Monthly Archive for: ‘November, 2018’

Mock S.F. speakeasy fills a weekend evening with fun

Em Lee Reaves (at mic as Velma, sexpot cabaret star) is backed by chorus girls at The Speakeasy, a fun theatrical experience simulating San Francisco in the ‘20s. Photo by Peter Liu.

You’ve seen those Prohibition-era characters dozens of times before.

In films and TV.

Bootleggers, floozies, barflies and bouncers. In watering holes, jazz nightspots and casinos.

But I’d wager you’ve never mingledwith ‘em, especially on their own turf, especially not in a speakeasy, one of those illegal joints where you could grab a few quick shots of illegal hooch after work.

Now, however, you have a chance to do just that — or at least make believe.


Behind a secret door near the intersection of North Beach and Chinatown in San Francisco where your secret knock triggers a peephole opening and you get to climb into a way-back machine that transports you to the city during The Roaring Twenties.

It’s a fun-filled theatrical experience from the talented Boxcar Theatre troupe in which you get to pretend-carouse with 35 characters in seven rooms.

But because of the way it works, you may find yourself unsure if you’re talking with an actor or a paying customer.

Major storylines at The Speakeasy (the actual name of the diversion) are revealed, however, through snarky verbal conflicts and mock fistfights between the performers in time-appropriate regalia.

The extremely well crafted/constructed/scripted event can last nearly four hours (my wife and I, both geezers, stayed almost for the entire thing) and features tales that twist and turn and tend not to repeat (which can allow theatergoers to return and not be bored).

Costumes aren’t required for patrons but they can help jazz up the fun quotient (and are strongly urged for Saturday nights).

I donned a black fedora, reminiscent of hats worn by pimps (I’m told), polka-dotted bow-tie, purple-striped shirt, pin-striped back jacket and black trousers. My wife wore an authentic flapper dress, black chiffon with glitzy hand-beaded design.

And we weren’t nearly as decked out as some of attendees.

As has been suggested in advance that we do — so we could help “avoid a Prohibition-era police raid” — my wife and I sidled up to a guy on the street with an uniquely colored hat and scarf and proffered a coded sentence that would “prove” we weren’t federal agents and thereby gain us entrance into the dive.

Once inside, we were faced with what my wife instantly labeled “a fun ridiculousity,” with humor that was campy to the nth degree and scenes filled with bad puns and overacting — the kind of stuff I relish in small doses.

Anthony Cistaro portrays Eddie the cabaret emcee while Jessica Waldman plays Viola, not-so-dumb-blonde comic foil, in a sketch at The Speakeasy. Photo by Peter Liu.

In short order we watched a gun moll remove a machine gun from a baby buggy, Jessica Waldman play a not-so-dumb blonde who steals every one of the emcee’s punchlines, and lose a whole 1923 dollar in a ersatz casino without it costing me a nickel extra.

A personal highlight was watching Em Lee Reaves, daughter-in-law of a friend, torching it up as a sexpot cabaret chanteuse with such standards as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “By Blue Heaven.”

But I admit the highlight for me was when my spouse sat at the piano in the secret bar behind the cabaret and fingered a couple of stride tunes a la Fats Waller — totally in sync with the ragtime era motif.

I’m biased, of course, but she was awesome, to use a word not quite in vogue back when.

Also awesome were the fireworks at Pier 39 we saw by chance from an upper floor of a handy, inexpensive parking garage a block from The Speakeasy.

Over all, I’d call that a serendipitous, ideal state-of-the-art beginning to an entertainment that perfectly reproduces yesteryear.

Performances of “The Speakeasy” are scheduled for Friday and Saturday evenings from 7:30 to 11:15. Tickets: $50 to $135. Info: http://thespeakeasysf.comor 415-891-9744. 

Contact Woody Weingarten at


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