Speakeasy and Carry a Big Pencil

The joy of craft cocktails is closer than you think at Brooklyn's on Boulder.

Illustration by Alie Mann

When I heard my cousin Amos would be visiting, I was less than thrilled.

The little I knew about him was enough to make me nervous. He is more than 20 years younger than I am and lives in Boston. Most of his time is spent tooling around aimlessly on a fixed-gear bike wearing dark-rimmed glasses that are ostentatiously too large. His beard is meticulous and unkempt—at the same time.

In short: Amos is an East-Coast hipster. Exactly the sort of person who will say there’s nothing to do in the Springs.

My fears were confirmed—mostly—when Amos arrived and gifted me with a pencil that had been perfectly sharpened by an expert who lives in Brooklyn and has devoted himself to the craft. It came in a custom-made case specifically constructed for the purpose of holding pencils.

Apparently Amos could hear the skepticism in my thank-you.

“Dude,” said Amos, “it’s a very cool pencil.”

I opened it and took a look. Even I had to admit it was impressive. Whoever had sharpened it had studied how best to sharpen a pencil, had practiced repeatedly, then taken the time to do it exactly the right way.

“Thanks,” I said again, this time with slightly less skepticism.

“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked, after the sort of awkward silence common between relatives who have not seen each other for a long time.

“Don’t worry, dude,” said Amos. “I know the perfect place.”

I raised an eyebrow. This I had not expected.

Later that evening, I found myself at an inconspicuous doorway downtown on Boulder Street. Amos had apparently guided me to “Brooklyn’s: A Fine Haberdashery.” This was perplexing, but I was determined to be cool about it. Maybe purchasing menswear was Amos’ idea of a good time. Maybe that’s what kids do these days for fun.

He went to the back of the tiny shop and pressed a doorbell. Nothing happened. The store was completely empty. “Maybe we should go,” I said.

He put a finger to his lips. “Shhh,” he told me, “it’s a speakeasy.”

As if on cue, there opened a narrow slit at the top of the door and a voice asked how many we were. A moment later we were inside Brooklyn’s on Boulder, a bona fide speakeasy, right in the heart of Colorado Springs.

We were joined at our table by Ian Lee, who owns and operates Brooklyn’s with his cousin Nick. He welcomed us with an introduction on the history of speakeasies. “Their heyday was Prohibition,” he explained. “Alcohol was illegal, so people went to small, secret places. They were told to keep their voices down to avoid police attention—that’s where the term speakeasy comes from.”

a peek through the speakeasy door
Illustration by Alie Mann

Because they couldn’t go out and buy it, Prohibition-era proprietors manufactured the alcohol—the gin—they served themselves. This tradition of serving handcrafted spirits is carried on at Brooklyn’s, a tasting room for Lee Spirits with the goal of contributing to distillery culture by reproducing Prohibition-era gin.

“I’m a total cocktail geek,” Lee confessed, then left us with menus.

“Is there such a thing as a cocktail geek?” I asked Amos.

“There is every kind of geek,” Amos informed me. “You’re living in the age of the geeks.”

I glanced at the patrons around me. One woman’s frequent selfies may have outed her as a photography geek. Otherwise, I could see no visible signs. With some surprise, I realized that neither Amos nor I looked out of place in the cozy environs.

I turned my attention to the menu, which begins with a set of House Rules, the first of which is to not bring anyone there “who you wouldn’t take to Grandma’s for Sunday dinner.” The last reminds people to exit “quietly and briskly” out the back. Rule No. 8 prohibits gentlemen from introducing themselves to a woman unless introduced first by one of the bartenders. If an unmediated introduction should occur, the menu suggests a slight lifting of the chin and a determination to ignore the suitor.

The list of cocktails includes the usual suspects (G&T, old-fashioned, martini), the unusual suspects (Ramos fizz, Martinez, giggle water), and the suspects you won’t find anywhere else, first among which is the Elon Musk, a $100 cocktail that includes several secret ingredients.

There are also a series of gin-infused hot and cold teas and a small but excellent selection of tapas, which are prepared next door at the Wild Goose and, according to the menu, “snuck in.”

I ordered a martini while Amos opted for a Ramos fizz, an orange, frothy production Lee told us costs more because it must be shaken by hand for five minutes.

“It’s totally worth it,” Lee said.

It was. The fizz was a delight, an alcoholic orange Creamsicle in a glass. My martini was more traditional, but I could immediately taste the difference handmade period gin makes. Complex and well-rounded, almost sweet, the martini had a flowery aroma unlike anything I’ve tasted before.

We had a couple more. And a couple more after that. And soon Amos and I were suffused with that feeling that only very good gin can give, a mix of sweet nostalgia, good humor and infinite possibility.

“I love this place,” Amos said.

When the bill came, I started to sign with the pen provided, but then stopped. Instead, I removed the pencil Amos had given me. “If this pencil were a martini,” I said, “I would totally drink it.”

“Maybe we should take an Uber home,” said Amos.

After exiting out the back, we did exactly that. But despite my possible level of inebriation that night, I stand by this statement: Some pencils—like some drinks—are better than others. The best are made by people who have thought deeply about what they produce and take the time and care to do it right, with a passion and a seriousness of purpose that is unmistakable.

Ginsider Tips

You’ve found your way to Brooklyn’s on Boulder and given the secret password (hint: tell them Canadian Steve sent you). Now it’s time to decide what to order. What do you choose when there’s so much to choose between? Here are our top three recommendations:

Old-Fashioned: sugar, bitters and gin, at least at Brooklyn’s. You’ll think there’s whiskey in it; there isn’t.

Martinez: gin with Italian vermouth, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters. The grandfather of the martini and Manhattan dates back to the 1860s, near the town of Martinez, California, and gained popularity in nearby San Francisco.

Tom Collins: gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda. Named after a mythical blowhard who said horrible things about you. When you heard what he’d said, you went to the speakeasy to confront Collins. When you asked, “Have you seen Tom Collins?” you were handed the sour cocktail; the thirst for revenge swiftly dissipated.

—Steven Hayward