Rasputin's is the latest speakeasy-style place in metro Phoenix, and one of dozens across the U.S. But Arizona once saw its share of the real deal, too.

While big cities like Chicago and New York were home to the original speakeasies that served bootleg liquor during the 1920s, northern Arizona had thriving bootleg operations and speakeasies, like Joe Hall's rooming house in Cottonwood and the Monte Vista Lounge in Flagstaff, where people needed passwords to access hidden bars and drink coarse, homemade liquor.

Those operations folded with the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, but the spirit of the speakeasy lives on in pretenders nationwide, from Los Angeles' Varnish and San Francisco's Bourbon & Branch to Cleveland's Speakeasy and the Manifesto in Kansas City, Missouri.

Some of these faux speakeasies, like the PDT (Please Don't Tell) in New York City, even require patrons to identify themselves into a phone receiver before being buzzed through a secret door.

The now-defunct club The Door in Scottsdale tried the speakeasy aesthetic from 2007 until it closed this year. People had to e-mail the club or sign up for phone texts to receive a password, and the entrance to the club was concealed by a long hallway that resembled a janitor's closet.

The small chain of Sopranos bars in Tucson was another stab at speakeasy-themed drinking holes that went under. With a couple of exceptions, superficial speakeasies haven't been so hot here.

But Rasputin's Equestrian Manor has been a big hit, and it's not Phoenix's first successful speakeasy in recent memory.

The Black & Tan had its heyday in 2004. That year, New Times staff writer Stephen Lemons wrote about the B&T in his nightlife column ("Dirty Doggy Style," October 21, 2004). Although he didn't disclose the address of the club, he pointed out that the promoters were listing shows on popular local Web site azpunk.com and referencing the place all over MySpace. Soon after Lemons' story, the Black & Tan announced it was closing.

The people behind Rasputin's Equestrian Manor are not the same people who ran the B&T, but they know them and express admiration for them.

In order to protect Rasputin's image as a secret spot, the organizers asked that we not reveal the address. But they have advertised on Craigslist.com and circulated fliers with the location around town. People sign up for free memberships to the Manor's "private club" at www.funfux.com to get information about events and directions.

The core group of organizers — four main figures who've worked in various strip clubs around Phoenix and several people from the local arts and music community — calls itself "The Family" and has been rather bold about the parties, which have exploded.

Nearly 500 people paid to party at Rasputin's Halloween night. Between the cover charges and the "donations" at the bar, organizers made an estimated $12,000 to $15,000 that night.

Many of the Manor's weeknight events, such as the Monday Night Football parties around the big-screen TVs throughout the house, are free or cheap to members (as little as $10 to get in on some nights), but weekend parties can rake in a few grand. Other parties look promisingly profitable, too — like the "Babes in the Cage" MMA-style fight, scheduled for December 12 and to feature topless girls. That will be a 12-hour party with a $100 cover charge.

The organizers say the club is "private but inclusive." They advise would-be visitors not to expect the refined, discreet vibe of 1920s speakeasies, because they're "welcoming of all lifestyles" — which explains why nobody flinched at the naked guy giving out "free hugs" one night. (Nobody hugged him, though.)

They brag that they attract the artists, the eclectic geniuses, and the subculture trendsetters of the city — people like Vex and DJ Squalor from popular Valley industrial dance collective *Sadisco, fire dancer and flesh hook suspension artist Dani Danger, and painter and sculptor Shayne Bohner.

Metalworking artist Xac, who created the steel cages and metal body gear for an act called "Grindwhore" (wherein people don goggles and said gear before grinding power tools against metal to make sparks fly), has also lent his talents to the Manor. He installed the stripper pole in the ballroom.

Faces from the Black & Tan, Phoenix's former favorite speakeasy, often pop up at Rasputin's, too, like James Bound of local AZ Fetish Ball promoters Horns & Halos and Simon Rohrich, tech geek and Society for Creative Anachronism junkie ("Nerd of War," February 17).

Bohner, who designs the club's fliers and hangs his Tim Burton-esque paintings on the Manor's 20-foot walls, like to say, "This is not your granddaddy's speakeasy. It's for people on the small end of the bell curve."


People live at Rasputin's Equestrian Manor, and guests occasionally crash here, sometimes for a couple of days. The property's being rented by four guys who've asked to be identified only as Matthew, Tap, John, and Mez.

Matthew's bedroom is behind the dungeon, and on an unseasonably chilly Wednesday night in mid-October, he's sleeping on a twin mattress on the floor, under the glow of his computer monitor. It's just after 9, but he's been sleeping for several hours.

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7 comments
Morgan J
Morgan J

This group of guys has gone their separate ways over a disagreement regarding how this situation ended. Those that cared about their relationship with their own community and with the owner of the home contacted the owner and began taking measures to help with repairs and mend relationships. The New Times has also written an article about this taking place, If you search for it you should be able to find it.. This reformed group went on to create The Chateau, also covered by the New Times.

Vicky
Vicky

Don't rent to these guys! They TRASHED the place. Holes in the walls, garbage everywhere. TRASHED it. Ripped up carpet and vandalized it. Broke every light bulb there and ripped out the thermostats and really they are just losers.

They need to grow up and take responsibility for their actions.

bill sterling
bill sterling

our paths may have crossed due to the fact that i am researching separete article on the owner of the home in question and did, in fact, conduct a previously scheduled personal interview with the owner at a time right after this article appeared.

needless to say the interview was suspended at that time while the owner made several phone calls to engage this situation to which they were previously unaware. of that there can be no doubt. i was there and i saw the initial reactions and also the subsequent actions. all of which were both swift and legal.

just between you and i - as i conducted the interview (2 hours at one point) the dialog between us was smooth with very few anyone saying 'pardon me' as though they didn't hear or paying attention.

the point is that while this smooth dialog was taking place i was actually watching her computer screen as the owner carried on email conversations always no less than 5 at a time and as many as 7 and always the emails were regarding this incident. i'm actually trying to figure out a way i can work this into the piece i'm doing because i'll tell you - this was 'damage control' live and in color. they are in FRONT of this situation instead of going thru some of the petty excuses we hear in our particular field. in this complete case recently filed legal eviction notices have been issued and served. as for the money that the owner alledgedly went nuts over - this was money that was RENT and RENT that in fact should have already been paid but the owner gave these guys a break and said okay i'll come back for the money later. only to be met with problems.

incidently, it's also my understanding that the original owners are, in fact, after putting these guys out, planning another of the parties that this house has actually become "The" place to be. and a look at the parking lot doesn't show any pick up trucks with gun racks in the back - rather they are mercedes, lexus, and you get the picture fast of the clientele before you open the door.

i think if you ever got around to seeing the 'real deal' and stop at one of the places noted on their website - you'd write an article that would have some of the old facts in it - but the entire piece would be "skewed" 180 degrees into the positive direction.

my best to you and your writing. hope you know this wasn't criticism - just noting two ships passing in the wind.

Zac
Zac

I enjoyed this article. I though that the author repeated herself a few times about the private/public law distinction, and hinted at it prior to actually explaining the issue, but it was still a good article. The references to other similar instances shows a good background knowledge, and helps round out the article: I was afraid it would be about some private party I couldn't get into, not about a whole cultural phenom and legal issue. Good stuff, keep up the interesting writing New Times!

Icedd
Icedd

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Smitty
Smitty

Nice article but this whole "house party" thing will come crashing down on the heads of these four guys. Some underage girl will get by their crack security with a fake ID and become the victim of a sexual assault or a rape. Her mommy and daddy will sue, of course. Or some thugs from Mesa or Maryvale will decide that the house is an easy score and try to rob it for the ahem "donations" for food and drink. But more likely, and seriously haven't you people learned by now that running an article like this about an establishment like this is like waving a red flag at the proverbial bull? Does this article accomplish much of anything other than to let the Alcoholic Beverage Commission know that a house like this exists and are probably worth a look see? Perhaps even old Sheriff Joe will pry some of his boys off of "immigration enforcement" to have a look at what occurs at these house parties.

Best of luck to you fellas, sounds like it was a good run and maybe you'll learn from your mistakes when this house gets shut down and you have to move elsewhere.

 
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