Find the red light, open the door, and tell the attendant the password. Or walk down a flight of stairs to the door marked “Post Office,” find the secret phrase hidden in the lobby, and ring the bell. Either way, you’ll be treated to a cocktail. Anoka’s historic downtown is home to two new speakeasies, the Hardware Store and Nucky’s Speakeasy.
“Part of the fun is finding the place—we don’t have any signage,” says Jason Hostetler, owner of the Hardware Store. “The secretiveness of it adds to the excitement.”
After a year many of us spent mixing our own drinks, venturing out for professionally crafted cocktails holds particular appeal. Both Anoka speakeasies opened in November of 2020, shortly before a state-ordered suspension of indoor dining. (Nucky’s was open for three days, the Hardware Store only one.) When the speakeasies reopened for indoor service in 2021, customers were eager to experience something novel.
“You feel like you’re part of an exclusive group—you can’t get into the place easily; it needs a little bit of planning,” Hostetler explains. “People are blown away when we slide open the 150-pound door.”
The Hardware Store specializes in the craft cocktails and rare whiskeys that residents of the northwest Twin Cities metro used to have to drive into Minneapolis to find. “We make everything from scratch and come up with all our own drinks,” Hostetler says. “That’s why we’re not open every day. We have to prep each week. It takes, like, an hour or two just to zest the limes.”
Drinks pair complex layers of flavor with theatrical flourishes. For instance, there’s the smoked old fashioned, which can be customized with a choice of locally distilled craft or rare whiskeys. First, the cocktail is placed in a terrarium-style glass case atop a tableside cart. Then a server lights some cherry wood, and smoke is piped into the case via a length of tubing. Once the drink has been adequately infused with smoke—the recommendation is about a minute—crack open the door and take a sip. It may seem a bit over-the-top, but the process really does produce an unforgettably delicious drink.
Other show-stopping cocktails include the Infamous El Guapo, a margarita variation served with a burning lime; and Don’t Call Me Shirley, a rich blend of mezcal and Du Nord coffee liqueur with a finishing garnish of blazing cinnamon. The glittery, champagne- and tequila-based Mayor Lorraine is inspired by Hostetler’s grandmother, who was the first woman to be elected mayor of Anoka in 1983. “She was addicted to the color blue,” he says, referencing the drink’s vibrant hue. “That drink has been flying, it’s so beautiful.”
Non-alcoholic cocktails pair cheeky names with nuanced flavors—for example, the Kardashian has an unexpected depth from the addition of rosewater to a mix of ginger beer, strawberry, and lime.
The menu is rounded out with a handful of small bites, ranging from an elegantly composed charcuterie board to a bag of Cracker Jack. But even that pre-packaged snack features a Hardware Store touch: Guests get to pick out a prize from a vintage toolbox.
The Hardware Store’s intimate space evokes opulence, with crystal chandeliers, ornate mirrors, plush pink armchairs, and velvet curtains. On some nights, the small stage at the front of the room hosts vintage jazz, Prohibition swing, and blues performances. Rather than being strictly bound to a specific era, the atmosphere—like the portrait of Marilyn Monroe on the wall—taps into a timeless glamour, providing a sense of escapism that lingers long after the evening is over.
Just a block east of the Hardware Store, Nucky’s Speakeasy is tucked into Anoka’s historic post office, a stately brick building dating to 1916. If they can find the hidden entrance and the password, speakeasy patrons are welcomed by the Postmaster, who sets the scene: “I remind people they’ve gone back 100 years to the 1920s, and they’re on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.” (Some might recognize the Postmaster as Jim Abeler, a longtime state legislator and co-owner of Nucky’s.)
As Abeler explains in his opening spiel, the speakeasy is named after Enoch Lewis “Nucky” Johnson, the crime boss who controlled Atlantic City for 30 years and reached the height of his power during Prohibition. Fittingly, Nucky’s Speakeasy embraces a Roaring Twenties theme. Servers, and some patrons, are attired in fringed dresses and sequined headbands. The brick walls and floors lend a subterranean feel, while the wood trim and luxe Italian quartz bar provide a vintage-inspired allure.
“People enjoy the glamourized past,” says Abeler. “I don’t imagine [Prohibition-era] speakeasies were really as nice as ours.”
The atmosphere at Nucky’s is a bit more boisterous than the Hardware Store—it’s the sort of place where friends could gather for a flapper-themed bachelorette party, or where a couple could settle into one of the quieter nooks for an evening of people watching. Abeler gives each group that comes into the speakeasy a brief tour of the various themed seating areas, and most patrons are grinning—as adults, we don’t get to enjoy the delights of make-believe very often.
Although Nucky’s menu features a handful of Prohibition-era cocktails (including a well-executed Last Word), most of the crowd-pleasing drinks list caters to a modern audience—think rum-based tropical cocktails, a guava cosmopolitan, and mocktails featuring house-made ginger beer. The food menu nods to contemporary American and Asian influences, with options like loaded fries, coconut shrimp, spicy Thai basil wings, and a mango sticky rice dessert.
The ambitions of Anoka’s modern speakeasies differ: The Hardware Store is an expression of craft cocktail culture, while Nucky’s trades on nostalgia. But like their Prohibition-era predecessors, both offer the promise of a good time, tinged with a hint of illicit excitement.
“I look at the people [when they ring the bell]—some know the password, some have no idea what they’re doing,” says Abeler. “I joke with them, I say, ‘Why are you coming to the post office basement after hours to talk to the mop guy?’ I only let them suffer for a couple moments, not more than 10 seconds—but that little moment of tension makes it very special.”
Nucky’s, 300 E. Main St., Anoka, nuckysspeakeasy.com
The Hardware Store, 201 Jackson St., Anoka, anokahardwarestore.com