Sipping on American rum in a speakeasy in Cape Town - pretentious or fun?

During American prohibition days, the speakeasy was a loud, fun flouting of the law surrounded by passwords and the lure of the underworld.

Today, it has been romanticised not only in books and movies, but the millennial fascination with the old-fashioned has sparked a recreation of these secret bars, popping up in cool city centres in the most unassuming spots. 

READ: Bar hopping through Cape Town in style

Rumours of one in Cape Town had been circulating in my friend group, though most try to keep up the facade of secrecy by not revealing the exact location, and eventually an invite to an exclusive American rum tasting found its way into my inbox hosted at this mysterious joint.

Clues led me to the outside of Art of Duplicity, a big man on the lookout for those who seem lost. A quick exchange of the secret code, and he whisked me down a laundry-strewn alleyway through the back of... well that you'll have to find out for yourself.

A stern flapper girl opened a small hole in a sliding gate, and satisfied with the password hustles me in, giving quick instructions on social media etiquette and switching off of geo-tagging.

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Bar in speakeasy

The eclectic bar at the secret spot. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Bags of something line the walls, with an ornately decorated 20s-chic bar in the back, glamorous lamps and ostrich feathers abound.

Settling into my comfy seat, peanuts were strewn on the table to add to the authenticity - apparently whole peanuts were a popular snack in real speakeasy bars and patrons just chucked the shells on the floor, as we are also encouraged to do.

The rum tasting commenced with a sour daiquiri cocktail - our first introduction to Richland Rum hailing from Georgia in the US.

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daiquiri cocktail surrounded by peanuts

The speakeasy might not be too kind to those with peanut allergies. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

When you think of rum, tropical Caribbean islands normally come to mind, but in colonial America rum also has its place in history. Richland Rum is a single-estate, single-barrel rum that's been brewing the golden ambrosia for over 20 years, started as a hobby that turned into a small-scale distillery. 

Richland uses sugar cane instead of molasses to produce the rum, which is processed into a sickly sweet cane syrup before being aged in virgin white oak barrels.

bottles of richland rum

The Richland Rum range. (Photo: Richland Rum)

It's only available in five countries - and SA's thirst for craft gin has made it an ideal next stop for the rum - though it does come with a hefty price tag (between R850 and R1 230 per bottle). I am a big rum drinker, and compared to cheaper rum from the Caribbean and Mauritius, this Richland Rum falls a bit flat with its flavours.

The best one in the range - the Terrapin Double IPA Cask Exchange - will probably appeal the most to a South African palate - used rum barrels get sent to Terrapin to age their IPA beer and then the beer-soaked barrel is sent back to Richland for another batch of rum. 

Art of Duplicity was the first bar to ever have the American rum on its shelves, and it 'Mericanness does create a more authentic atmosphere, but rather have it in a cocktail (the old-fashioned is delicious) or sip on the Terrapin.

The rums can also be enjoyed at Cause|Effect and the Athletic Social Club in Cape Town and are sold by selected retail outlets including Norman Goodfellows and Bar Keeper.

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rum tasting in a speakeasy bar

A sipping taste of their Virgin Coastal Rum, more suited to cocktails than drinking straight. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Did I feel like a pretentious urban hipster in this faux throwback to a glitzier time? Some feelings of cringe did creep up here and there, but on the other hand, where are you going to be able to chill in a pretty bar in Cape Town without hundreds of people clamouring with their thirst or hustling seats?

And there's always a little fun in a suspension of disbelief.

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