A hidden gem in California Heights is serving up craft cocktails with a splash of Long Beach history.
By MICHELLE VAZQUEZ
It’s been nearly a century since the Prohibition era impacted the way Americans consumed alcohol or where they got it from, illicitly. Of course, there were those who gave the finger to the Volstead Act that established prohibition in the country and found a way around it: speakeasies.
These illegal establishments were created to cater to the needs of alcohol consumers during the dry era. Now, years later, there are a few modern speakeasies—minus the illegal part. One is located in Long Beach’s historic California Heights neighborhood, The Exhibition Room.
This particular speakeasy is connected to Roxanne’s Lounge at 1115 E. Wardlow Ave. and is located inside what used to be a storage room. The Exhibition Room is a unique and somewhat hidden destination in Long Beach, and its popularity has risen since its opening in 2014.
Corbin Brown, bartender-turned-bar-manager at The Exhibition Room, credits the establishment’s popularity to a variety of features, from their Prohibition-style decorations to their famous craft cocktails.
“I think we do exciting stuff,” he says. “[We] use fresh ingredients and have seasonal menus that we change frequently. So, we try to bring something new every time someone comes in.”
While it sounds intriguing to go into a bar that closely resembles what a speakeasy used to be, entrance is pretty exclusive.
First, you must make a reservation online or via text message. Then you’ll receive a text message with a password. Past passwords used have been Carpano and Gams (don’t try faking your way through, the passwords never repeat).
Next, head toward the end of Roxanne’s where there is a phone booth on the left. Pick up the phone and tell the person on the other end the password. Once the person approves your password, reservation and business-casual attire: jackpot, you’re in.
A dimly lit room with a chandelier in the middle is the first thing you’ll notice. The staggering and somewhat bitter smell of hard liquor will quickly invade your nostrils.
The “Hokkaido Hideout” is a unique creation of the bar, which contains Japanese whiskey fused with a rinse of absinthe, a smoked orange peel and fortified wine, among other well-rounded flavors so that the drink is not overbearing.
Another popular creation is called “I Know Right.” It contains vodka with a balance of citrus and sweet flavors. Brown calls it a more “refreshing and approachable drink.”
Of course, if you’re an on-the-rocks kind of consumer, their bar is filled with a wide variety of domestic and imported scotches, bourbons and whiskeys, to name a few. The average price of a drink is $12 while the most expensive can cost up to $30.
All bartenders are career bartenders and strive to innovate new drinks while still catering to their customers.
“We spend a lot of time researching and reading,” Brown says. “We go to other bars to see what they’re doing.”
Guests come for the drinks, but they also learn a thing or two about Long Beach’s history along the way, hence the word “Exhibition” in the bar’s title. Hanging on the tar black walls are black and white photographs of the Java Lane Bowling Alley in 1962 and Ricart’s Rest & Cocktail Lounge on Atlantic Avenue in 1949, among many others.
Guests can also find themselves sitting or standing next to furniture that dates back to the early 1900s.
“All these sittings are from an old church in the 1910s in Long Beach,” Brown says, while sitting on one.
Brown says that while it’s fun to work in a distinctive bar, he focuses on the consumers and their tastes.
“We sit down and talk to you,” he says. “What do you like? Do you like tequila? Whiskey? Or champagne and something more refreshing? We get to know the people.”
The Exhibition Room, 1115 E. Wardlow Ave. (562) 826-2940. Hours: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday to Saturday.
Rather do it yourself? Here’s how to make your own “Exhibition Old Fashion”….
– 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
– 1 teaspoon Turbinado
– 1 oz. Rittenhouse 100 proof Rye
– 1 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
– stir ice
– small glass with fresh ice
– lemon twist