The Return of the Speakeasy

JEY

The owner of a hidden bar in Ft. Lauderdale talks about its success

Speakeasies by their very nature are hard to find, unpublicized, and a club open to only those in the know. Of course, they hit their heyday during Prohibition but in the past year, speakeasies have started coming into their own again, such as Volstead’s Emporium in Minneapolis, The Peterboro in Detroit, Melinda’s Alley in Phoenix and The Hepburn in Springfield, Mo.

With no law against alcohol consumption, why are these bars proliferating, and with no marketing or advertising, how are they surviving?

Nightclub & Bar spoke with Marc Falsetto, co-founder of JEY Hospitality Group, which opened Apothecary 330 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, last October. Sales are exceeding pre-opening expectations.

“This city’s filled with regular bars and we wanted to do something a little more intriguing, boutique, off the grid,” Falsetto says. “We wanted to make it more accessible and raise the sophistication level. There’s something mysterious about it and Apothecary 330 has a medicinal feel and there are a lot of artifacts and antiques in it.”

Apothecary 330 also fills a void. Falsetto explains that there was a lack of classic and artisanal cocktail bars using fresh ingredients in the city, so he filled that niche.

The speakeasy is located within a JEY restaurant, Pizza Craft. It’s accessed via a sliding door (that’s kept semi-closed during the day to pique interest) or from the street, where its address is SW 2nd Street. The door is hidden in a wall covered in grass.

In its first eight months of business, Apothecary 330 has exceeded JEY’s expectations. It’s drawing a lot of young professionals since it’s in a business neighborhood (the historic Himmarshee Village in the heart of downtown Ft. Lauderdale) but also an older clientele since it’s adjacent to a performing arts center. “It’s something completely different and for someone who really wants to try different scotches and whiskeys,” Falsetto says, adding that the bar is really focused on those two drinks. “That’s just our concept: Brown spirit-focused and handcrafted.”

JEY Hospitality Group wanted this to be a high-end concept. “We don’t do anything cheap; we don’t have well drinks and we only have super premium spirits,” Falsetto says. “People aren’t scared to spend a lot on drinks.” Cocktails start at $13 and there’s a whiskey for $200 a shot. “If you’d asked me a year ago if Millennials are going to be drinking $70 shots I’d have laughed in your face but they’re asking for even more expensive drinks,” Falsetto says. The average check is $35 to $40.

To get customers through the doors when Apothecary 330 first opened, JEY gave out 200 memberships to local tastemakers and whiskey aficionados. It calls these its elite coin members because they have a solid brass coin emblazoned with a skull and crossbones logo and the Latin words “carpe noctem” (“seize the night”).

The speakeasy’s constantly adding new members and is now up to around 250. Elite coin members are the only guests who can attend special nights, such as the release of a new whiskey. They’re also invited to a monthly tastemaker series held by whiskey companies.

The happy hour at Apothecary 330 runs Monday to Friday, 4:00 to 7:00. If a guest buys a drink at any of JEY’s bars, they’re given a chip and can redeem it at any of the five bar/restaurant locations in Ft. Lauderdale.

“There’s nothing like Apothecary 330 around here,” Falsetto says. “It’s catching on and more people are finding out about it. It’s about the balance—how exclusive can it be without being part of the masses. It’s nice being a bit mysterious and we don’t advertise—that would ruin what we’re doing.”