Speakeasy-themed bar coming to Concord is an offshoot of Nashua’s Codex

  • Rose Jones and Chris Doyle tend the speakeasy-themed bar Codex in Nashua last week. The founder of Codex, Liu Vaine, is opening a similar venture in Concord called Chuck’s Barbershop. NICK REID Monitor staff

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  • Signs of demolition are seen Friday outside the future Chuck’s Barbershop location, 90 Low Ave., in Concord, next to the Eagle Square Deli. NICK REID / Monitor staff

  • Liu Vaine (right), the owner of Codex and Chuck’s Barbershop, is shown with Chuck Nutting in 2013. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/5/2017 11:45:36 PM

The front door acts as a time warp, hurtling the patron back almost a century to when he’d need to go underground to buy a drink.

But in keeping with the clandestine nature of speakeasies during Prohibition, the customers of Codex in Nashua need to know the trick to get inside.

The hallway off Elm Street comes to a dead end at a seemingly featureless bookshelf, where visitors must find the particular tome that serves as the key.

One tug rings a bell, and before long, a bow-tied waiter arrives to open the door. Inside, it’s dimly lit period decor, old-timey music and gin- and whiskey-heavy cocktails.

Soon, a sister bar will be established in Concord’s Eagle Square.

The owner of Codex, Liu Vaine, is scouring antique shops and estate sales as he works to outfit his next venture, Chuck’s Barbershop, which he hopes to open in May or June. It’ll be located at the brick-fronted 90 Low Ave., which is old enough to have lived through Prohibition itself.

Whereas the Codex front is a bookstore, the Concord version will appear as a barbershop.

“You can literally get a haircut,” Vaine said. “You go in, you talk to the barber who’s gonna be there, you’re gonna have to do something (to gain entrance) – we haven’t figured it out quite yet.”

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 in addition to Codex.

But the Claremont native built his roots bartending in Concord at the former Smokey Bones on Loudon Road and as the bar manager at 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.

“From Day One, we hit it off and we just became the Chuck and Liu show,” Vaine said, noting that they frequently looked at properties in Concord where they might go into business together for themselves.

But suddenly, four years ago, Nutting died of a coronary spasm at 49 years old. Ever since, Vaine said an idea has been in the back of his mind.

“It was something that really bothered me, and I wanted to do something for him. Chuck’s Barbershop is kind of a memorial to Chuck,” Vaine said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been the bartender that I was, and I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Vaine said one of the focuses of his speakeasies is to revive the sort of handcrafted cocktails that went out of style when flavored alcohols came on the scene. Bartenders got lazy, he said, and a California root beer – vodka, Kahlua and Gaillano – became root beer-flavored vodka mixed with Sprite.

“As soon as they started doing flavored rums and flavored vodkas, the craft of bartending kind of died,” he said. “We’re trying to bring that back.”

Codex puts an emphasis on handcrafted classic cocktails, such as the Moscow mule, the French 75 and the old-fashioned, and also features in its menu food recipes that were popular in the 1920s.

It hosts a pianist on weekend nights who plays in the lounge, which is filled with a variety of antique furniture.

Vaine said Chuck’s Barbershop will have two levels, one of which is similar to Codex and then the basement will focus on scotch, whiskey and similarly inspired drinks.

“There’s going to be a twist to it, but the product will be the same,” he said, adding that the menu will include more “farm-to-table” dishes.

For Vaine, who moved to Concord after he graduated from high school, the location he’s renting to establish Chuck’s Barbershop – the spot that used to house Cheers – will have a special significance.

“It’s got some sentimental value to me, because when I first turned 21, that’s where I went to get a drink,” he said.

Other happenings

The Main Street Project achieved a “gold-level award” from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New Hampshire, according to a press release issued by the city. It’ll compete to be the 2017 overall winner for the council’s excellence awards.

Everett Arena is getting ready to close down public skating for the season. Weekend sessions are done, and the last weekday session will be Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Parks and Recreation Department offices will move from the Heights Community Center to White Park today. Construction is slated to begin this spring on the $7 million revamp of the community center.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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