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About the Speakeasy

Est. 1994

There is no other venue like Johnny’s Speakeasy. As soon as you walk in the room, you know you have entered a magical musical space. The walls are lined with old and new instruments of every kind – a giant wooden guitar that is bigger than I am, the old wood sign from The Ark when it lived on Hill Street, a huge print of George Washington in a filigreed gold frame and the infamous Johnny’s Speakeasy sign in the upper corner of the stage – all of it offset by string lights accenting the memorabilia. There are photos galore, all signed lovingly to Johnny by the countless artists who have played in that treasured room. You can feel its history, and when the artist or band hits their first chord of the night you can hear how the music immediately resonates off the walls like the room itself is a well-seasoned instrument.

The audience is always warm and appreciative, listening closely to the music, not chatting over it. There’s a reverence to the way they listen and the feeling in the room.

All of this is due to the careful, persistent care and curating of Johnny Williams, the owner. He never takes a dime from these shows. All the money goes to the artists. Johnny sits in his chair near the leather strip of sleigh bells hanging next to the beam by his chair, waiting for Johnny’s tug when a song is played that he thinks deserves a hearty jingle of the bells. Johnny insists on “no talking” during the shows. It is a listening room, through and through.

He also enforces the Golden Rule of the Speakeasy, “Don’t be an asshole, and don’t bring an asshole”. It has preserved an atmosphere of respectful good times and out-of-this-world musical experiences in that intimate space for over 30 years.

– Judy Banker