Back in the days of prohibition, cool cats in need of a cocktail would duck into a speakeasy – a secret, illicit establishment hidden in a basement or back room.
Though no one has to sneak any drinks in 2017, the allure of speakeasies remains, and they’re a thing in big cities.
Now, they’re a thing in Wichita, too.
Last year, The Ambassador Hotel debuted a speakeasy-style bar called Dockum. It’s hidden in the basement of the hotel, and you have to knock on the door to get in. It’s dimly lit, filled with 1920s-era vintage decor and feels exclusive. (Prepare your ego: The doorman will give you a good once-over before deciding whether to admit you.)
Now, west Wichita has its own hidden speakeasy-style bar. And it’s literally hidden – as in hidden behind a door disguised as a bookshelf.
The Brass Tap opened last month in a space that adjoins Side Pockets, the popular and cavernous pool hall at 600 S. Tyler. It’s a giant room with dim lighting and a 1920s design, and to get in, you have to know that the new bookshelf on the west side of the bar is actually a secret door that provides access.
Side Pockets owners Keith Unger and Vince Seiter, who also own the Kellogg Crossing strip center that houses the bar, said they wanted to do something fun with the space next door.
They also wanted to do something different. People love Side Pockets, he said, but there’s also a crowd that would like a quieter experience away from the juke boxes.
The partners decided to create a space that would have the feel of an 1880s billiards hall, and they studied lots of old black-and-white pictures for inspiration. Unger found an old brass tap on eBay, purchased it and had it restored, and it became the centerpiece of the bar.
The finished product includes tin ceilings, an eye-catching fireplace that Unger crafted from salvaged antique wood, and a row of salvaged church pews. Unger also built a replica vintage bar and surrounded it with hexagon tiles. Other decorative touches include vintage windows framing old photos of Wichita street scenes and vintage beer barrels and saloon stools. Unger said he spent a lot of time at Old Town Architectural Salvage, a store at 126 N. St. Francis that’s overflowing with reclaimed windows, doors, furniture and gadgets from antique buildings.
The Brass Tap is open from 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and it’s also available to rent for private parties and business functions.
Those who visit during open hours can order food and drink from Side Pockets and sip on a few specialty cocktails exclusive to The Brass Tap. No one under the age of 21 is allowed in.
The Brass Tap also features four Diamond pool tables, which are high-end pool tables desired by serious players, Unger said.
“By most people standards, this is one of the best pool halls in the surrounding states,” Unger said. “It’s one of the best ones in terms of quality.”
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A glimpse inside the Dockum, a Prohibition-style speakeasy bar in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel in the heart of downtown Wichita. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)