Promising an air of secrecy and exclusivity, speakeasy-themed venues, with their unmarked facades, secret passwords and sophisticated cocktails, have proved wildly popular of late. In keeping with the trend, some historic hotels have begun embracing their own Prohibition-era pasts by promoting the Roaring '20s theme for events.
At San Diego's historic US Grant hotel, the property's underground tunnels served dual functions in the 1920s and '30s: transporting water to replenish its saltwater plunge pools, and providing an escape route -- for both bootleggers and booze -- in the event of a police raid. The passageways have since been sealed off, but the hotel's colorful history and recently upgraded art deco décor are fitting for a '20s-style event.
The speakeasy motif is attractive to groups because it cuts across generations, appeals to both males and females and can be inexpensive if necessary, notes Rita Moore, the US Grant's director of catering and convention services. "We've done Gatsby-esque white-coat affairs, with lots of silver and glass and antique cars out front welcoming guests," says Moore. But planners on a budget can opt for a gangster theme with casino tables, cigar girls and simpler cocktails. "There are so many elements you can embrace. You can do all of them or just a few, depending on your budget."
The Broadview Hotel in Wichita, Kan., sits atop secret tunnels as well. "Bootleggers used to go back and forth like hamsters, with liquor and women," says Trisha Harding, area sales manager and guide for the hotel's Flapper Tour, free for convention groups of up to 55 people. Recently, attendees for a local realtor association conference donned flapper costumes, took the 75-minute tour and concluded with a themed dinner. "It's our hotel's little secret," says Harding. But likely not for long.