More and more people are looking for a place that rekindles the romanticism of a night out and brings them into the experience.
Places like 1122 Cocktail Lounge and Speakeasy in Paso Robles are seemingly transporting patrons back in time and offering a level of service and mixed drinks unmatched in the region.
“People want a comfortable lounge to step into and they want an atmosphere that makes them feel like they have been transported outside of Paso Robles,” says General Manager Tony Bennett. “I feel like we’ve done an excellent job providing that.”
Eleven Twenty Two is the brainchild of cousins Donovan Schmit and Troy Larkin, who also own and operate Pappy McGregor's and Fish Gaucho in Paso Robles.
“Because of the level of the culinary scene and now the craft cocktails, we just thought it was the right time to do this and so far it has been amazing,” Schmit says.
Usually, it takes years for places like this to gain a following and with it national notoriety. Eleven Twenty Two opened June 8, 2018, and in November was placed on a list of “All of the Speakeasies & Hidden Bars You Need to Visit ASAP.” The list of 46 reads like a who's who of the speakeasy world and literally includes locations from around the globe.
“It was a pretty cool list to be on, one that we are proud of,” Schmit says. “Put us on the map. That was really awesome. We had a five-year goal and it happened in less than 6 months.”
The Internet and social media have made it impossible for speakeasies of today to enjoy the same level of intrigue as the OGs from the 1920 and 1930s. Pictures of their decor and of their drinks are readily available even if cell phone usage is curbed as they enter the door off of Railroad Street.
Speakeasies, though illegal, were numerous and popular during the Prohibition years. Some were operated by people who were part of organized crime. Even though police and agents of the Bureau of Prohibition would often raid them and arrest their owners and patrons, they were so profitable that they continued to flourish. The speakeasy soon became one of the biggest parts of American culture during this time.
From the beginning, the speakeasy was relatively small with little or no entertainment involved, but through gradual growth, it popularized and expanded to many different areas with new additions of entertainment and eventually made the speakeasy one of the biggest businesses during Prohibition. The establishments died with the end of Prohibition.
Shortly before the turn of the century, speakeasy-style bars experienced a successful rebirth in larger cities, and over the past 10-15 years, they have begun popping up more and more up in smaller, touristy cities like Paso Robles.
The storage garage at the back of Pappy McGregor's Irish Pub, at 1122 Pine St., was transformed into 1122 Cocktail Lounge and Speakeasy. Yes, the name comes from the address.
“It was really an eyesore,” Schmit recalled. “We didn’t realize how little space we needed to pull it off and the garage space was perfect.”
Much like the other two ventures, the cousins did not go into 1122 without first doing three years of homework, which included visits to iconic speakeasies New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco
“A smashup of about 10 or 15 of our favorite places,” Schmit says. “Usually when we open a business we do a lot of research and a lot of travel…searching out these and constantly taking photos and notes. The padded walls were something we saw in Las Vegas, the lights are a play off of something we saw in New Orleans, so everything little thing, the chandelier and the heavy wood ceiling was at another place, so it was just all of our favorite elements.
“It turned out amazing,” Schmit says of the finished space.
The 1,000-square-foot establishment fits about 30 people and is technically located on the back patio of Pappy McGregor’s. The easiest way to find 1122 is by entering Pappy’s McGregor’s, walking through the back patio and then out to the door on Railroad Street.
The only way in is through the door on Railroad Street. It’s a dark brown nondescript door that does not have a doorknob. There is no flashy signage, just a square doorbell off to the right of the door below a larger square area with an unusual pattern of 11 dots and 22 dots.
Unlike their predecessors in the 20s and 30s, no password is necessary to enter, though customers must ring the doorbell, just once, to initiate entrance. After ringing the bell, the host greets the visitors through a small opening in the door, and if space permits the door opens and people step into a curtained staging area where they are met with jazz music playing in the background and suggestions from the host, such as turning off your cell phone, to make the evening memorable.
“We are really trying to stress conversation and meeting the person next to you even though it might be a stranger,” Schmit says, “and just enjoy the vibe and atmosphere.”
Once the curtain is pulled back, people get their first look at the expansive, elegant bar complete with a chandelier overhead and nine barstools in front of them. A slight turn of their head reveals two intimate seating areas in each corner of the room featuring plush high-backed booths and marble-topped cocktail tables.
“People have fallen in love with the entry,” Schmit says. “They think it is really cool. Most people come in and they just stare around on their first visit for like the first 5 minutes, just looking at all of the detail.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to get them to order a cocktail because they are just taking it all in,” General Manager Tony Bennett said. “It’s cool to see peoples’ reactions.”
During the week drinks are finished tableside from the drink cart for those enjoying the cozy corner booths.
Elven Twenty Two boasts 150 bottles of spirits including a selection of rare highly allocated whiskey, cognac, scotch, brandy, local and imported. The cocktail menu changes seasonally and includes not only the classics but also original drinks from the minds of the staff. Drinks start at $10.
On the weekends, there is usually a line outside the door to get into 1122. Through the week, however, it’s a different story and is prime time for locals and 1122 Spirit Society members.
The members-only Society includes 10 percent off cocktails and spirits, and invitations to member-only society nights, theme parties as well as access to ultra-limited alcohol labels.
“A lot of people are making this their place to go after work and are coming in a couple of nights a week now,” Bennett says of the Society’s impact. “Our community is seeing that we are making an effort to really make this something that could be a great spot for locals as well as a great spot for people coming through town.”
The lounge doesn't serve food; the business is open from Tuesday through Thursday from 7 p.m. to midnight; Sunday from 7 p.m. to midnight and from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.