys by the ounce to patrons with pre-paid cards.

A small stage area is perfect for guest lectures or musical performances. Cocktail demos and other behind-the-bar lectures can be shown on in-house video screens. A framed life-size photo of New York speakeasy queen Texas Guinan swings open to reveal a private party enclave known as The Fitting Room.

The Underground will be open — and pouring cocktails and mocktails — during museum hours. Guests in the know will be able to grab a drink until at least 10 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays and midnight Thursdays through Saturdays. Admission to The Underground is included with museum admission before 5 p.m. After that, guests may enter at no charge through a basement back door located at the foot of a staircase off the service driveway on the east side of the building. In addition, followers of The Underground’s social channels will have access to secret passwords that will afford them free access anytime.

Try doing that at the Met or the Louvre.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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