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Oceanside's 101 Proof Is Re-Defining the Speakeasy

The new spot inside Urge Gastropub has the vibe of a modern classic


Inside Oceanside's 101 Proof.

The term “speakeasy” has pre-Prohibition origins—even before booze was made illegal, it was used to refer to an establishment that sold liquor without a license. Folks weren’t supposed to talk about these spots, hence the name.

101 Proof's The Long Goodbye

These days, "speakeasy" is verging on overplayed. Too many bars looking for hipster cred call themselves a speakeasy. So perhaps it’s time to re-define the term. At a true modern-day speakeasy, the focus should be on ambiance that enhances the experience of enjoying a well-made cocktail. Customer service should be a priority. No big-screen TVs or loud music. And don’t pack ’em in—crowds don’t pair well with cocktails.

Everything you’d expect from a true a modern-day speakeasy you’ll find at 101 Proof in Oceanside. Tucked inside the much larger Urge Gastropub, known for its whiskey selection, 101 Proof features an equally extensive, well-curated whiskey list. There’s also a 20-item cocktail menu (with a focus on Old Fashioned variations) and—slightly unusual for a speakeasy—a small, elegant dinner menu.

The bar’s open Thursdays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to midnight. You get in by making a reservation, or following 101 Proof on Instagram for the weekly password. The entrance is an unassuming side door on Vista Way (if you’ve made a reservation, go to Urge first to get a key). There's a dress code and “rules of the house” that include things like, “Refrain from engaging in blatant displays of PDA. It’s awkward; don’t be awkward.”

Manager Ryan Castillo promises this: they’ll never let in more people than there are seats.

The 600-square-foot space is in an old bank vault—the vault door remains as part of the decor. The floor is inlaid with copper pennies and there’s a faux copper ceiling that looks like the real thing. Lighting and Prohibition-era music are kept low, and at one end of the bar is an old Victrola record player that still works. All the glassware is vintage, purchased from local antique shops.

101 Proof

Castillo said the goal for the menu was a focus on classics. “We had to keep ourselves from trying to be too creative,” he said. “A classic cocktail is a classic for a reason.”

In addition to the selection of Old Fashioneds, there’s a Sazerac that includes La Clandestine absinthe, and The Long Goodbye, a take on a gimlet that includes a housemade lime cordial that’s lightly spiced with cardamom and coriander.

I’m on a Cynar kick, so I really enjoyed the Third Wheel, made with Remy 1738 cognac, Dekuyper orange liqueur, Cynar, and lemon juice, and served in a glass that’s been rinsed with Luxardo Maraschino. My husband liked Tommy’s Trombone, made with 101 Proof’s Woodford Reserve single barrel bourbon, and black walnut and molasses bitters.

We were split on the Gin Rummy, a gin Old Fashioned made with Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Lillet Blanc, peach bitters, and cherry-apple bitters. I loved the cocktail’s strong floral notes and enjoyed it from start to finish. My husband found the drink a little overpowering but liked it a lot better when the ice had melted a bit.

For San Diegans it might be a bit of a hike, but it’s always nice to have a destination. 101 Proof is well worth the drive and a few hours of escape from reality.

Got ideas for a future post? Write 2kellydavis@gmail.com.

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