This year marks the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition and so Mystery Playground is visiting modern speakeasies all over the United States to help mark the anniversary. The most recent visit was to San Francisco's Bourbon & Branch, part of which was an actual speakeasy during Prohibition. We had a great time, and I highly recommend it.
Bourbon & Branch has four separate rooms, three of which have separate entrances, and hidden entrances connecting the four rooms:
1) Bourbon & Branch - This is the main room and reservations are required. You can get a reservation on the website, most Saturday nights book well in advance.
2) Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency - This is where the mixology classes are held and guests are seated there on weekends or during private parties.
3) The Russells Room - During Prohibition this room used to be a cigar shop in the basement. Customers would come in and order a non-existant cigar brand that acted as the password. These guests would then be escorted to the basement and were served liquor. There are several emergency exits out of this basement so the patrons could get out safely during a raid. Now there is a fake cigar bar inside. We looked in the dark and small basement. I'm glad we could hang out upstairs. There's more on this story on the B&B website.
4) The Library - This is the only section of Bourbon & Branch that doesn't require a reservation. You do need a password. Don't worry. It's easy to guess. The connecting door to Bourbon & Branch is hidden behind a bookcase attached to the wall. It's really very Addams Family.
We had The Long Way Home (Pisco, lemon, dill tincture, sugar and sparkling wine), the Samanthian (Applejack, lemon, ginger, Benedictine, fresh rosemary and sparkling wine) and a beer. (I know who goes to a speakeasy and orders a beer?) Both mixed drinks were quite good.
No food is served.
Bourbon & Branch is located at 501 Jones Street just inside the Tenderloin at the corner of O'Farrell and Jones. It's a quick walk from Market. The best way to find it is to look for the Anti-Saloon League sign at the top of this post. They are serious about reservations -- at least on the weekends -- in all rooms but the Library. The Library was my favorite of the rooms from a decor perspective, but this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog.
What Are Speakeasies?
Speakeasies were essentially secret bars that sprang up when the United States outlawed alcohol in 1919.
Most speakeasies were housed in unmarked locations, many required a password to get in and some may have even moved from place to place to stay ahead of the law. Many think the name came from patrons being told to "speakeasy" or to lower their voices so no one suspected they were serving alcohol.
Today, there are many modern speakeasies that retain some of these traditions. Usually they feature fresh ingredients in their food and drink, and though the secrecy is no longer needed, many are in discreet locations that lack signage. Some even require passwords.
You can read about Mystery Playground's other speakeasy adventures here (including one in San Jose, called Single Barrel.