What’s the Password?

Jo* begins the story of 9 1/2 by describing a visit to Nashville where she stumbled upon the Patterson House, a speakeasy so tucked away that she never noticed it – even though it was literally adjacent to the apartment where she used to live. She told us that she called her mom, who runs Fellini’s #9, and said, “Mom, we have to do this.”

The 9 1/2 Speakeasy is modeled off of the Patterson House. It even boasts a similar website that gives away absolutely no details other than the hours. You have to know about this place to go, which was Jo’s intention. A door that used to serve as an entrance into Fellini’s has been blocked off from the restaurant and now has a tiny “9 1/2” logo. Go inside, walk up the stairs, give Al Capone a nod, read the “rules” [including no talking on your cell phone], knock on the door, state the password,** and you’re in.

It’s a tiny space with only 4 seats at the bar, three booths, one table for two and a row of stools along a wall. It was completely empty when we got there except for a couple in a booth and a zombie sitting on a stool drinking a Sazerac. 9 1/2 strives for authenticity, with a classic drink list admittedly inspired by the Patterson House, and liquors like Old Grand-Dad Bourbon Whiskey, because do you think people drank Johnny Walker King George in the 20s?

My first drink was a Sazerac [one of my favorites] made with Old Overholt Rye, a sugar cube, Absinthe, bitters, and a lemon twist. In my eyes, 9 1/2’s biggest, almost unforgivable mistake was the preparation of this cocktail. First, the bartender [not Jo] put ice in it. Then, he shook it. Then, he forgot the lemon twist. A traditional Sazerac is stirred and served neat. And yes, this makes a difference. And no, I’m not a snob. I was pretty disappointed. Thankfully, Jo [I’ve always considered her one of the best bartenders in town] made Shaun’s first drink, a classic Old-Fashioned, and it was flawless.

I moved on to the “Al Capone,” called the signature drink of the speakeasy. This one is Jack Daniels, B&B, Ginger Beer, lemon and mint, shaken in a highball glass. The drink was 50% ginger beer, so it was all I could taste, but it was nevertheless alright. The Old-Fashioned definitely won the night [or rather, Jo’s bartending skills did].

Part of the reason people pay a premium to follow the new speakeasy trend is the skill and artistry of the mixology. Take Franklin Mortgage in Philadelphia, where their newest cocktails are newsworthy events. The drinks are truly the stars – they’re why you go to places like this. Our experience was enjoyable because we found a space where we can try adventurous drinks and intimately interact with their makers; however, it would have been that much better if the cocktails would shine the way we anticipated from a bar of this sort. Unfortunately for patrons, Jo can’t make every single drink every single night, but if she could, this place would be nothing short of perfect. I’m still looking forward to our next visit, if not just to figure out the new password.

* Jo, my apologies if I’ve misspelled your name.

** The password changes, I believe. I won’t divulge how to find it, but as Jo described it, she hopes that one day acquisition of the password will be completely by word of mouth.


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Categories: Beverages, C-Ville


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/


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5 Comments on “What’s the Password?”

  1. October 30, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    Franklin Mortgage is really great. I only waited like five minutes before they let me in. Which was very cool. But this place 9 & 1/2 sounds way more secret. 🙂

    • October 31, 2011 at 7:36 am #

      Yeah Franklin keeps getting more mainstream. There’s literally a newspaper article every time they make a new cocktail. It’s kind of crazy. They’re also WAY more expensive than 9 1/2

  2. BOOMgoestheDynomite!
    November 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    “Indeed, unlike the real days of Prohibition, the password, which changes from night to night, is posted on a sign on the door.” … http://www.readthehook.com/101631/9-12-downtowns-new-speakeasy. Do they actually post it on the door?

    • November 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      Yes, “for now,” said the bartenders. As I mentioned in the post, they’re hoping one day it will be distributed solely by word-of-mouth.

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