The Mystery Room at the Biltmore Re-Opens: Get Ready for a Gimmick

You walk up to the front desk in The Biltmore's lobby and say something cryptic like "I'm looking for John Galt" or "I have the missing eye to the blind tiger." The concierge tells you to take the elevator to the second floor, take a left, then a right and then a left down a secret corridor. You can hear the buzz from 20 to 30 imbibers on the other side of an unassuming door and once you're in, you're whisked away to an under-the-radar time in The Biltmore's past. You've stumbled upon, but more likely have sought after, The Mystery Room -- a new speakeasy concept open limited hours with limited offerings and plenty of history to go around.

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The Biltmore's grand Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture is far more present in The Mystery Room's small, cool and cave-like atmosphere. The musty smell in the room reveals its history back when it was used in the Prohibition Era under the name Men's Smoking Room. The imposing grey stepped column walls surround just under 30 chairs, which do fill up quickly already as the bar is only open Sunday nights for three hours from 8 until 11 p.m.

Back when the room still functioned as a speakeasy, the stained glass ceiling functioned as more than just a decorative accent. When hotel employees spotted police cars driving up the single winding road to the resort, they would shine the spotlight on the hotel's roof into the room alerting drinkers that its time to pack up and go back to their rooms. What now is the entry door used to be an exit door only behind a wall sealed off from the rest of the hallway so that police wouldn't see guests leaving

There's one bartender standing on the opposite side of the room from the door. With seven liquors, one liqueur and some fresh fruit and juices, she does her best to accommodate drink requests. Her take on a whiskey sour is whiskey and lime juice with muddled blueberries and Luxardo cherries. There's no menu, but she knows the basics and is more than willing to experiment if you tell her your favorite spirit and the flavors you typically enjoy in a drink.

Unfortunately, each drink will set you back about $14, which is crazy considering you get a couple of ounces of booze with some smushed fruit and juice. It's not like there's really anything proprietary about the cocktails, like boutique bitters, handmade infused syrups or any special technique other than pouring and muddling that would justify the cost.

The other downside is watching and listening to other potential patrons rap on the door continuously for long periods of time waiting to be ushered in. Since there's only one employee in the room and that employee is standing as far from the door as possible, no one is there to guide confused or more timid guests in, which means they'll stand there and knock and knock and knock. If you decide to stop in, just try the handle, folks.

While the architecture and history of the room is enough reason for cocktail enthusiasts to stop in, The Mystery Room certainly does not impress on all fronts. The drink options and combos are basic and turn out to be very expensive. Plus, when our drink receipt printed, we noticed that we were charged for Hendrick's, a gin that retails at about $34 per bottle typically, when we received Hayman's, which retails closer to $29. Not a huge difference, but a subtle jab when you already feel ripped off a bit. Overall, The Mystery Room is the kind of gimmick that we'd love to find in a resort we were already staying at, but it doesn't wow or really stand out at all as an important spot for craft cocktailing in Phoenix.

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Heather Hoch is a music, food, and arts writer based in Tucson. She enjoys soup, scotch, Electric Light Orchestra, and walking her dog, Frodo.
Contact: Heather Hoch