Mixologist Nick Boehme Serves Absinthe and Luxury at Downtown Speakeasy

Classic cocktails coming up at Sanctum.
Dorian Boddie
Classic cocktails coming up at Sanctum.
Among the bleeding skull candles and demonic artwork Nick Boehme, the resident bartender at Sanctum, is a vibrant presence in the spooky and gothic-themed speakeasy.

Boehme encourages his guests to come neatly dressed, composed, and with an open mind. Once the doorbell is rung and the password spoken (usually inspired by ancient mythology), guests enter a dimly lit room filled with velvet, chandeliers, and gargoyles. And specifically for the month of October, vintage Walgreens decorations are only on display to celebrate Halloween.

click to enlarge Boehme carmelizes sugar for a customized cocktail. - BRI COSSAVELLA
Boehme carmelizes sugar for a customized cocktail.
Bri Cossavella
“What have you had to drink tonight?” Boehme first asks his guests. He wants to ensure what is consumed next isn’t going to leave folks wishing last night never happened. Then, onto flavor notes — dry, sweet, spicy, sour, anything. Even bubblegum.

As Boehme builds the drink to order in vintage crystal glasses, he asks his guests to take sips throughout the process. They even pick their own ice and sugar cubes with copper tongs.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have luxury experience in a speakeasy,” he says.

Boehme specializes in absinthe and gin-based cocktails. If guests are uninterested in a customized drink, they can choose from classics like Death in the Afternoon (champagne and absinthe) or Blue Wallis (gin, blue curacao, lime, and sugar). Boehme also serves vodka to “basic” patrons, he says.

Boehme has been bartending for the majority of his adult life. He started when he was 18, working at the coke stand at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. One day, the bartender went home sick, so Boehme stepped in.

From there, he went on to bartend at various lounges in multiple cities like Toledo, Ohio; Atlanta; and San Francisco before moving to Phoenix. Additionally, he’s done bridal registration at Neiman Marcus, opened a gift gallery at Saks Fifth Avenue, was the vice president of an auction house, and held other luxury jobs.

click to enlarge Sanctum takes Halloween very seriously. - BRI COSSAVELLA
Sanctum takes Halloween very seriously.
Bri Cossavella
All the while, bartending fascinated Boehme, even if it wasn’t his intention to build a career out of it.

“Life is always unfolding,” he says. “It’s not so much about following a path, but doing what comes to you.”

Sanctum is located on the second story of The Grand, a 24-hour coffee shop, restaurant, and bar downtown. It used to be called Rare, which was a quiet space for party-goers to relax and chat if they needed a break from Amsterdam — the nightclub downstairs that closed in 2013. Boehme served drinks at Rare, too.

click to enlarge Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway drank six Death in the Afternoons before writing. - BRI COSSAVELLA
Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway drank six Death in the Afternoons before writing.
Bri Cossavella
After Amsterdam closed, owner Steven Rogers asked Boehme if he’d like to open Sanctum.

By definition, Sanctum refers to a quiet room for people to discuss intimate or confidential matters. And that’s exactly what it is — a lounge that feels more like a house party, where you can relish in the times of the occult and illegal absinthe consumption with your magic-potion cocktail in hand.

“Now you’re having that moment with Hemingway, with Oscar Wilde, with Aleister Crowley, with Chanel, with Jean Cocteau — the whole Paris renaissance of the '20s,” Boehme says. “Does it get any more glamorous than that?”