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Backroom Bar: Concord speakeasy nears opening day

  • Liu Vaine, who said he was inspired by the Prohibition concept while visiting bars in New York, has already helped open the speakeasy 815 in Manchester and Codex in Nashua. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Chuck’s BARbershop owner Liu Vaine stands inside the “secret” door that will bring patrons to his new Concord bar. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • A sign is on outside Chuck’™s BARbershop in downtown Concord is shown. Owner Liu Vaine says the bar will likely open sometime in January.



Monitor staff
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Be sure to check over
your shoulder when heading into Chuck’s BARbershop.

The location feels ripe for individuals looking to avoid extra attention. Start with the name of the alleyway: 90 Low Avenue, located in a tucked-away corner of Eagle Square.

The shop – a red-framed storefront – by all accounts, looks deserted. Tattered signs hang in the windows, warning that it has been closed down by authorities.

“For violation of National Prohibition Act by order of United States District Court,” one reads.

But the signs – and the barber chair set up just beyond the front door – are a smokescreen. And soon, with the right knowledge, you’ll be able to get behind the facade and enter the third speakeasy-style cocktail bar run by Claremont native Liu Vaine.

How soon? Like any modern-day underground enterprise, Vaine said you’ll have to look for clues on social media to find out. Probably sometime after the New Year; he doesn’t want to commit to a firm date yet.

He’s not too worried about being vague – that’s part of the appeal of a speakeasy, he said.

“There will be hints at the timing,” he said. “It’s similar to what we did before with our other places ... we didn’t advertise, just opened one day and had a line out the door.”

Vaine, who said he was inspired by the Prohibition concept while visiting bars in New York, has already helped open the speakeasy 815 in Manchester and Codex in Nashua.

Part of the appeal is the sense of secrecy – at Codex, visitors need to know what book to pull off a shelf to gain access. At Chuck’s, a telephone will be waiting in the lobby for patrons to pick up, although Vaine was coy about what happens next.

But this is a modern-day business. And while getting inside may be a bit of a mystery, getting out in the case of an emergency won’t be. All of the exits inside the bar will be clearly marked. “We’re not trying to hide the exit, we’re trying to hide the entrance,” Vaine said.

Vaine got his start bartending in Concord at the former Smokey Bones on Loudon Road and as the bar manager of The Draft until 2009. In each place, he worked alongside his friend, Chuck Nutting, who formed the other half of a bartending duo that drew a dedicated clientele.

When Nutting died of a coronary spasm four years ago, an idea took root in Vaine’s mind to build a bar that would serve as a memorial to his friend.

Like Codex, Chuck’s will have a speakeasy feel on its first floor, with barbershop chairs and 1920s-era lounge furniture to drive home the Prohibition theme. The bar’s Facebook page commits to the idea, too, with posts detailing the history of Prohibition interspersed with job opening notices.

The second floor will be familiar to any Concord bar scene veterans: It’s the former site of Cheers Grille & Bar, now on Depot Street. Vaine intends to play up the site’s low ceilings, brick walls, original copper-topped bar and bar stools. But that’s Phase II, and will open later in the year, Vaine said.

And, in the summer, Vaine may add a roof-top bar that he hopes would attract even more patrons – as long as they know how to get in.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-33 09, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)