Take me back down to places you been to, wonderin’ what your gonna find;
A darkened room in the corner basement, the situation must be right;
Just a few good friends and a bottle of wine, we’re gonna get it on right tonight!
(inspiration from The Guess Who, “New Mother Nature”)
These words could have been written in the early nineteen hundreds, describing an underground, hidden den of libations, the illicit side effect of prohibition. Kansas was the first to enact state-wide prohibition in 1881, and maintained it until 1948 – longer than any other state. On December 27, 1900 Carrie A. Nation famously brought her vigilante style prohibition enforcement to the Carey Hotel on Douglas Avenue in Wichita. She was part of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Nation took it upon herself to shrug off the nonviolent strategy of the WCTU in order to make an impact. And an impact is exactly what she made; smashing the saloon at the Carey Hotel. Soon afterward, Nation added a hatchet to her repertoire as she took her crusade to saloons across the state and beyond.
Just a few blocks west of that historic site on Douglas Avenue stands the Ambassador Hotel, originally built in 1926 as the Union National Bank. Although there is no evidence documenting that a speakeasy ever existed here, it does not seem a stretch to imagine that a darkened room in the corner basement may have once been a private gathering place to enjoy some libations with the company of a few trusted friends.
WDM Architects had the pleasure of helping to create a portal into this illicit past. The new Dockum Apothecary (speakeasy), resides in the basement corner of the Ambassador Hotel. Working within the historical architecture of the building, we designed an intimate and relaxing change of pace. The rich patina of original concrete, plaster and brick combined with classic furnishings, soft lighting, and fine appointments produces an eclectic and welcoming aura, all with a uniquely clandestine twist. The original bank vault has been transformed into a semi-private room, as if it was once a secure chamber for ‘back room deals’. With the likelihood of an ax-wielding temperance crusader showing up being extremely slim; an enjoyable and relaxing evening is awaiting your arrival.
During the recent opening, one suspicious Wichitan, whispered, “I feel like I am doing something illegal.” Mission Accomplished!
Scott Ramser, AIA