Starting my research slowly but I should say surely, I’ve taken a few notes on a pair of places, but have yet to approach what I would classify as an “authentic” speakeasy. Which leads me to believe that the term “authenticity” here is inherently problematic. I find myself thinking of the authentic speakeasy as a dark place, hidden away, quiet but somehow filled to bursting with jazz and ladies in long pearls. Which is kind of ridiculous, because this view is tainted with this Barthesian mythological construct that itself diverges in degrees from the places that existed in history.

Speakeasies weren’t always about glitz and glamour. Speakeasies were, by and large, places where you could get drunk off bad liquor for sake of getting drunk. Speakeasies served a pragmatic cultural function that, before the police simply gave up trying to enforce temperance laws, only evolved into a pasttime later in their history.

To give some context, I made a fortuitous find of sorts the other day. While on Bleeker, I picked up Travels in Hyperreality by Umberto Eco. The book has been scarily instructive, as I find myself on a similar (if smaller) journey through the hyperreal. Faux or Nouveau Speaks create the “real” by laying it on thick, destroying their referent. Days later, I found myself at the Blue Owl on 2nd Avenue. Now this was a place that exemplified my imagined, hypermediated idea of the speakeasy; down a flight of stairs below a lonely blue owl, past the bouncers who appraise you before asking for ID and letting you in almost begrudgingly — as if to say, “Well, I guess you check out, mate.” — was a cave of sorts, couches aglow in the soft light, with low jazz and hip-hop playing in the background. The bar served cocktails with names like The Ladies’ Mile and The Cottontail, which incidentally were delicious if a bit on the sweet side, that seemed to be callbacks to that bygone time. Yet, this bar is only four years old. “We definitely go for the speakeasy style,” said the bartender.

Much the same could probably be said about the 21 Club, but they were busy preparing for the Mad Men finale event when I unceremoniously dropped in, so I won’t say much here other than that they have an absurdly high priced menu. But what can I do? I’ll be calling a Mr. Michael. J Shef soon.

More to come! Thank you, Mr. Eco.