A man walks into a bar. He is arrested.
That’s not a joke. During the early 20th century in the United States of America, possession of alcohol was illegal due to prohibition laws pushed by Andrew Volstead, a Republican member for the House of Representatives. But, like a “wet paint” sign on a park bench, that didn’t stop everyone.
By the 1930s, there were so many people at secretive speakeasies and bootleg outfits the government was forced to repeal the ‘Volstead Act’ and make the consumption of alcohol legal again.
Fast forward to 2022, and a new cocktail bar in Canberra is reliving those moments every evening from Wednesday to Sunday.
Tucked down an alley along Mort Street in Braddon, Volstead Repeal offers cocktails, whisky, pizza and charcuterie platters, all set in the dark timber and deep green Chesterfield couches of the post-prohibition era.
Co-owner and manager Stu Inger has been in the hospitality business for 10 years, working at Hippo, Blackbird, White Rabbit and Kremlin in Canberra for eight of those years.
“I also had a whisky tasting business prior to this, but it was more of a side hustle,” he says.
Working alongside Sydney businessman Allen Chen, Stu says the idea for Volstead Repeal has been in the works for about a year.
“The space came up and we felt like Braddon was missing an early-evening cocktail lounge,” he says.
“We wanted a sort of whisky library feel to it, a classic 1930s and 1940s home den-type affair, in terms of the timber and Chesterfields, somewhere cosy where you could sit down with a drink and have a conversation.”
The menu includes nine different cocktails, broken down into three categories to make selection easier. Stu says the other standout is the enormous range of whisky.
“We have about 300 bottles of whisky at the moment, and we are looking to expand that. We are getting a little cramped but we’re going to keep going until we really run out of space.”
Live music is also on the cards, with a Canberra jazz musician tentatively pencilled in for Sunday evenings.
After COVID-19 restrictions delayed the opening by about three months, Stu says that now the doors are open, Volstead Repeal is largely focussing on cocktails and spirits but anticipates being able to diversify the menu in coming months. This will include more pizza and charcuterie options.
“It’s a real intimate and cosy sort of venue, and about half of what we’ve been doing so far has been cocktails, followed by whisky, wine and beer.”
They’ll also increase the number of signs.
“People are having a little bit of trouble finding the place, because we’re still working on getting our signage up. This is causing some to confuse us with the more secretive speakeasy-type bar.”
Volstead Repeal is open from 5 pm to midnight from Wednesday to Saturday, and 3 pm to midnight on Sunday, and can be found at 7/32 Mort Street in Braddon, past the barbershop. Bookings are recommended.