‘Dominic sent me’
How to speak speakeasy this Valentine’s Day
Thu, Feb 12, 2009 (midnight)
While speakeasies ruled during Prohibition—the era from 1920 to 1933 when the federal government banned the sale, manufacturing and transportation of alcohol—the necessity by which they doled out booze on the quiet (hence, “speak easy”) waned when Prohibition was lifted. Though the details have faded into history (lesser joints were called Blind Pigs/Tigers), the more romantic notions of illicit tipples, flappers and bathtub gin continue to ignite the fires of our imaginations.
It was with this romance on my mind that I spent the week leading up to Valentine’s Day skulking through some of Sin City’s own self-styled speakeasies. At the back door of Capo’s (“The original Las Vegas speakeasy”), I was checking out some of the restaurant’s old write-ups when a panel suddenly whipped back and a toothsome, grinning GM Dominic Santucci suddenly popped his head through like the “Who rang that bell?!” fellow in The Wizard of Oz. Though not asked for a password, I was grilled just a little for being a reporter before being deemed friend enough to gain entrance. A wall gave way, revealing the mobster-chic restaurant and bar, presided over by friendly chef Jason Underwood (Hell’s Kitchen 4). I happily taught the bartender how to make a Negroni, raved to anyone who would listen about the mushroom risotto, watched Goodfellas and Casino on the flat-screen and listened as Bobby Liguori sang Rat Pack hits. Noir aside, why can’t the Strip feel this good?
Later that week at the second, newer Capo’s location (this one more modern, “throwback chic,” they call it), Colton and I wandered around the low, brown building (formerly Hooters) looking for the entrance marked with just a “C.” In the vestibule, I went straight for the little recessed panel, which again whipped back. “Uh … Nico?” I inquired. Nope. Mikey the Bull would be our host this evening.
I’ll leave some things secret, but let’s just say Colton’s shoulder was not prepared for how we were going to be entering the restaurant. As I perched at the much more modern bar, my Negroni arrived as ordered, no schooling necessary (though—horror—it did have a maraschino cherry in it). Chef/owner Nico Santucci (who built C2K nightclub and Venus back in the day, one of our own nightclub Rat Packers) cut a dashing figure in his spotless black chef’s coat as he visited the tables along with his gorgeous GM wife. Like Capo’s 1, Capo’s 2 has her secrets, including the intimate card room and the completely hidden, tiny Al Capone room—the very ultimate in private dining, as even the staff might not know you and your date were in there!
Later that drizzly night on the other side of the Strip, I parked my car right in front of the unassuming Square Apple bar and stopped in for a Blood & Sand with friend and manager Jamaal Ealey. There’s no pretense here, no barrier to entry other than the little-known-ed-ness of the place where slick-suited men chew on toothpicks. On a diminutive stage, the Tommy Thompson Trio belts out “Crazy” and “Twilight Time.” While the Apple at first blush appears to be the destination of choice for the 50-and-over set to groove to Motown hits, a differently informed set of young, local hipsters also enjoys the aged watering hole, though probably for irony’s sake.
My choice for Valentine’s Day this year, as last year, will be Downtown Cocktail Room, which maintains a low enough profile outside of its devotees and keeps tourists at bay with the Rubik’s Cube of doors to the lounge where, this Saturday, in the dimmest of light, singles are invited to try to identify one another, swap numbers and maybe steal a kiss. And since finding The One is the greatest victory of all, couples will enjoy the VIP booths and champagne in the back room, aptly titled the Speakeasy.