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Slip back in time at Codex, Nashua’s speakeasy

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The address is on West Pearl Street; but that's not where you enter.

The two doors on that street are exit-only. The exterior windows are piled high with dusty books nearly a century old. You can't see in to what appears to be a sleepy used bookstore. The unknowing passerby may be perplexed.

To get in, you need to go around the corner and find the unmarked door on Elm Street. Once you're in that seemingly empty foyer, the fun really begins.

Owners Liu Vaine (pronounced “Lou”), Ryan McCabe and Sarah Maillet have brought their 1920s, Prohibition-era speakeasy theme to their new bar Codex, secreted away in a quiet corner building in downtown Nashua. Codex brings the style, mystery and thrill of the forbidden gin joints of bygone days. If you don't know how to get in … you don't get in.

This reporter won't rob you of the fun of discovering how to secure entrance. Suffice it to say, that foyer isn't empty; peruse that bookcase flush with the wall and determine which book might be significant to your quest for craft cocktails and beers.

Vaine and his partners have already established another speakeasy called 815 (sometimes stylized as 8one5) in Manchester. It's upstairs from Piccoli at 815 Elm St., and like Codex, has a cool way to gain access. You enter through a hallway next to Piccoli, go upstairs, hit a buzzer in an old-fashioned phone booth and recite the password, which changes weekly and is found by following them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/815nh).

Codex doesn't have a password, but bibliophiles will be able to figure out how to get in. No, I am not telling you.

Vaine believes a rising tide lifts all boats. He's confident Codex will only enhance the West Pearl area and increase traffic to his business neighbors – such as El Colima next door, who Vaine describes as “very nice people.” “We're not competing with the other nearby businesses; we only do our theme stuff,” he said. “Our business will help the others by overflow.”

He's already seen it in Manchester – Vaine is also the owner of N'awlins Grille, across Elm Street from 815. “We've doubled business (at N'awlins) after 9 p.m. because of the two-hour wait Fridays and Saturdays at 815,” he said.

There's no reason not to believe there will be just as enthusiastic a turnout for Codex. Fortunately for would-be attendees, one of Vaine's customers created a phone app so that those on the wait list can wander off to another local venue until they receive their text notification of availability. But you've only got 15 minutes to get back, or another cool cat is getting in instead of you.

This intrepid reporter was fortunate to attend an insider's preview night at Codex, before it officially opened to the public last Friday. After a hot tip, I was able to access the secret entrance, and was warmly welcomed by a lovely young lady. Upon entering, you are immediately ensconced in the 1920s. All the furniture is specific to the era, found at estate sales and online by Vaine. There's a working Victrola in one corner, with albums you can play; there's a player piano with scrolls piled high atop it; there's an old phone booth which cleverly houses a cell phone charging station inside; there are handpainted renditions of noted wordsmiths like Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

Everything is dimly-lit, with carefully arranged tables, chairs and couches designed to establish intimate conversation areas. And there are, of course, books – everywhere. Even the cocktail menu is delivered to your table hidden in a book. Gentlemen may enjoy the old-timey black and white photographs of lovely ladies in their birthday suits on a wall in the men's room.

Tonight is a veritable who's-who of downtown: There's the husband and wife who continue the generations-old business on Main Street; there's a mayoral candidate; there's a cluster of 20-somethings who promote youth art forms; there's the lead promoter of all things downtown, and his wife; there's a restaurant owner, a bar owner, a local actor.

We were treated that evening to free samples of period-accurate snacks, all made in-house and offered by roaming servers in
Prohibition-era attire: Pickled beets, tomato soup with a sliver of manchego, deviled eggs with Spam or pickled onions, beet salad with goat cheese and champagne viniagrette; and mac & cheese bites — because, well, I guess sometimes the present leaks in.

Vaine said the bartenders make their own sour mix, grenadine, shrubs and anything else they can. “Everything is made from scratch,” he said. The cocktails are heady; those gin, rye and absinthe-based drinks pack a punch, folks. They're delivered in authentic cut glass and crystal drinking glasses: “It took three months to find enough of them,” Vaine said, laughing.

The delightful way the tumultous, loud, frenetically-paced modern world comes to a screeching halt at the doorway to Codex makes it irresistible. I cannot wait to go back, sink into a plush couch for two, a prosecco cocktail in a tall crystal glass in my hand, making eyes at the stylish fella sitting with me, as the Victrola softly plays in the corner …

But first, I have to get in.

Kathleen Palmer can be reached at 594-6403, kpalmer@nashua telegraph.com or @NHFoodand Fun and @Telegraph_KathP.

Content provided by Encore, The Telegraph’s arts and entertainment, food and wine section. Editor Kathleen Palmer can be reached at 594-6403 or kpalmer@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow her on Twitter (@Telegraph_KathP or @NHFoodandFun).
Copyright © The Telegraph, All Rights Reserved, Used by permission.


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