About a minute after ringing a bell near a barely marked door at the corner of Olive and Bellevue, Jack Valko pokes his head out. "Table for one?" he asks. "Is the bar okay?"
I assure him it is and he turns around as though he plans to leave me outside while he checks on the seating at the bar. "Oh, I guess you can wait inside," he decides, realizing the wind has kicked up.
Knee High Stocking Co.
Knee High Stocking Co.(1356 E Olive Way) has nothing more than the kind of tiny gold letters you can find at any hardware store to indicate its presence. Prohibition might be over, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the fun of sneaking around when we drink.
Tonight our guide to the intimate world of sharing cocktails behind locked doors and drawn curtains is Ben Perri.
Nice to meet you, Ben. Make me what you drink. "I drink beer, but I'm not going to make you that."
You can, it's totally fine. (Ben shakes his head.) Instead he picks his favorite off the house cocktail list--found in a menu marked "Summer 2009 Catalog." Off the shelf comes Makers Mark, Dubonnet Rouge and Cointreau, this evening, I'll be having the Cat's Meow.
So what do you think about this whole speakeasy thing? "I think it's fantastic, teaching people to enjoy good cocktails," Perri says. "We're going to have a city full of amazing bartenders."
Maybe we should bring back prohibition!? The Cat's Meow isn't the most astonishing cocktail I've had on a First Call assignment (though it's certainly a palate pleaser). And the menu's Chicago hot dog pulls its punches--going with more mild peppers than the kind you actually get in the Windy City. But none of that really seems to matter.
My neighbor at the bar is sipping his whiskey in a fedora and french cuffs. The women at the end are discussing how they found the place (one is a neighbor, the other a tourist from Portland who saw it on Yelp.) Knee High doesn't drown in its own sense of self-importance, but it does give you the sense that you're in on a secret--a secret that involves happy hour punch specials.
Valko, the one who granted me entree, is one of the owners. When I get out my camera he laughs: "no cameras allowed!" It takes a minute to realize he's joking.
Sometimes you just want to belong to an exclusive club without any effort. If you like talking about the nuances of bitters with barflies who wear dress vests, this is your place. Knee High might make you wait an extra minute or two outside before you get through the door. But once you're inside, we're all family. If this is what prohibition was like, I say let's just go ahead and ban alcohol all over again.