740 S. B St., Oxnard
The style, music and revelry of the Jazz Age have left an indelible impression on American minds, and no Ventura County bar is more influenced by the Roaring Twenties than 1901 Speakeasy.
The lounge downstairs from Heritage Square’s La Dolce Vita — still owned by LDV, but going to great pains to distinguish itself — is ideal for Prohibition Era design. Access is through a flight of steps at the back of the restaurant, and the windowless interior is dark with an air of mystery; even as the LDV Lounge, it had the feel of an underground bar where the gin is cold, the piano’s hot and a password is required for entry. Leaning into that aesthetic definitely plays to the space’s strengths.
General Manager Jared Krupp oversaw the lengthy remodel in 2018, and has done the 1920s proud, with vintage lighting (and not too much of it), small, intimate tables and a cozy couch set in front of a brick fireplace. Now, it’s true that the ban on alcohol was enacted in 1920, not 1901, but the inconsistency can be forgiven: 1901 is the year that this lovely historic home-turned-restaurant-and-bar was built.
We showed up on a Thursday at the tail end of happy hour. Krupp — who works the bar and is the mind behind the vintage cocktail menu — was quick to place our orders so that we could take advantage of the specials, which included reduced rates on appetizers, well drinks and house wine. We went for the pretzel and some fried green beans ($5 and $6, respectively — a buck less than the regular price) but skipped the well drinks. What attracted us to 1901 Speakeasy were those throwback cocktails.
These included drinks popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: The lime-laced Gin Rickey, the Southside, the Bees Knees, Hemingway’s beloved daiquiri. Gin, rye and rum are heavily featured, recalling a time when those liquors were more readily available than vodka or tequila.
Determined to veer outside my usual, I ordered a Sazerac — rumored to be American’s first cocktail and invented by Antoine Peychaud (of Peychaud’s bitters fame) in New Orleans. The original contained French brandy; the modern version includes rye whiskey and a touch of absinthe. It’s a complex concoction: earthy rye and pungent bitters come through, but the dominant flavor is licorice (courtesy of absinthe). Served in a small coupe rimmed with sugar, it was a very elegant presentation and went down easy. My companion had the French 75, a champagne cocktail flavored with gin and lemon. Extraordinarily light and refreshing, I can’t think of a better drink to sip on a warm spring evening.
Next we tucked into our appetizers. The large, soft pretzel isn’t breaking any culinary barriers, but it’s a tasty nosh. The ale cheddar sauce it came with had great flavor but terrible consistency, separating into cheesy liquid on top and gloopy solids on the bottom. Much better was the (generous) serving of battered and deep-fried green beans: a seemingly endless pile of crunchy green deliciousness.
There wasn’t room for much else after such filling appetizers, so we split an entree. 1901 Speakeasy has its own entrance, website and cocktail menu, but the food menu is straight from La Dolce Vita. I might have hoped for something original, but LDV’s mix of Italian favorites and Kitchen on A pub fare (the two joined forces in 2016) is consistently good. Our Italian grinder — a mix of salami and mortadella with provolone and pepperoncini on a soft Italian roll — was very satisfying. Salty, briny, meaty, chewy; it hit all those sweet spots.
Krupp’s vision is a good one, and well realized. His appreciation for these 100+ year-old libations is genuine. I applaud both the idea and the results. Yes, it’s the same food you can get in a more classic dining room upstairs, but there’s something very appealing about 1901 Speakeasy’s dark, secret vibe and intimate seating. Booze is no longer prohibited and no password is required, and yet the 1920s still roar at this stylish, vintage bar.