It was the romanticised era of flappers, suffragettes and bootleggers. While Prohibition has long gone, the legacy of the speakeasy still stands. Most significantly, Prohibition introduced a sophisticated drinking culture. And it is this labyrinthine experience that Prohibition Brisbane presents, where illicit spaces showcase recycled materials fused to raw modernism.
The macho overtones of saloons pre1920s were previously a men’s only territory – and the ‘bad women’ who associated with them. But the speakeasy introduced a co-ed experience of jumping jazz, The Charleston and muddled moonshine liquor. Illegal drinking dens sprang up in basements and back rooms, open only to those who knew the password – and even then, through a grill before the door was fully opened. As with anything of taboo, defying the law became a game: secret rooms housed secret passages and shelves, trap doors and fake walls.
The long remembered six o’clock swill pre-World War II had washed any chance of a drinking culture away in a tide of machismo binge-drinking. The classic cocktails of the 1800s celebrated the raw taste of liquor – usually enjoyed upon waking as a restorative to clear the head and settle the stomach from the previous evenings antics. But prohibition cocktails were aimed at camouflaging the rough taste of moonshine, for the full effect; immediately and effectively. Whiskey taking its time to age for full enjoyment, saw rum and gin – especially the made-on-the-premises bathtub-gin – take the reins at ruling the hooch roost. The austere Old Fashioned, Martini and Manhattan gave way to the fancy spritz of Southsides, Highballs, Bees Knee’s, Tom Collins, The Gin Rickey and Sidecars.
Prohibition Brisbane reconditions the illegal drinking den for the thoroughfare of Fortitude Valley. From Wickham Street, their glittering sign is immediately reminiscent to Broadway shows and musicals. Descend the grand stairway, the entrance beautifully and gently illuminated with the latest in technology as spheres of LEDs cascade below to interiors seasoned with organic motifs of Art Deco. Soft carpeting leads to an even grander entrance of recycled Tongue n Groove Timber double doors, while to the right is speakeasy-style bar, The Blind Tiger.
The feature wall of raw brick and dim light fittings of filament bulbs nestled within booze bottles, instantly craft a rather adulterous and clandestine atmosphere from this snug space. From the tiger-marble topped bar finished by recycled steel, a select list of cocktails, wines and strong liquor are served up. This long room houses comfortable clusters of wooden tables and chairs and leather chesterfield lounges for a raw and independent space; the cozy nooks and crannies a perfect escape for intimate discussions and romantic misunderstandings.
The impressive timber double doors lead into the Prohibition Main Hall where the large open space runs with themes of shadows and dim illumination. Timber-beaded chandeliers, filament bulbs and raw brick peacefully merge. The copper pipe fittings running the length and breadth of the brick walls remain as ghosts from previous tenants, slyly eluding to the bathtub gin connections of the time from which Prohibition has been inspired.
The large square bar is the hallmark destination as a pillar to the club’s proceedings and a stark welcome leading to the dancefloor and DJ booth. Elbows can run across three finishes of different surfaces as legs brush up against differing verges, from timber paneling topped by marble, oversized weatherboards with polished cement and millboard crested by recycled timber tops. It’s a sophisticated drinker’s dream. Staff garbed in glittering headpieces, two-tones, pinstripes, bowties, vests and suspenders deliver every liquid concoction imaginable, from Prohibition signatures to classics and muddled mixtures.
From the surrounds of the main hall, lush lounges run parallel to the club. The novelty of LED drop-tubes and neon batons light up the dancefloor, where the DJ booth of recycled timber adorned with vintage mirrors boasts a gramophone alongside the state-of-the-art DJ equipment. Here, Brisbane’s masters in ambiance and aural pleasure from Benn Hopkins to Andrew Lynch can present a platter of pristine underground jingles through the Funktion-One system. Ballroom dancers may make use of this opportunity on the dancefloor, their quickstep, tango and East Coast swing to merge charmingly to the contemporary BPMs. And the piece de resistance: with the entrance to the male bathrooms embellished by graphic art of a tommy gun-toting gangster, it is the Ladies’ Powder Room that is decidedly luxurious, featuring French reclining chaises and large mirrors for plenty of making-up.
As a pleasure space, the fusion of vintage classic to contemporary innovation is perfectly embodied in each detail. From the subterranean escape of Prohibition Brisbane, the 1920s have been reimagined into our modern world. This is a Neo-prohibition movement.
206 Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley
07 3852 5876
Photographer: dirty love photography