What’s the password? West Virginia speakeasies uncovered

Speakeasies harken back to the Prohibition era, when alcohol sales were illegal in the United States. People gathered in secret — in a basement or some other out-of-the-way location — to drink and socialize. These secret meetings came to be known as speakeasies because one must speak easy (quietly) about these places so as not to alert the police or overly curious neighbors.

Brew Pub

After Prohibition ended in 1933, speakeasies went by the wayside. But now, fueled by nostalgia, these establishments are making a resurgence, and Morgantown is leading the way. The college town recently saw the debut of two speakeasies:

Prohibition-style dress & cocktails

Morgantown Brewing Company opened its speakeasy in 2016. The company renovated its basement and then furnished the room with an eclectic mix of furniture and décor, including church pews and piano parts.

“The speakeasy differs from the pub upstairs in a number of ways,” MBC Marketing Director Morgan Stemple said. “The first and most obvious is the vibe and mood the space gives off. Our goal is to make you feel as if you are in a different place, in a different time period.”

The company wanted to recapture the atmosphere of the Roaring 20s, he said. The bartender here dresses as if he were from the 1920s, and the music, too, is from an older era. Even the drinks served are a little bit different.

“We serve slightly more upscale Prohibition-style cocktails,” Stemple said. “We also have beer lines down there. We try to keep small batches and other special beers on tap which help makes the spot feel special.”

An underground oasis

GenCoGenco Import Company opened in 2015 in the basement of the popular downtown bar The Bank.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Genco is the name of the olive oil company Vito Corleone used as a front for his illegal activities in “The Godfather,” according to owner Brandon Kupec.

No worries, though. This Genco is on the level. It’s just different from other bars in that it’s an exclusive club with a monthly membership fee. Members enter via the elevator in the lobby of The Bank and use a swipe card to reach the basement level.

“It really reminds me of a speakeasy type bar,” Kupec said. “It’s kind of funny drinking down here and knowing that half the college kids in the bar upstairs don’t even know this place exists.”

Most of the bar’s clientele consists of older businessmen and women, resulting in a quieter atmosphere than what you’d expect in a college town. Guests tend to dress up more, too, inspired in part by the elegant atmosphere.

Genco doesn’t need to do much advertising, Kupec said. That’s because most new members are brought in as guests of existing members.

The fact that it’s membership-based means bartenders see the same customers repeatedly and quickly learn their drink preferences. Oftentimes when a customer walks in, the bartender already knows what he or she wants and can begin pouring even before the customer sits down.

So, while this Genco isn’t exactly like the one in “The Godfather,” the clientele is still like one big family! Where’s your favorite hidden spot in West Virginia?

This post was last updated on March 17, 2022