Recently opened speakeasy brings life to 1920s

Scott Benjamin, owner and chef at Four Olives in downtown Manhattan, opened his newest venture, the 324 Speakeasy, in the basement of Four Olives on March 5. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Scott Benjamin, owner and chef of 4 Olives in downtown Manhattan, is taking his customers back to the 1920s.

On March 5, Benjamin officially opened the doors of his new venture, the 324 Speakeasy. Found in the basement of 4 Olives, the Speakeasy is a membership bar with a card-swipe entrance.

The 324 Speakeasy and 4 Olives are located in the historic Marshall Theatre, on the corner of Fourth and Houston Street. This was first movie theater in Manhattan, and the site was also a popular spot for Benjamin’s grandparents to go on dates when they attended K-State in the 1930s, he said.

Benjamin now uses this historic location to “bring atmosphere” to the Speakeasy. Located down a dimly-lit staircase, the bar plays classical music, has white marble tabletops and features pull-chain toilets. During construction, he said they even discovered a pipe wall from 1908, which is now used as a backlight to the high-end spirits at the bar.

The bar is reminiscent of the Waldorf Astoria or the 21 Club. Benjamin said he has made every effort to not only make it authentic, but an expression through the food and drinks that are served.

“The drinks are like a history lesson,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said he was around when cocktails were not just a trend, and got to experience the entire rebirth of cocktails in the U.S. He brought it all together with good food at 4 Olives, and now that cocktails are trendy, Benjamin can move into more classic cocktails.

The Speakeasy has a completely separate menu to its upstairs neighbor. The bar’s menu features homemade sausage, locally-raised pork, locally-produced sheep’s milk and spicy popcorn. Benjamin said they’re able to do some really interesting things with both food and drinks at the Speakeasy, because they’re able to stay on top of production. The Speakeasy also features four tap beers, which are some of the rarest beers in Kansas, Benjamin said.

“At 4 Olives, there are 100 plus seats and it’s busy, so we can’t do drinks that take seven minutes to make,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said the Stout Flip is one of the more popular drinks at the Speakeasy and said it’s a great example of a popular drink that 4 Olives doesn’t have the time to make and explain. Plus, according to Benjamin, people aren’t very likely to order it at 4 Olives if you just tell them it’s a cocktail made with egg whites.

“Downstairs we can explain how traditional the drink is,” Benjamin said. “Before cream could be sustainable, eggs were.”

With extra amenities, Benjamin said his goal is to make the Speakeasy calm and fun for the people down there. Currently sitting at approximately 100 members, Benjamin said he would like to get to around 150 and stop.

“It’s important to not be too busy because we want it to be accessible to people,” Benjamin said.

Although Benjamin said the Speakeasy’s members have mostly been adults out of college, he also targets older students wanting to get out of the commotion in Aggieville.

Jack Melton, general manager of 4 Olives, said the reaction to the Speakeasy has been great.

“Purposefully styled to be hidden and a hole in the wall on the outside, everyone is in awe once the sliding door is opened and people see the gem that everyone worked so hard to make down here,” Melton said.

Benjamin partnered with the owner of the building, Ward Morgan, owner of CivicPlus and Hibachi Hut, to make both of their ideas for a speakeasy in Manhattan come to life. Morgan said it is surreal for him and his wife to walk in and see an idea they’ve had for several years become a reality.

“One of the things that highly rated communities have is amenities,” Morgan said. “324 (Speakeasy) gives Manhattan a place where people can go out for a special evening and experience some of the magic of the 1920s.”

Benjamin agrees that the Speakeasy, along with the redevelopment of downtown Manhattan, is bringing life to the community.

“Lawrence people are now impressed with Poyntz (Avenue),” Benjamin said. “And being a K-State grad myself, that’s a pretty big deal.”