Nestled on the second floor of Sour Bon (formerly the historic Doran’s) in downtown West Palm Beach, 215 Speakeasy is a hidden gem. That is not to say that it is hiding: with live jazz on the weekends and hours that end when the party does, this spot is a favorite of those who are in-the-know.
Walk past the main dining area, down a narrow hall, past the kitchen window, and up a dark stairway painted in blood red. Consider the tone set.
The speakeasy is small, it feels full with 20 people inside. The ceiling are low, the walls are dark, the wood is old. There is no other place I’d rather be.
The proprietor and bartender is Vincent, a welcoming Frenchman, bearded and tattooed. He makes drinks for people based on interactions instead of ordering from a menu (which does not exist here).
The bar is a wall of colored glass, well stocked with influential players and rebellious up-and-comers. It inspires discovery, trying something new and unexpected that you would not get in a street-level locale.
On this occasion, Vincent makes me a nameless concoction made with Pine Barrens Gin and a home-made syrup in a vintage cut crystal decanter. The pièce de résistance is the aged balsamic he delicately lays across the the top of the ice and on the edge of the glass, so that when I take my first sip, my lips taste the rich and complex reduction followed immediately by the impeccable freshness of the cocktail. It’s amazing. I’m haunted by it still.
Next he makes an Old Fashioned by smoking a glass with Michigan cherrywood slices, Old Forester Kentucky Bourbon, and a Washington cherry that he batches himself. With no simple syrup it is considerably less sweet than what I am used to, and I like that.
Every element of the bar has a story: the dried lavender comes from his mother’s garden in Toulouse, the citrus garnish he dehydrates in his own home, the vintage barware that he has collected along the way. The paper origami boats and planes with handwritten notes that he clips to the edge of his cocktail creations.
By the end of my time here I realize that, clearly, this is the way to drink. The word “mixology” doesn’t do justice to the approach taken to making drinks. A woman next to me orders a mocktail, and over the course of 4-5 minutes I watch Vincent create a drink with a hand-crushed ice ball, dried daffodil, fresh blueberry and a dried lavender sprig that he lights like incense.
Because, as Vincent would say…
C’est la fucking vie.
And, who doesn’t want to enjoy the hell out of it?
215 Speakeasy is located at 215 Clematis Street, 2nd Floor, West Palm Beach Florida
Open Wednesday through Saturday after 7:30 pm.