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Keep checking Instagram to learn where and when Sugar Run, Kitchener’s new “speakeasy,” opens — and to get the password to get in.
The new bar, soon to open, is the brainchild of local entrepreneurs and co-owners Kypp Saunders and Justin Vail.
“Justin and I came up with the idea after doing a lot of research in the U.S. and Toronto. Kitchener doesn’t have anything like the idea of a hidden bar,” says Saunders.
Knowing the password gets you the location and entry (if you’re of age). “It is a speakeasy and it is hidden, but we want people to come, of course,” says Saunders who opened, but is no longer involved with, Waterloo’s White Rabbit bar several years ago.
His experience tells him that Kitchener and Waterloo have expanded in the number of bars and lounges, but Sugar Run will be something different, he says. “Kitchener is really exploding with a younger crowd hungry for something new. The more cool new spots opening, the better it is for everyone.”
Speakeasies were Prohibition phenomena where illicit liquor sales and consumption of bootlegged booze took place. One had to speak quietly or “easily” about the secret venues for fear of tipping off the authorities who were dedicated, with no little malice, to aggressively rooting them out and making quite public temper tantrums and displays of pouring the casks of liquor down storm drains. Recall that K-W has something of its own, though mostly mythic, bootlegging reputation: there’s the former Rum Runner pub in the Walper Hotel and tales of Al Capone’s nefarious appeareances; Waterloo’s Stark and Perri was named for a rum-running/gangster couple (and, well, you know, the Seagram legacy).
The Sugar Run interior is decidedly “down-scale” and retro-bootleg in its artifice with chipped and faux-broken concrete beams and exposed electrical conduit and junction boxes. There’s a long marble-like bar with about a dozen stools facing five or six mirrors and the shelving of the back bar. Simple tables and chairs — there’s capacity for about 130 in total in the venue — sit in floor space a few steps down from the main level and is a vibrant black and white tile. There’s lots of visible conduit and galvanized pipes, and it’s nicely dark, with milk glass-like light shades.
That achieved, you might well imagine Prohibition-era gangsters in heavily pinstriped suits and fedoras toting Tommy guns and sitting in a basement somewhere playing cards and chewing on cigars or toothpicks.
“We don’t have a rum bar in town,” according to Saunders. “And that’s what we wanted to do. We have a good tiki bar (pointing toward Grand Surf Lounge just down the street), and we are certainly not a tiki bar.” It makes sense, then, to put a heavy focus on rum-based beverages, including sipping rums. “Aged rum. It will be like good whiskey,” he says.
There’s a creative cocktail menu with lots of rum-based drinks. You could have a “Captain OG” with spiced rum and smoked pineapple jam, or a “Tortuga” with mezcal, El Dorado and black Mission figs. Prices are $11 to $18.
There’s also drinks with foam and nitro coffee from Smile Tiger. “There will be lots of plays on classic rum cocktails,” says Saunders. “We’re trying to get away from the syrups and infusions and go back to classic cocktails with simple ingredients. We have an eclectic wine list — not standard varietals — and four beers on tap, including a Belgian Trappist, and a couple of bottles.”
The menu, a small one, is focussed on Caribbean flavours and techniques. “I’d call it a grazing menu,” says Saunders. There’s flank steak on a stick, ceviche, curried plantain and rum-butter jerk wings and other relatively simple preparations that are designed for sharing. Dessert, at $10, is the most expensive thing on the menu for now.
The concept represents a bit of paradigm shift for the food and beverage that is out there in the bar-scene ether: customers themselves are constantly shifting. “Few people want to sit in the same bar all night. They want to bounce around, so they don’t want to sit down in front of a giant steak,” Saunders says. “It’s a little snack here and there.”
The music according to Saunders will be soul and funk-based. “We do have a funk band from Ann Arbor booked for early August who headlined the Blues Festival here,” he says.
To know where Sugar Run is and how to get in, you’ll have to get out your phone, says Saunders.
“Follow us on Facebook and @sugarrunbar on Instagram. We’ll be leaking the information because we do want you to be able to find us,” he says with a laugh. “It’ll be pretty easy to figure out.”
[ Sugar Run will be open daily 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. You can visit their website at sugarrun.ca. ]