A downtown restaurant aims to bring back the style of the 1920s by opening a speakeasy.
STORY | ANNA PECK
PHOTO | CHELSEA GLOWAKI
The original Ice House in Harrisonburg, Virginia, built in 1934, was just that: an icehouse. Resurrected in 2014, the new Ice House, located at 125 West Bruce St. and 217 South Liberty St., has been adding to the cool factor of Downtown with a new retail store, coffee shop, jewelry store and even a yoga studio. Now, a new addition is set to take Harrisonburg residents back to another time period.
Pure Eats, an eatery known for its delicious doughnuts and burgers, is expanding into a different foray: the speakeasy.
A speakeasy is a bar, mainly started by members of organized crime, where patrons were able to get their illegal alcohol fix during the Prohibition era. Between the 1920s and early 1930s, speakeasies were the cool place to be and a not so well-kept secret. They were called a “speakeasy” because guests were encouraged to be quiet while inside in order to hide from suspicious police.
When the Prohibition era died down, so did the amount of speakeasies. Considering alcohol is no longer banned in any of the 50 states, speakeasies (if you can find them) are now seen as a retro bar.
It’s “fun, it’s cool, it’s unique, it’s different than your average bar,” Ashley Barnes, general manager of Pure Eats, says. “The atmosphere is nice if you want to have a cocktail and just relax.”
The origin of the name, Pure & Easy, is pretty simple. It’s a mixture of the restaurant’s name and the word speakeasy. While Pure & Easy will be right next door to Pure Eats, partakers won’t have to worry about walking in the restaurant to get in — there’s a side door that’ll take you into the lounge. It can’t be missed because it’s right by one of the original Ice House doors.
Since it’s scheduled to open in late fall, construction is still going on in the newest downtown hotspot. The room, behind all the construction equipment and wood, is small, but quaint. The walls are covered with old and exposed brick from the original icehouse, with one accent wall, the color of which is yet to be decided.
Looking up, there’s a blackout ceiling, which adds to the chic and sophisticated mood Pure & Easy is trying to convey. There are plans to have small tables throughout the room, but guests will mainly sit on the bench connected to the wall that wraps around the room. The benched seating allows guests to talk easily and get to know one other.
Behind the small bar, there’ll only be one bartender and an actual hole in the wall that connects to the restaurant. Instead of having servers, guests can order food that’ll come right out of that hole into the bartender’s hands and into the stomachs of the guests. Barnes says that while they haven’t gotten the furniture yet, she hopes that it’ll have a real, vintage feel and help create a cozy atmosphere.
As for the food and drinks, it’ll be similar to Pure Eats, which thrives on helping local industries. They use lean beef and chicken that comes from Lexington, Charlottesville and the Shenandoah Valley, and they get the vegetables and fruits from the farmers market across the street. These ingredients will stay the same, but the menu will have a classier twist. While they only serve beer on the Pure Eats side, there will be liquor and wine served at the speakeasy.
“We want to have specialty drinks and we want to use local products,” Barnes says. “I used to bartend a few years ago and I loved making drinks.”
Alex Moore, a senior integrated science and technology major, is going to be one of the bartenders.
“I’m excited because I think it will be one of the few places where you can get a traditional cocktail that is unique from the other bars downtown,” Moore says.
They’re planning on taking full advantage of the farmers market for that.
Moore can’t wait to “let my creative juices flow,” and experiment with different things. He doesn’t consider himself a bartender, but a mixologist. He says that he looks at making drinks from a cooking perspective.
“Say they have raspberries; we can make a Raspberry Mojito, or they’ve got cherries or whatever,” Barnes says. “We want to include all that stuff in our food, but also in our drinks.”
Barnes believes that it’ll be a place for downtowners to drink, eat and relax after work or class. She jokes that it will be like “the male version of a spa.”
“Hopefully it will be a draw for more people to come downtown … especially the Ice House,” Barnes says. “The Ice House is brand new and the word is still getting out about it.”
Tim Brady, co-founder of Pale Fire Brewery and a neighbor of Pure & Easy, has been a resident of Harrisonburg since 1998. In almost 20 years, Brady has seen downtown grow significantly.
Pure & Easy “will be a fantastic addition,” Brady says. “You can already see that Pure Eats has done a wonderful job, and it will just be another reason for people to come to the Ice House.”
Barnes hopes that people will be excited about the speakeasy and will come downtown for it specifically. She thinks that there’s already a hype surrounding it and that many people will hear about it through word of mouth.
“We want people to love coming here and we want them to come back,” she says.
When Pure & Easy graces Harrisonburg with its presence is still to be determined, but look for it to be opened Tuesday through Saturday after 5 p.m. As for how to get in? That’s still a secret, so keep your bellies and ears open.