Did you know that Virginia made alcohol illegal a full three years before the rest of the country? In larger Virginia cities like Alexandria, Richmond and Norfolk, this extra three years of “dry”ness made speakeasies a booming business. Virginia’s history as a hotbed of moonshine production, combined with the natural harbor of the Chesapeake Bay (perfect for rum running) and the ingenuity of Virginians in setting up moonshine and whiskey stills (along with a full range of criminal organizations to protect them) meant that Virginia was still quite “wet” despite the 18th Amendment. Hell, even the Jefferson Hotel housed a speakeasy within its storied walls.
Fast forward nearly a century and witness the resurgence in pre-Prohibition era cocktails, the focus on high-quality liquors and drink ingredients and the creativity of modern mixologists and you can see why the speakeasy is stepping back into the limelight. From Bar PX in Alexandria to The Speakeasy Grill in Richmond, the trend of revisiting the ambience and charm of the speakeasy is evident in today’s bar scene.
Recently, I had the opportunity to check out another Richmond speakeasy: Grandstaff & Stein Booksellers on Main Street a block past the Poe Museum.
The space is nondescript, tucked into a low, commercial-looking white building. When you enter, you’ll be greeted by a host and bookshelves full of books “for sale.”
Whisper the day’s password to the host (which you will have discovered on Grandstaff & Stein’s Facebook page), and the bookcase will be pulled back to reveal a dim and bustling bar, with indoor tables and booths as well as an outdoor courtyard.
The cocktail menu is short but creative. I had the Fist City, and a friend had the Bean Counter.
The food was elegant and tasty. I had a cheese and crackers plate and French onion soup. Our group shared some veggies and hummus and parmesan and herb popcorn.
I loved the laid back vibe of this place, and I’m a sucker for kitschy bar concepts. Grandstaff & Stein is a great place for creative cocktails and a bite to eat away from the hustle and bustle of Shockoe Bottom. I’d definitely visit again – I’d love to have drinks at the bar or enjoy a meal and some cocktails in the courtyard. Check it out! But be aware that it gets crowded quickly on the weekends. If you have a large group, you may have to wait a few minutes for a booth or table.