BarView – Modesto’s Speakeasies – Then and Now

By Chris Murphy

The Roaring 20s were wild right? But Prohibition was the law of the land, alcohol was destroyed and poured down the drain everywhere. Everyone got in line and became teetotalers right? Wrong. Where there is a will, there is a way, and the creativity of the Moonshiners in the south, the rum runners, and the bathtub gin makers created an underground supply chain, with alcohol finding it’s way to private parties and a whole new breed of business, the Speakeasy. Todays Speakeasies, cute and crafty hidden bars are a secret until the first Instagram post, but back then, it was word of mouth. Some places were even designed to hide the alcohol as this law of the land was supposed to last forever. Secret doors, basements, hidden hallways and tunnels were built all over to create this illicit network. Modesto’s speakeasy of the past was the Tower Club, located at Camilla St and Yosemite. The tall tower was designed so that you could keep a look out for the law enforcement that may be coming from downtown Modesto. At the sight of the police, hidden ropes, walls and doors would lock into place, hiding the drinking and the bar and people would escape through tunnels to an adjacent building.

This building is still there, the hidden ropes and walls are still in place and today, it houses the Eagles Lodge, that regularly holds events and fundraisers. It also features one of the few remaining spring loaded dance floors that inspire local dancers. Our designer, Pete Grimaldi plays with his Zydeco Band the Blues Box Bayou Band to big crowds loaded with dancers. Sadly the tunnels that connected the Tower Club to the then Fusco’s Castle have been buried and filled in when the historic restaurant was demolished to make way for a Dollar General. But we have some photos of the hidden mechanisms in the former Tower Club and the tunnels when they were being demolished.

Today, Modesto has a Speakeasy in downtown. Prohibition was overturned, Ernest and Julio built their winery, and the USA returned to cocktails and if you have a thirst, the Speakeasy on 12th St is a great place to hangout and disappear. Owned by our cover girl Gina Rossi, the original entrance was supposed to be only from the back, but a 12th St entrance became more practical. Once inside, the red light of the bar slowly brightens as your eyes adjust to the darkness and the red booths and the ambience takes you to a different place. You can order a perfect or dirty Martini, Gin and Tonic or any one of your faves and even sit at a Martini shaped table. Wednesday evenings, you can enjoy 1st Wednesdays with Trax on Wax with Felipe Garcia spinning your favorites on real vinyl records, DJ Tease on Thursdays and Neil and Matt on Fridays and rotating DJs on the weekend. At Trax on Wax, you can even sign up to spin a set yourself and bring your own records while you and your friends sip delicious cocktails. For another throwback experience, you can enjoy Gina’s other bar downtown, Cheroot. Elegant, leather, vintage vibe with a full bar and allows cigar smoking. Many cool throwback cocktails are on the menu there and they have comedy nights as well.

Speakeasy Lounge
928 12th St

Cheroot Lounge
915 10th St



Posted in: community, food & drink, news

About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.