As electronic devices entice us to live more and more of our lives virtually, I think we all hunger for authentic experiences that engage our senses and our imaginations.
That may explain why I was so enthralled by my recent visit to a new Tallahassee drinking establishment called Alchemy Spirits & Concoctions. To call it a bar does not do it justice. Alchemy bills itself as a “speakeasy,” technically a Prohibition-era establishment that illegally sells alcoholic beverages.
Alchemy invites patrons to “step into the Roaring 20s.” This doesn’t mean just 1920s décor. Alchemy delivers a complete experience. First, you need to have a reservation, and the waiting list is long. We benefited from a last-minute cancellation that allowed us to slip in, making us feel like we won the lottery.
When our reservation was accepted, we were given a unique code word and secret instructions to show up in a nearby pool hall right on time. There we were to look for a man in black to whom we should whisper our code word. We were warned not to be late or risk losing our spot.
This sense of intrigue was one of my favorite parts of the experience, so I was disappointed when the man in black failed to ask for our code word and just asked for our names instead. So disappointed in fact, that we prompted him to ask for our code. Lesson: If you are going to deliver a brand experience, play it to the hilt.
Next, the man in black ushered us through a non-descript door into an alleyway, then into another non-descript door into Alchemy. The secretive nature of the entry added to the sensation that we were stepping into the 1920s and risking a police bust at any moment.
The experience was further reinforced as we stepped into the golden light of Alchemy, with its warm, wood tones and throaty jazz filling the air. The only things that would have made the experience more real would have been an actual jazz band, which the bar was too small to accommodate, and cigarette smoke, which we gladly did without.
Upon arriving, we were instructed of the rules of the establishment: Gentlemen were to remove their hats. No talking on phones, which didn’t exist in the 20s. No gentlemen approaching ladies (although they may ask the bartender for an introduction.)
Our waiter, who doubled as our bartender, brought us samples of champagne punch made with fresh watermelon juice and explained that drinks may take a little longer to prepare than we are used to because they are individually hand-crafted from homemade juices, locally grown honey and other special ingredients. Rum, scotch and tequila all were available, but no vodka, because vodka hadn’t made its way to the U.S. from Russia by the 1920s, further legitimizing this step back in time.
Since I don’t typically drink hard liquor, my waiter helped to recommend a custom drink based on my answers to a series of questions about my tastes.
Just as alchemists of old were fabled to have the power to turn worthless metals into gold and silver and fashion elixirs that convey youth and immortality, our bartender/waiter delivered not just drinks to be gulped but beautiful potions to be sipped and savored. It wasn’t hard to imagine they had the power to transform.
All in all, it was the most fun I had in a long while for one simple reason: I stepped out of my life and into another time. What I longed for and received was not a drink, but an experience. That’s a business model other establishments could stand to replicate.