Foodstuffs: Before Chuck's BARbershop, a Look at N.H.'s Speakeasy History

Apr 5, 2018

The trend of the speakeasy bar - drinking establishments that play with the history of our prohibition days - has taken off in big cities like New York and L.A. But New Hampshire now has at least a couple secretive watering holes of its own.

There’s a new place to grab a drink in Concord called Chuck’s BARbershop. Liu Vaine is the owner and he's started up a similar place in Nashua called CodeX.


“We wanted it to be true to the 1920s speakeasy,” Vaine says. “We wanted a false business storefront kind of thing.”

You enter the bar through what looks enough like a barbershop, there’s a sink and a barber’s chair, and a conspicuously-placed telephone.

 

The phone at the entrance to Chuck's
Credit Katherine Garrova

“I cannot confirm or deny, but if you pick up the phone and dial 2012, someone might answer and they might unlock the door for you,” Vaine says.

Behind a secret door lies the actual bar. There’s original wood flooring, a custom-made bar and seating areas filled with vintage furniture.

 

 

Chuck's Barbershop Co-Owner Trish King opens the secret door
Credit Katherine Garrova

 

“I like to think of this place as a Disneyworld for adults,” Vaine says. “It’s a theme. There’s all sorts of bars and restaurants out there and any one bar is like the other. And I wanted to create a place where not only are you enjoying a great cocktail and some great food but also creating an atmosphere that you’re going to remember for a long time.”

 

The interior at Chuck's Barbershop in Concord
Credit Katherine Garrova

Vaine, who named the place after his bartending mentor, says setting Chuck’s in the roaring 20s wasn’t just about atmosphere, it was also about the drinks.

“It was mostly about the craft cocktail,” Vaine says. “And the craft cocktail made from scratch was thriving in the 1920s.”

“We’ve got traditional classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Aviation, Boulevardier, Sazerac, and then we do our own take on cocktails as well,” says Vaine's business partner Ethan King.

“So right now we have a Montenegro Manhattan, Derringer’s is fantastic if you like more of a smokey drink,” King says.  

But what about New Hampshire’s real speakeasy history?

Scott Wheeler is the author of a book about prohibition history and publishes Vermont’s Northland Journal. He says his research shows the speakeasies of bigger cities weren’t all that prevalent in the Northeast, but there were other ways to get around the law.

“The closest we really had to speakeasies in New Hampshire and Vermont, or at least in the Northern part I suspect...I’m not saying there were no speakeasies, but the closest I’ve come across were the Line Houses.

A Line House in Canaan, VT.
Credit Photo Courtesy Scott Wheeler

Line Houses, Wheeler says, were buildings right on the line, meaning the Quebec-U.S. border.

“And these Line Houses, the way it technically worked, was that you could drink on the Quebec side, but you couldn’t drink on the American side,” Wheeler says.  

Turns out there’s at least one authentic speakeasy you can still visit. It's up at the Omni Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, where proximity to the Canadian border allowed for a freer flow of whisky.

Craig Clemmer does marketing for the resort and describes the Mt. Washington Hotel bar they call “The Cave.”  

 

A postcard depicting The Cave at the Mt. Washington Hotel
Credit Photo Courtesy Craig Clemmer / Omni Mt. Washington Resort

“Once you get into the bar proper, there’s also a stone grotto, which is under the front driveway, and that is an area where they actually used to store all of the whisky,” Clemmer says.

“And we could actually post a sentry there to look straight down the front driveway to see if any law enforcement was coming up to check on us.”

Back behind the secret door at Chuck’s in Concord, bartender Kitty Martin makes an Old Fashioned. And she’s all-in on Chuck’s Barbershop’s speakeasy theme.

Vintage Glassware at Chuck's Barbershop in Concord.
Credit Katherine Garrova

“I spend my days off going to thrift stores, trying to get fun different glasses to fit the whole period,” Martin says. “We want to try to be as authentic as possible, from the ingredients to the glassware to the garnishes to basically everything that we try to do.”

The next step for that authenticity? Vaine says they want to have a real barber on duty to offer haircuts in the space out front.