Thursday, January 31, 2013

Owner of New Orlando Speakeasy, Hanson's Shoe Repair, Shares History of the Bar and What He Thinks Downtown Needs



While downtown has plenty of places for a drink, a new bar in a very old space is quickly becoming the talk of the town. Hanson's Shoe Repair is found on the third floor of NV Art Bar on Pine Street. NV Art Bar is already known as a classy place to go when you want something more than cheap PBR tall boys and dance floors with way too many Xs in sight. This new bar is taking the classiness to a level that Orlando has never seen -er- should I say it hasn't since 1933! This is a speakeasy. Yes, like a full fledged secret-password-hidden-space type of speakeasy. 

The setting builds the anticipation for the mixologists that shine through with the wide selection of prohibition era inspired drinks, with a bourbon focus of course. Add live music, a rough turn of the century looking high walled outdoor area, and burlesque dancers and you can see why this is quickly becoming Orlando's must-see bar.

Recently we were able to get a quick interview with Curt, one of the owners of the new speakeasy (shhh don't tell the authorities! Luckily 1920s era cops aren't that familiar with the internet so I think we'll be safe). Curt really opens up about the new space and what he thinks downtown needs.

TDC- Give us a brief bio of yourself.  What did you do before this?  What made you decide to do go into hospitality?

Curt- "My fiance, Susie and I are both from the UK and we both literally grew up in and around various pubs. In fact, we were both working in pubs from our early teens, as was common there. My main business is actually owning a photography studio and gallery, which I've done since '96."

TDC- Tell us some about the bar? Why a speak-easy concept?

Curt- "The Speakeasy is housed on the 3rd floor and is a part of NV Art Bar. Many people enjoyed evenings up there over the years until it closed in 2011. The dearly missed Kelly Fitzpatrick from the Sentinel, used to call the rooftop of NV "her favorite little part of downtown"

My business partner, Marc and I decided on the Speakeasy concept, having both enjoyed seeking them out when traveling to different cities such as New York (where he is from), Chicago and San Francisco. Marc and his partner, Emily, spent a great deal of time researching the prohibition era, especially the cocktails that were popular then. I spent time with Susie, collecting antiques and artwork, from the late 1800's and early 1900's to decorate the space.

Last summer, we made an appointment at the History Center, to look through the history of the building. One of the books shown to us, describes the building as being the oldest still standing in Downtown! After scanning through lots of city plans, newspaper ads and phone directories, we realized that the original owner was a Cobbler, Mr Hanson, and that he was there for 60 years from 1883, operating as Hanson's Shoe Repair Shop. It became a landmark at the beginning of the last century, when Mr Hanson, displayed the very first electric sign in Orlando. The decision was almost made for us - we changed the name of the 3rd floor to Hanson's!"

TDCOutside of the theming what makes the bar unique?


Curt- "It would be impossible to build a room with more Character. We carefully restored old sash windows that used to look out to dirt streets 130 years ago when the building was freestanding. The ceiling is oak paneled now and a 12' Renaissance era mural spans one wall. Hundreds of LED light bulbs were discreetly hidden to add subtle glows to the dark wood and artwork without being seen. The ambient light is always kept low, as is the music, which is either Jazz or early soul.

In keeping with Prohibition era tradition,  a password is required before gaining admission through an ornate door with a peep hole. This code changes daily and can only be obtained by calling 407 476 9446. Please do so, if only to listen to our recorded message!"
TDC- Rumor has it that this bar has been in the works for years now.  How long did it actually take from concept to reality?

Curt- "Luckily there were no major structural changes needed, except for bringing the main staircase up to code, which we did with an engineer and the city planners help. The year and a half that it took us, was caused by the fact that me and Marc both did all of the work ourselves and we have other businesses to run."
TDC- Some are saying that downtown is already over-saturated with drinking establishments.  Why did you choose downtown as your location?

Curt- "Downtown is over-saturated right now, for the number of people that are currently going there at night, especially our (older) demographic. Most are staying to eat and drink in the "Parks" ie Winter, Thornton, College. We live in Thornton Park and do the same thing ourselves, having received enough parking tickets to wallpaper the house!

Some of the panhandlers have been downtown at least for the ten years I have, and can be quite aggressive and intimidating to people from the Suburbs. Until these problems are addressed, downtown will not reach its potential, with or without the Performing Arts Center, as a destination for people looking for culture instead of a Jager Bomb. So why have a bar Downtown? Because it's real, it's gritty and it's not in a brand new condo building or strip mall."




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