At a time when many municipalities across the land are bracing for the new political reality, San Francisco has wasted no time in thumbing its nose at the incoming administration’s ideas, from city officials issuing a public declaration of their disdain for the President Elect's policies, to the birth control startup Nurx shipping free contraception via the promo code "Donald Trump."
Of course, San Francisco possesses a long track record of willfully ignoring federal edicts. I was happily reminded of that fact when I paid a visit to The Speakeasy, a "choose your own adventure"-style theater experience that recently opened its doors at “a secret venue near Chinatown and North Beach.”
It aims -- if not completely succeeds, at least on an artistic level -- to recreate the atmosphere of the many clandestine nightspots that continued to sell hard liquor throughout the 1920s in the city, even as the rest of the country hobbled along dry-mouthed through the Prohibition years. (When San Francisco hosted the democratic convention only six months after the nationwide liquor ban, the mayor, according to the writer H. L. Mencken, treated delegates to “a carload of Bourbon whiskey, old, mellow and full of pungent but delicate tangs.")
At its best, The Speakeasy offers a liquor-and-dice-infused costume party with ultra-low-stakes gaming and a loving glance back to the vaudeville entertainments of yesteryear. At its worst, it's about as entertaining and corporate-feeling as a night out at a Reno casino, only without the possibility of walking out with bundles of cash.
Getting there is one of the highlights. The adventure begins down a dank North Beach back alley, where a few shady-looking types in flapper dresses, feather boas and fedoras wait for you to ask them a question about a pie. They give you a set of instructions that send you hastening around the block to a nondescript doorway, down a grungy set of stairs and through the suspended bedsheets of a fake laundry service.