The Mob Museum has been celebrated for the interactive nature of its exhibits and for its integration into the Downtown community—where else can you fire a tommy gun and get safety tips from Metro officers? However, the museum is taking audience participation and education to a new level on April 20.
That new level is actually the basement where an on-site speakeasy and functioning distillery and brewery, dubbed The Underground, offers a unique perspective on Prohibition. “It appeals to every sense. It’s visually exciting, you see and hear the stories, you taste the booze,” says Mob Museum president and CEO Jonathan Ullman.
The Underground is the final part of the Mob Museum’s recent renovations—a $6 million undertaking. The new venue provides a space for the museum to tell the story of bootlegging, rum running, moonshining, and how organized crime flourished during the period.
“Prohibition was a time when the mob amassed even more power. And it was such a pivotal time in society—the cultural and social changes,” Ullman explains, pointing out displays on flappers and the Harlem Renaissance. Photos, videos and artifacts from battered tin flasks to exquisitely beaded 20s gowns help tell the story of the era.
The new enterprises are overseen by director of food and beverage Clint Thoman, who comes equipped for his position with a resume including opening Tao Las Vegas, managing bars in Wolfgang Puck Group restaurants and operating his own sandwich shop in Henderson. “After meeting with [museum director] Jonathan Ullman I knew I had to be a part of this,” Thoman says, “and I started working on it even before I was hired.”
After walking down a hallway adorned with everything from vintage advertisements for Cashman Cadillac to relics scavenged from wrecked rum running ships, guests enter through the speakeasy or the distillery.
The speakeasy is a red-wallpapered room with leather banquettes, a working jukebox from the 1920s and a long wooden bar, where drinks are served with more than a cocktail napkin. “It’s a functioning, fantastic bar space, but it’s also educational,” Ullman says. “The cocktail menu tells a story, the bartenders will tell stories.”
The menu features more than 70 recipes that have been researched from the era, along with 12 original recipes changed out on a regular basis. If you order a Hanky Panky or a Bee’s Knees, expect to get a background story with your beverage (and yes, there are mocktails for the temperance crowd).
On the other side of the space, The Underground brews and distills beer and moonshine on-site. Visitors can watch the process happening right before their eyes and even purchase bottles to take home.
The distillery features a 200-gallon modified copper turnip still (named for the shape of its top) imported from Germany and will, after distillation, yield 50 gallons per cycle. It’ll initially produce a 100 percent corn mash moonshine, with future plans possibly calling for other mash bills and spirits. The brewing apparatus is on an even smaller scale, only large enough to produce about one keg a week, generating Prohibition-era pale ales, amber ales, porters and stouts. Local CraftHaus brewer Steve Brockman is advising on beer recipes, and Las Vegas Distillery owner George Racz has been brought on to man both systems and train lead museum educator Cole Miller, who will apprentice until he is ready to take over.
Zappos, which partnered with the Mob Museum to sponsor The Underground, is also working with the in-house specialists to create a proprietary beer each month for their “Zap on Tap” program.
A tour of The Underground is included with museum tickets purchased before 5 p.m. After banker’s hours, however, the new space functions independently as a place to grab a cocktail, no ticket purchase required (you must be 21 or over, of course). A side entrance leads directly into the bar area, and a daily password to enter will be posted on the Mob Museum’s website and social media. With the new wing come new hours: The museum and speakeasy will open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 9 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.
Even after-hours, the bar will still retain its throwback flavor. Those who want to watch “the game” will have to be content with old clips of Babe Ruth or the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919. But that’s part of The Underground’s mission. As Ullman says, “It’s going to be fun, but you’ll learn so much here.”