Speakeasy, Sam McNulty’s new secret spot beneath Bier Markt, serves stiff drinks and a cool vibe. Keep this between us, OK? Chuck Bowen
Go past Bier Markt’s bar, around the pool table and to the top of the stairs. If the chandelier is lit, you’re welcome to descend into one of Ohio City’s newest and most anonymous nightspots.
Although Sam McNulty’s Bier Markt has been a popular neighborhood destination since opening in 2005, and his adjoining Bar Cento (originally launched with chef Jonathon Sawyer) gets rave reviews for its food, his new underground creation, Speakeasy, bowed with a whisper in September.
Since then, only those in the know have been bellying up to the oblong basement bar and getting comfortable on the low wooden benches that line the exposed brick walls. It’s a hip hideaway that’s made for enjoying a sip. Drinking here makes you feel like you’re in on a secret.
“I enjoy people. I enjoy socializing,” 35-year-old McNulty says. “There’s a huge amount of vicarious pleasure in this business.”
McNulty seems to know everyone in the bar: He chats with Tia, a newly minted Navy lawyer from the neighborhood; does a shot with a woman celebrating her 21st birthday; and greets Ermal and Pleurat, first-generation Albanian brothers who grew up with McNulty’s family in Cleveland Heights. Eventually, he ends up behind the bar making drinks.
Speakeasy’s Prohibition-era vibe is subtle. There’s no hokey ragtime music or flappers. Instead, stylized paintings of Bonnie and Clyde greet patrons, and well-dressed bartenders pour strong drinks from unmarked green bottles.
There are the obligatory offerings of scotch, gin and other staple spirits. But the most interesting drinks on Speakeasy’s menu are unorthodox cocktails such as the Manhattan Pig (made with bacon-infused bourbon), the Bee’s Knees (made with honeycomb-infused gin) and Hot Sauce (made with hot pepper-infused vodka).
It makes sense that McNulty, a home brewer, would open a spot that lavishes love on liquor below his street-level tribute to the art of Belgian beer.
“It’s in my blood — literally and figuratively,” McNulty says. “In high school, my brother and I realized that even though we couldn’t legally purchase alcohol, we could legally purchase all the ingredients.
“That was our way to get our hands on good beer. Our friends were out there running around with cases of Genesee Cream Ale and Milwaukee’s Best.”