Shh, Club 1923 Is An Underground Preview To 'The Speakeasy'

Shh, Club 1923 Is An Underground Preview To 'The Speakeasy'
Club 1923 patrons. (Photos: Geri Koeppel/Hoodline)
By Geri Koeppel - Published on April 01, 2015.

Break out your flapper dresses and fedoras: Club 1923 opened this past weekend as a precursor to The Speakeasy immersive theater experience slated to open in early 2016.

The location is a semi-secret venue near the border of North Beach and Chinatown. Patrons have to email club1923 {at} thespeakeasysf {dot} com for a reservation and information on how to access the club.

It runs from 9pm to 2am Fridays and Saturdays with a limited bar, live entertainment and "gambling" (for entertainment only) at craps and roulette tables.

Last Saturday, mustachioed barkeeps made sure the juice flowed as Matthew Cannon played piano and Nikola Printz belted out classics such as "Carmen" and "Those Were the Days." Acts will rotate, said David Gluck, one of three veteran producers behind the operation along with Geoffrey Libby and Nick A. Olivero.

Nikola Printz (left) and Matthew Cannon at Club 1923 speakeasy.

The trio is building a permanent theater for The Speakeasy in the basement of a new development at 644 Broadway, which will also house the China Live food mecca and several film offices, including the San Francisco Film Society.

The Speakeasy originally ran for 75 shows in the Tenderloin from January to June 2014, attracting more than 8,000 people. Audience members roamed room-to-room to watch the goings-on of various Prohibition-era characters, from showgirls to war veterans to barflies, and could order drinks and “gamble” in a crooked casino.

The new space will be three times as large at the former Tenderloin location, and will have better bathrooms and air conditioning, Gluck said. Because the experience changes constantly and the script will evolve over time, the founders said, they hope people will come multiple times.

In the months leading up to The Speakeasy's reopening, Club 1923 is about "relationship building," Gluck said. "We call them our teaser events. They're about introducing people to the concept of the show."

The producers are not going to advertise it, but prefer for word to spread via friends. "We'd like to remain a hidden delight in the San Francisco nightlife scene," Gluck said.

Those who attended the first weekend received a small toy pocket watch, which they're asked to bequeath to someone they think would be interested in going. "We send the pocket watches out there and we cast our fate to the wind," Gluck said. "We never know how many we'll have, but it all seems to work out." The bar can accommodate 49 patrons at a time.

Many of the first weekend's patrons were involved in the original run of The Speakeasy, but they also invited everyone on their email list who'd seen the show in the past.

"We found often when people learn about the show, they want to be involved," Gluck said. "They volunteer to build the sets or become dealers or become part of the band. Sometimes people step forward and tell us they want to invest in the project."

The first weekend, about 40 patrons attended on Friday and about 20 on Saturday. Most, but not all, were in period attire, which was essential during the original run of The Speakeasy. (In fact, the new theater will begin renting costumes when it opens.)

"We don't have formal dress codes like we do in the show," Olivero said. "This is a more relaxed environment."

Beer and wine are $5 a glass and cocktails are $10; a bag of casino chips is $10. 

"One hundred percent of the profits are going to go into creating the show," Gluck said. The cost of the theater is an estimated $2.25 million, with $750,000 for production and the rest for buildout.

The Speakeasy expects to stage shows Thursday through Saturday nights and in the early evening every other Sunday. The producers plan to open the space as a “neo-vaudeville” club on weekends after the shows and on Sundays when the show is dark, with entertainers ranging from magicians to jugglers to hip-hop belly dancers.