Modern speakeasy design refers to the contemporary reinterpretation of the clandestine, illicit bars that flourished during the Prohibition era in the United States (1920s-1930s). These hidden establishments were created as a response to the ban on alcohol sales, and their secretive nature became part of their allure.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in speakeasy-style design. Whether the design is applied to bars, dens, or restaurants, this resurgence is leading the evolution of modern-mash-up design.
Speakeasy design is a blend of Art Deco and Bauhaus with an overtone of Edwardian opulence. It’s no wonder it’s become popular again in this time of blending styles to create new ones. HGTV even has a whole television show devoted to this type of design.
The likes of Granny Chic , Modern Farmhouse, and Cottagecore, all homogenize at least two vibes into one. That’s exactly what speakeasy design has had to do to make its entrance into contemporary design schemes.
Here are a few key features to include in a speakeasy look.
Hidden Entrances & Secret PassagesLike their historical counterparts, modern speakeasies often have hidden entrances that require some level of discovery. These entrances might be behind unassuming doors, inside phone booths, through inconspicuous alleyways, or even within other businesses.
Hidden compartments, secret rooms, and interactive elements that engage visitors in a playful exploration of the space contribute to the mysterious and secretive vibe.
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Creating a unique atmosphere is crucial for modern speakeasies. This involves dim lighting, vintage furnishings, and a cozy, intimate ambiance. Often, the use of materials like dark wood, exposed brick, leather upholstery, and plush fabrics contributes to the overall vintage feel.
Nostalgic AestheticsModern speakeasies draw inspiration from the Art Deco and Roaring Twenties design styles. This might involve incorporating elements like geometric patterns, rich colors (such as deep reds and golds), ornate detailing, and vintage artwork.
CraftsmanshipAttention to detail is a hallmark of speakeasy design. Intricate woodwork, custom-made furniture, and handcrafted décor items contribute to an authentic and luxurious feel. Traditional, hand-finished tin tiles make a nice addition to the modern speakeasy design. Go with a classic metallic silver, gold, bronze, or copper. Or get a distressed look for a more vintage-y vibe.
Bar DesignBars in modern speakeasies are often made part of the design. They showcase expert craftsmanship and feature metal accents, mirrored panels, and marble or dark wood surfaces.
Cocktail FocusSpeakeasies are known for their craft cocktails. The bar area is designed to be a focal point, and the cocktail menu usually includes both classic drinks from the Prohibition era and innovative concoctions. If you don’t plan to include a bar in your design, you can still incorporate elements that keep cocktail culture top-of-mind. Glasses as décor or vases, for instance, are a smart addition.
Live EntertainmentTo recreate the vibrant social scene of historical speakeasies, modern versions might offer live jazz, swing, or blues music, as well as other forms of entertainment like burlesque shows or magic performances. Once again, if you are applying speakeasy design to a space that doesn’t provide entertainment, add decorative features that do make entertainment a part of the space. For example, vintage musical instruments, playbills or advertisements as art, and moody club lighting are all marvelous additions.
Limited SeatingTo maintain an intimate ambiance, modern speakeasies often have limited seating. This encourages reservations and a more exclusive feel. To achieve this vibe in your design, remember to keep things cozy with furnishings closer together. Create miniature living rooms for 2-4 people throughout the space.
Technology IntegrationWhile the design is rooted in the past, modern speakeasies often integrate modern technology in subtle ways. This could include hidden speakers for music, modern payment systems, or social media presence.
Local and Sustainable Elements
Many modern speakeasies incorporate a focus on local and sustainable sourcing. This might extend to the ingredients used in cocktails, the materials for furnishings, and the overall environmental impact of the space. Shop small vendors and use local craftspeople to channel this same feel in your design.