Since opening in 2012, the Mob Museum has attracted nearly a million visitors, with its 2016 tally topping 350,000. With an extensive renovation in the works that will cost about $6.5 million, its visitation count is likely to increase even more.
On April 11, the city of Las Vegas Planning Commission granted a special-use permit for three new venues that will emerge from the renovation, which will educate visitors first hand on the history of Prohibition. Planned for the basement, where the museum’s administrative offices are located, the 2,600-square-foot space will include a working brewery, distillery and speakeasy-themed bar serving the products made onsite.
We sat down with museum director Jonathan Ullman to get the lowdown on what changes are in store and what we can expect once the renovation is completed in the first half of 2018.
What prompted you to do the renovation, but also to include a working brewery, distillery and speakeasy?
This improvement project will result in enhanced guest amenities and an even richer exhibit experience, ensuring that we remain a first-class museum for years to come. The enhanced experiences related to Prohibition will educate visitors about the singular intersection of culture, industry and organized crime that pervaded the Prohibition era.
What can we expect to encounter in the speakeasy?
It will be a working speakeasy and a more elegant and upscale environment where guests will be able to purchase products made in the brewery and distillery, as well as cocktails. The Prohibition era was a boon to the creation of cocktails in large part because much of the liquor being produced was not particularly good. The room will very much be an exhibition space reflecting where the consumption of alcohol took place and the various types of establishments, whether they were flamboyant, fancy places or just a hole in the wall. The fabric of the room will be enhanced with images, videos and artifact cases throughout with the purpose of telling the story of Prohibition, including where the booze came from, how it was transported, how bootlegging and rum-running worked and the manufacturing process.
Will guests need to purchase a ticket to the museum to go into the speakeasy?
That’s a detail we haven’t quite worked out yet, but certainly the speakeasy will be a part of the base museum experience. We do imagine it will continue to operate into the night and perhaps even beyond the museum’s normal operating hours.
What type of spirits will be made at the distillery and what input have you received from established distillers?
It’s important to remember that an underlying purpose to all of this is to tell a very comprehensive story about the Prohibition Era, so most importantly, we are going to be producing what was commonly made during that time: moonshine and variations of whiskey. Over time a variety of other spirits will be offered. We’ve received guidance from George Racz (owner and founder of the Las Vegas Distillery), and he has been an important adviser to us. We have a cross promotion with his distillery and certainly, as the first craft distiller in the state of Nevada, George’s insights have been invaluable.
Will guests be able to enter the brewery and distillery?
The spaces are being designed to work both independently and together. For code and safety reasons, the distillery and brewery equipment will be behind a glass wall fully visible to guests, and there will be opportunities to get up close and personal through interactions with the staff operating the equipment. We will also schedule different educational presentations throughout the day.
In addition to the Prohibition exhibits, the renovation will give birth to three other experiences: Organized Crime Today, covering topics such as major transnational organized crime groups such as Mexican drug cartels; the Crime Lab, where visitors will learn how forensic criminal investigations operate by doing hands-on activities; and Firearms Training Simulator, similar to the training law-enforcement agencies get.
The brewery will be the fifth in the Downtown area and bring it a step closer to becoming a true brewery district. The distillery will be the third in Southern Nevada and the second Downtown, which means the area may soon be worthy of the title “Booze District.”
The Mob Museum will remain open during the renovation. To follow the renovation progress, visit themobmuseum.org/renovation.