At Big E, V-One Vodka’s hidden underground bar reinvents prohibition-era bar life with new versions of the cocktails of yesteryear
You can try to get your shoes repaired at The Big E’s Kozub Cobbler Shop. You might not be having much luck.
This is because there is not a shoemaker behind the sepia shoemaker storefront facade. There is vodka, however.
The Speakeasy is new at the Eastern States Exposition this year, courtesy of Hadley-based V-One Vodka. For 15 years, V-One has offered its signature vodka at the salon, first with a martini bar and more recently with an expanded cocktail bar.
But in recent weeks, a different kind of beverage service has crept into the mind of V-One owner Paul Kozub.
After visiting a sweatshop in Hudson and hearing that a separate room had opened in The Big E’s Young Building, Kozub decided to pay homage to his Prohibition-era roots.
“One of the reasons I started V-One was to honor my father, who died of cancer quite young, and my Polish grandfather, who told me stories about prohibition and the making of clear. moonlight in Ludlow, ”Kozub said.
He had a bar and benches built specifically for the space, while also generating the image of a 1920s underground drinking trough in his head – right down to the specific drinks he would serve.
“I researched popular cocktails around this time,” Kozub said. “There were five that kept popping up.”
On the Speakeasy’s menu are Old Fashioned, French 75, Mary Pickford, Bee’s Knees and Lime Rickey – each a signature Prohibition drink.
“Of course we have an Old Fashioned,” Kozub said. “It’s with bumblebee, bitters, simple syrup and maraschino cherries.”
The French 75, sometimes made from gin, combines V-One vodka with orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice and sparkling wine. Lime rickey, usually a gin drink mixed with lime juice and soda water, also replaces vodka. Mary Pickford offers light rum, pineapple juice, grenadine and maraschino cherries.
But one of the favorites for Big E attendees so far, Kozub said, has been Bee’s Knees.
“It’s usually done with gin, but again I own a vodka business, so I do it with vodka,” he said.
The vodka is combined with lemon juice and a simple syrup made from local Hadley honey. The flavor of honey, Kozub said, is light and airy – “not too much of a burnt flavor.”
“During Prohibition, people used gin because vodka was not as popular then.” Kozub said. “Gin is actually just vodka flavored with junipers and stuff. You couldn’t make high quality vodka during Prohibition which is why people used gin because it covered impurities from alcohol.
The facade of The Speakeasy is unobtrusive – as any sweatshop intends to be – but it takes on the impression of a shop window on a street in Prohibition-era town, with the sign “Kozub”. Cobbler Shop ”suspended above desaturated street images.
While outside of the Big E, masks are optional, West Springfield needs them for those entering interior spaces like the Speakeasy’s Young Building location. But once seated and drinking, bar patrons are free to remove their face coverings.
The Big E crowds, Kozub said, flocked to the bar.
“The first weekend we set records every day. It’s a good location, but overall the crowd was great, ”he said. “The people who are here really want to be here and have a cocktail or two.”
On opening weekend, former New England Patriots cornerback Ty Law, partner of V-One Vodka, stopped by to sign bottles and shirts. This weekend, people also gathered to watch the Patriots rout the New York Jets on TV – which was invented six years before the end of Prohibition – which drags behind the bar.
People under the age of 21 are not allowed to sit at the bar, Kozub said, but they are welcome to sit at surrounding tables with their friends or family.
“Growing up in Western Mass. Is a family affair,” he said. “We have a lot of families and a lot of children. I have four children myself. We are here all the time.