1928 Cocktail Club speak-easy opens in Branford, but you need the password

BRANFORD — The brown paper taped to the windows fell off and the 1928 Cocktail Club opened downtown with little fanfare. Everything seemed a bit quiet.

To enter, customers must say a secret password (available daily on Instagram) through a sliding speakeasy window. Last week the password was “Below”.

Inside the retro bar, owner Frank Dean looked like he stepped straight off the set of “Boardwalk Empire,” sporting a spiky haircut and a sleek jacket.

Dean and his stepfather, co-owner Tony Cuomo, love the romance of the Roaring Twenties and the clandestine aura of speak-easy. They also have a taste for good things, especially when it comes to food and drink.

The couple are also big fans of the New York nightclub scene.

With that as inspiration, they recently opened the 1928 Cocktail Club which offers vintage-style decor and bespoke cocktails on Main Street in Branford. They aim to bring a big city vibe to downtown.

It’s hard to say which man loves the era the most.

“The two of us together have an amazing combination of two people who are really passionate about hospitality — really passionate about easy talk,” said Cuomo, who lives in North Haven.

Dean described his love affair with the Jazz Age, when Al Capone made headlines and feminine hemlines soared, along with the stock market.

“I love the era. Personally, I think I got reincarnated,” Dean said. “I’ve always loved gangster movies, I’ve always been into early 1900s and 1920s romance, I love the Victorian era, I love art deco.”

But it was more than an affinity with the 1920s that led him to open a ‘speak-easy’ – he got the idea while going out with his wife Nicola to the big city hotspots they have visited.

His stepfather had something to do with it too.

Cuomo threw the couple a “ban wedding,” where the featured drinks were Sidecars, Old Fashioneds and French 75s. And, it set the stage for their Manhattan honeymoon. He gave them a list of his favorite places as well as personal introductions; Cuomo had been a speak-easy aficionado for over 15 years.

The honeymoon was a revelation for Dean. “We didn’t want to do touristy things,” he said. “We are more greedy and we like wine and we like cocktails.”

“So we went to the best cocktail bars in town, some of the best wine bars in town, some of the best restaurants in town,” the North Haven resident said.

The couple were impressed with the “level of detail they take and the level of service they provide”, he said.

But Dean, who has worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years and is studying to become a sommelier, was a little disappointed when he got home.

“I don’t feel that when we’re in Connecticut,” he said.

The idea of ​​opening a speak-easy here appealed to him because it creates excitement and a sense of mystery for customers, he said.

“Between the two of us, we’ve had this dream for seven years,” said Dean, a father of three boys aged 7, 6 and 2.

When the couple visited “really cool easy-talking cocktail clubs” around the country, he noted, “you have to find them, they’re not publicly advertised.”

Eight years after their big trip to New York, the time seemed right in 2022 to open 1928.

“Prohibition was exactly 100 years ago – 1922 was the start of the Roaring 20s through 1930,” Dean said.

He added: “We are now entering our own crazy twenties. Given that in 1919 we had the Spanish flu and in 2020 we had the COVID pandemic. It’s very fitting in my mind.

Dean said he was confident this concept would work on the shore.

“It’s also something so different in this area,” he said, “I think it’s going to give people something to look forward to when they go out.”

Cuomo agreed. “When people walk through the door and I’m working on the front of 1928, I say, ‘Get ready for time travel,'” he said. time and feel the comfort and joy of amazing cocktails.”

Dean aims for his customers to be remembered at 1928 Cocktail Club “not just in the way we make them feel – the cocktails, the great food, the ambiance – but it’s going to be in the level of service we provide them. .”

Clients will be treated as A-listers.

“Everyone is an A-lister, whether you’re dressed in a t-shirt and jeans or dressed to perfection, you’ll be treated the same.”

An air of mystery

It also aims to create an air of mystery about the place.

“We want to keep this suspense. We want people to come in here and just be amazed,” Dean said.

Cuomo added, “I call it the 1928 experiment. That’s what we wanted to achieve and I think we nailed it perfectly.

The bar’s sleek interior looks like it’s part of a movie set for ‘Downton Abbey’ or ‘The Great Gatsby’.

The long, narrow club is done in rich tones of red, black and gold. Vintage-looking pendant lights hang from a replica of an old-fashioned, hand-stamped pewter ceiling. Velvet upholstered seats and deep leather club chairs add a glamorous look.

Artwork from the nearby Branford Arts & Culture Alliance hangs on the walls, providing pops of color.

The most authentic 1920s throwback to the club is the original brick wall that was uncovered during the renovation.

“This building has been around since the early 1900s, we wanted to showcase the original grandeur,” Dean said.

But, when they “ripped down the walls”, they were greeted with a surprise. “We noticed that the brick was black with soot and flames. We had no idea,” he said. It had been blackened by a fire in the 1960s.

They hired a sandblaster to clean the brick, but left the original imperfections to “let it tell its own story,” Dean said.

Signature drinks

“We’re a cocktail bar first,” Dean said, noting that their specialty is “craft cocktails.”

“Craftsmanship means that every ingredient has been carefully assembled,” he said. “For example, we’re making our own juices, our own syrups, we’re going to start making our own bitters, our own infusions.”

“When you see our bartenders doing their job, they’re basically creating art in a drink,” he said.

Lady Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey might approve of their traditional 1928 Manhattan, faithfully made with Crown Royal Canadian whiskey served straight from a generous martini glass.

“The reason we call it a 1928 Manhattan is because during Prohibition the only whiskey you could get was from Canada,” Dean explained. “So we use Canadian whiskey as the base spirit.”

They chose Crown Royal, which he described as “very smooth” with “caramel, some vanilla notes”.

“Then we have some riffs,” Dean said, adding that they can “smoke” the traditional Manhattan as an option.

Using a “giant” 2-inch ice cube in a glass, he said, the bartender places a mini smoker on top “and they put wood chips in a piece of tension and they put it burn. … It’s very cool, it helps to flavor the glass as well as the ice in the drink.

Other specialty drinks include “Tiki-style drinks” such as “drunken love”, created by one of its bartenders.

“It’s a riff on a Mezcal-based drink – it’s a bit bitter so there’s Mezcal in it, so there’s that smokiness, your typical tequila, Campari, fresh lime juice – it’s with a pineapple, the sweetness of agave, we have mint in there,” he said.

The liquid concoction is “more like punches — the old-fashioned way to make Tiki drinks.” But these are hip: “It’s movement, fresh ingredients, fresh juices, very vibrant, very colorful,” he said.

Another feature of 1928 would be the introduction of bourbon lockers, where patrons could purchase hard-to-obtain bottles and store them at the club in a liquor locker under their name.

When the customer enters, “he can ask his server to call his bottle for him”. It’s a service because customers can order “rarer and more eclectic pieces, which we have access to as a restaurant and bar…that people can’t get their hands on in retail.”

“In this area, I don’t think anybody does that,” he said. “It’s more of a Boston, New York piece.”

The nightclub will also offer memberships, which will offer discounts, premium seating and access to members-only events.

Light dining options will be on offer: charcuterie boards and cheese platters, from the Madison Cheese Shop & Cafe; fresh breads from G Café in Branford; and desserts from Take the Cake in Guilford.

Catering for private events such as bachelor and bachelorette parties, showers, wedding receptions and more will be provided by Pasta Cosi, also of Branford.

Food history

“I’ve been in this industry for 20 years. I started for a mom and pop, at a family friend’s house in North Haven,” Dean said. At Demirs, he looked like a busser-dishwasher and worked his way up to host, waiter and then bartender and bartender.

Dean separated for a few years and became involved in the fitness industry as a personal trainer and ran fitness clubs, while taking gigs as a bartender to keep his hand in the hospitality industry.

Her stepfather works in corporate sales at IBM and often traveled for work where he visited speak-easys.

“What I found going to a speak-easy was a trip back in time. Nice atmosphere, people were happy, nice lighting, amazing cocktails, no TV, good music, calm and relaxed,” he said.

So, regarding the secret of the 1928 Club, a few weeks before it opened, Dean said, “We have 1,500 followers on Instagram, all organic.”

“People are super excited. People hear easily – it’s different,” he said.

Club 1928 is open from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Thursday, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Sunday. The password changes daily and is available on 1928ct on Instagram.

Edward K. Thompson