Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Speakeasy
Boxcar Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Belleville, Avenue Q and Shen Yun Performing Arts and Patrick's review of Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story

Anthony Cistaro and Jessica Waldman
Photo by Peter Liu
San Francisco has an exciting tourist attraction at a clandestine location with secret passwords. It's called The Speakeasy and it's a wonderful club with a 1920s d├ęcor that defines the five-ish rooms of an interactive set. The amazing re-creation of a prohibition era speakeasy where illegal booze was sold employs more than 35 actors. The Speakeasy is the brainchild of producers David Gluck, Geoffrey Libby, and Nick A. Olivero in association with Boxcar Theatre and is set in a secret location in the North Beach section of San Francisco.

Boxcar mounted The Speakeasy in 2014 and the new location is better than ever. It's more solid, cozy and interactive than the original. There is an improved script of over 1500 pages, new characters, and innovative situations. It's also three hours long, but there is so much do in the club that time just flies by.

First we meet a man in a blue hat in the alley behind the City Lights Bookstore (Jack Kerouac Alley) and give him the password which we received 48 hours before our arrival. He gives us a map to the club which is about two blocks away. We enter behind a grandfather clock and down the stairs to the roaring twenties club.

The Speakeasy consists of three main rooms including a large cabaret, which is constantly running with sequin-costumed showgirls who sing and swish, a ghostly pancake makeup- faced comedic emcee (Anthony Cistaro) with a lot of one-line groaners and vintage vaudeville routines on the order of Smith and Dales, and fantastic singers vocalizing in a 1920s style. There is also a live six-piece orchestra.

In a casino you can bet on roulette, craps and blackjack using custom printed gaming chips with croupiers to explain the betting process on five tables. The Speakeasy has a large bar where you see most of the eccentrics of the type who populated the underground speakeasies of the past. This is where most of the drama occurs; there's also a dressing room which has a one-sided mirror through which patrons can observe the showgirls dressing.

We mostly hung out in the bar where you can order fancy drinks like the Russian Dressing (a combination of vodka and ginger beer like a Moscow Mule) and watch a mean drunk (Adam Simpson) who takes his 10-year-old daughter to the bar, a man who sits at the head of the bar on a barstool expounding on philosophical topics such as Jack London, and a homosexual pick-up. There is a damn good entertainer (Brian Martin) on a small stage belting out period tunes. For three hours you can wander these rooms. Cell phones must be turned off, and a no-talking rule is enforced (if you must talk, whisper).

The Speakeasy instructions ask that everyone dress up, in period if possible. The night I attended, some of the women dressed as flappers and the men had their pants held up with suspenders.

Bottom line: This club deserves to a permanent fixture in the city. It's entertaining, inventive, and highly enjoyable.

The Speakeasy, in an open run Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 5 pm. Tickets are $90 for three hours of breathtaking entertainment. Drinks are extra. Tickets can be obtained at You meet in the alley at 7:30.

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