By Em Chan

Em Chan

Em Chan

Salem Statesman Journal

Crystal chandeliers shine dimly in the small space as the patrons below share cocktails and toast to neither here nor there. A massive shelf of spirits looms over the bartender who deftly demonstrates his drink-making skills.

Welcome to the 86 Speakeasy, just steps away from real life and into what feels like its own world — almost.

A self-proclaimed “throwback to the Prohibition-era establishments,” the speakeasy-style bar is tucked away in the lobby of the Gordon Hotel. Like those establishments, you must have a password to enter.

So where is this secret spot located? First, you have to make a reservation.

Reservations can be made on the website, and cost $1 per person in your party, capped at eight. The money is refunded after your visit.

A secret door and a password

The secret entry is one of the highlights of the experience. In honor of the Prohibition-era secret entrances, you’ll have to find the right doorway to enter.

On the day of your reservation, you’ll receive a text with the day’s secret password. Without it, you won’t be allowed in.

Enter the hotel lobby, go toward the restrooms and face a door that reads “Janitor.” Look closely at the details of the door, and you’ll notice the word is actually painted on the door. There is a sliding panel under the sign.

Flip the switch just to the left of the door and you’ll be greeted momentarily by a pair of eyes behind the panel asking for the password.

If you give the right password, you and your party will be escorted in. It’ll take a second to adjust to the darkness, but follow the music and the sounds of people having a good time.

Almost detached from reality with its dimness and lack of windows, it’s easy to pretend you’re anywhere but Eugene.

Seating is available at the bar, in booths that line the walls or at tables. The booths are a maroon, velvety material and seat two to four people. Overall, the space has room for about 40.

The walls have an ornate black and gray flowery, paisley pattern, as paisley was common during the era.

Small crystal chandeliers hang above patrons providing soft lighting, while tea lights and glass candle lamps at the bar create an intimate setting. The space’s high ceiling allows the noise from other tables and whatever the bartender is whipping up to feel like it’s floating around the background rather than colliding with your own conversation.

Behind the bar is a bar back with almost ceiling-height shelves for the many bottles of wine and spirits available. If you love watching bartenders in action, sitting at the bar is ideal for watching the mixology at play.

Cocktail and spirit options

This legal “illegal-themed” drinking den has a wide drink selection. The theme is present in the small details.

The house cocktail selections are all plays on cultural aspects of the 1920s, including a flapper’s folly and Jake walk, named in reference to Jamaica ginger extract. Eventually nicknamed “Jake,” this ginger medicine had a comparatively high alcohol content and was commonly used during Prohibition as a means of getting alcohol “legally.” But people abused it so much they’d lose control of their hands and feet and the “Jake walk” or dance was coined.

There are Prohibition-era cocktails including the standard Manhattan and French 75 plus the rarer corpse reviver and Hemingway daiquiri. The Hemingway daiquiri (or special) came into existence after the author visited the Cuban bar El Floridita and is said to have preferred the establishment’s signature daiquiri without sugar and double rum. Grapefruit juice was added later and the drink was then named the Hemingway special.

Prefer single spirits? There’s a long list of bourbon, Irish whiskey, Japanese whiskey, Scotch, rye, tequila, mezcal and cognac. The bar has more than 50 types of bourbon and similarly sized lists for other types of spirits. If you want wine by the glass, there are some options but wine by the bottle is more extensively offered.

What was most surprising is the small “provisions” list. Most of the items are over $10, and are proportional to how much was served. The crisp Brussels sprouts and baked gorgonzola and brie are on the smaller side, but the meat and cheese plus hummus and flatbread plates are well portioned for multiple people.

For the price of a few drinks and a couple dishes, splitting the bill won’t break the bank.

Insider tips

Overall, the experience at the 86 Speakeasy is a pleasant one. The space is perfect if you’re looking for a special location to splurge on some fancier drinks. If you’re a leisurely drinker and love trying new spirits or cocktails, this is the place. If you want a more lively, robust bar, just walk out to the Gordon Hotel lobby bar.

Address: 555 Oak St.

Em Chan covers food and dining at the Statesman Journal. You can reach her, follow her on Twitter @catchuptoemilyor see what she’s eating on Instagram @sikfanmai.ah. 

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