Annapolis could have its own prohibition-style speakeasy on Main Street by June now that the city's Board of Appeals has approved a special exception permit for 193 Main Street.
"The concept is almost what it would be like today if you went into a back garage where it has a nod to the speakeasy flavor," Brian Bolter said. "We definitely want to put a modern twist on it."
Brian Bolter and his wife, Lisa Bolter, already own a Main Street restaurant called Red Red Wine Bar that opened in July 2011. Their newest venture—named DRY 85—will sit just two doors up on Main Street in the empty building next to Castlebay Irish Pub.
"From a bartender’s point of view it’s definitely a new idea," Edward Purpura said during the public commentary portion of the hearing. "It’s something that excited me, and it would definitely get me to come to downtown Annapolis."
Bruce St. Germain seconded that sentiment, saying he enjoys visiting a speakeasy-style restaurant in Alexandria, VA, called the PX Lounge.
"Personally we would like to have an establishment to go here in Maryland rather than spend our money in Virginia," St. Germain said.
Speakeasy-style bars have been popping in cities across the country in the last several years. In New York City, Please Don't Tell has its patrons call ahead for reservations and enter the establishment through a spinning phone booth inside a hot dog restaurant.
Brian Bolter doesn't think his new bar will be quite as secretive.
"Maybe an ode to the old school days you know with the sliding doors," Brian Bolter said. "Maybe something like that depending on the Historic Preservation Committee and what they will allow us to do."
Although the chosen space has sat empty for three years, neighboring restaurants aren't thrilled by the idea of seeing the storefront filled. Seven of them—including Stan and Joe's, Acme Bar and Grill and Joss Cafe—even signed a statement asking the appeals board to deny the application.
Alderman Kenny Kirby (D-6th Ward) asked the board to delay their decision on DRY 85, citing concerns about a retail market study conducted by the Annapolis Economic Development Council (AEDC).
Lara Fritts, the president of the AEDC, testified in the hopes of clearing up "some confusion about the study."
She said when you look at the city as a whole, it has room for about 26,000 square feet worth of new restaurants without harming the other businesses. She said the confusion has come from looking at specific areas of Annapolis rather than the city as a whole—which is an incorrect way to evaluate the data.
"My feeling is I think we're lucky that the Bolters want to put their restaurant in downtown Annapolis and not somewhere else like Parole," board member Sandra Latham said. "I think it would be a brilliant addition, and they have a good reputation."
DRY 85 gets its name from Sen. John Morris Sheppard, who wrote the 18th Amendment establishing prohibition in the United States. He also is responsible for The Sheppard Bone-Dry Act in 1916—which banned alcohol in Washington, DC, for three years before the 18th Amendment and kept prohibition in place for 85 days after it was repealed.
Brian Bolter said DRY 85 takes its inspiration and name from the 85 days that the district was "dry" while the rest of the country celebrated the end of prohibition.
Plans call for 48 seats, which include a dozen at the bar. The preliminary menu calls for a mix of bourbon, beer and comfort food with a modern upscale twist. It will offer choices like champagne and fries, kobe beef burgers and fried green tomatoes.
Brian Bolter's next stop is a hearing before the Alcohol Control Board on Feb. 6.
"If we can get [building] permits by March, we hope to be open in June," Brian Bolter said. "We built Red Red Wine Bar in three months and three days; we think we can do the same."