As downtown Fort Lauderdale continues to rev up to pre-pandemic speed — restaurant tables impossible, sidewalks impassable, out-of-towners irascible — you may be looking for a hiding place.
A new speakeasy is set to open on Thursday, June 17, behind an unmarked door just off Las Olas Boulevard in a space shared with Vinos Wine Bar and Cocktail Lounge.
To be part of the in crowd at the speakeasy, called Sidecar II, you’ll need to find the secret door (or the other secret door), punch in the code and keep the secret.
At the risk of violating the first rule of Sidecar II (“You do not talk about Sidecar II”), we will share what we know. Just this once.
Vinos Wine Bar and Cocktail Lounge opened in February at 901 E. Las Olas Blvd., a sequel to the original spot across the street that captivated locals with its concealed, down-the-alley location and casual, candlelit sophistication.
Forced to move when the building was demolished, Vino’s is now ensconced in a storefront of a former bank building — its Spanish motif a lovely architectural happenstance — facing downtown Fort Lauderdale’s bustling tourist thoroughfare.
Vinos co-owner Clayton Chelley nevertheless wanted his new bar to have an air of the clandestine.
“It’s maybe what bars should be like, instead of loud music and people shoulder to shoulder,” he says. “It’s gotta be hard to find. It’s gotta be lowkey.”
Similar motivations prompted the opening of downtown Fort Lauderdale’s other new speakeasy, Room 901, which opened in February at the 46-story Hyatt Centric Fort Lauderdale Las Olas, which turned one of its hotel rooms into covert cocktail bar.
Chelley named his speakeasy Sidecar II as an homage to his Hotsy-Totsy Bar & Grill and Sidecar Speakeasy in Hollywood, and many of the same elements will be in place.
Open 6 p.m. to closing daily, the Fort Lauderdale edition will have beer and wine, but the spotlight will be on craft cocktails, both classics and new versions that lean on the creativity of the bartenders. Prices will be $9-$16.
Chelley believes there is an audience among people drifting along Las Olas Boulevard for a quiet place to chill, Dean Martin style.
“If you build it they will come. There are people out there that are more comfortable in this size bar and this surrounding, even more and more nowadays because the bars are getting so big and hectic. People gravitate to small bars,” he says.
A New Zealand native, Chelley has lived in 30 cities across six countries. He and his wife, co-owner Valerie Chelley, live in Key West, where they own another bar.
“You have to build bars to the people you want. If you build a bar with a DJ in the back and loud flashing lights, those are the people you’re going to attract. But if you build a bar, say something like this, I’m attracting people that look for this type of atmosphere,” he says. “I don’t even think [Las Olas Boulevard] knew it needed a speakeasy.”
Here are answers to questions you might have about Sidecar II:
Where is it? The address is the same, 901 E. Las Olas Blvd., but the entrance to Sidecar II is not visible from the street or from inside Vinos, though there is a secret passage within the wine bar. Seek out a Vinos bartender and tell them what you’re looking for.
How do I get in? The bartender will hand you a small, wax-sealed envelope with a card inside. The card includes a phone number to call, where you’ll get the entry code. The bartender will direct you to the door where you’ll punch in the code.
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“I want you to have steps to go through, some mystery,” Chelley says. If you’re not into games, the new code will be available on Vinos’ Instagram, every Monday.
What does it look like? Sidecar II is all dimly lit, retro sexiness, with leather banquettes and bar stools for about two dozen people and standing room for maybe a half-dozen more. Chelley says keeping capacity manageable is important to him, and a doorman on Friday-Saturday is a possibility.
The walls are covered in soft, textured wallpaper in deep reds and blues, including one layered in shaved horsehide from England. Period pictures in frames dot the space, from a doctor’s 1925 prescription for whiskey to a scene from the old TV show “My Mother the Car.”
What will it sound like? Expect a velvet fog of cocktail-hour nostalgia, including Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Mel Torme, and, of course, Dean-o.
Sidecar II and Vinos Wine Bar and Cocktail Lounge are at 901 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-765-6730 or visit VinosWineBars.com.