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No more sneaking; no more rationing—just pure hedonism in the form of a clamshell and martini glass. Because of the government’s failed experiment with prohibition, bootleggers rebelliously made business by creating hidden speakeasies, often found by strategic entrepreneurs who set up clam stands out front to feed and fuel the local drunks stumbling back outside. “I always thought it would’ve been the cat’s pajamas to walk through the door of an Italian clam bar on the day Prohibition ended,” says Jeff Levey, co-owner of the new Speaks Clam Bar on St. Armands, with sister-in-law Natalia. And Levey’s famiglia goes back generations in New York City, experiencing firsthand the journey of Little Italy through the decades. “Where there’s 20 to 30 restaurants in a one-block radius,” he says. Enamored by both the exuberant 1920s lifestyle and those authentic Italian recipes, Speaks combines the fun-loving spirit of a speakeasy with the enjoyment of family-style meals—like sharing toasted garlic bread and steamed Middleneck clams with broccoli rabe and white navy bean in a buttery white wine broth. Walking up to Speaks’ sleek door front, diners may not have to knock with a special code or whisper a secret password to enter, but they will be welcomed with a hi-tech interactive board outside—built by Jeff's brother and Natalia's hubby Mark Levey—displaying an expansive menu featuring Mediterranean fare with an emphasis on seafood, plus photos and live reviews from customers on social media. Once inside, the open space layout creates a neighborhood atmosphere with an identifiable “Golden Age Twenties” flair.

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The theme makes its way to every detail of the restaurant, from vintage-style newspapers for the menus to check presenters in the form of symbolic steel cage doors. Settled in the nook of the dining room, an open pasta station shows off an industrial pasta maker and cooker both made in Italy and jazzed up with hi-tech fans for cooling. “It’s important when cooking pasta, you don’t ever want it to be affected by the heat because it changes its chemical composition,” explains General Manager Jim George. “So we keep it protected in a cool environment and make the pasta at night,” This also allows evening diners to see how the handmade pastas get made from scratch and prepared daily. Firmly believing different pastas go with specific meals, you’ll never see meatballs without spaghetti, and always find classic pairings such as fettuccine alfredo, rigatoni bolognese and penne alla vodka. Speaks makes all its own sauces, embracing the authentic clam bar way by offering traditional spice levels—serving either a sweet, medium or hot sauce—with each pot taking five hours to prep and boil. 

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Choose to sit at high tops in the back or in booths inside a pretend prison, adorned with jail bars and actual mug shots of famous Italian mobsters. Have Bugs Moran and Lucky Luciano stare you down as you twirl your Vongole Linguine—a specialty dish with fresh whole clams sautéed traditional style and served over fresh linguine and your choice of clam sauce. When asked what Al Capone would order if he were here, Chef Tony declared confidently Speaks’ specialty dish Saltimbocca Style—thinly sliced chicken or veal sautéed with prosciutto, mozzarella, sage and white wine, served with spaghetti. Natalia personally recommends the Baked Stuffed Shrimp—large Gulf shrimp stuffed with crab, baked in a scampi boat and served with drunken sweet potato with rum sauce and grilled asparagus. “When my husband and I lived in NYC, we always had a bunch of separate restaurants we’d go to for different types of dishes,” Natalia notes. “Here we thought, why don’t we bring all your Italian and seafood favorites into one place?” And if you’re wanting to indulge in the consumption of forbidden hooch, the exquisite full bar is inviting to flappers and imbibers alike. Bartenders handcraft “garden to glass” creations—using only freshly prepared juices onsite and incorporating locally sourced produce and herbs for garnish. The Leveys’ penchant for “perfectly balanced flavors of whiskey cocktails” remains tried and true, with craft takes on a smoked Old Fashioned, Sazerac and Whiskey Sour.

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Convivial artwork and murals are done by local artist Bask—known for painting movie scenes in Hollywood, while the furniture came imported from Italy and refurbished decor from the famed Biltmore—a 1926 hotel in Miami. Customers will also notice a section in the middle of the restaurant labeled as the hand-washing station—consisting of hanging whiskey and champagne barrels, innovatively engineered into a sink so you can cleanse your paws before shooting Oysters Rockefeller or licking your fingers dry of Rosemary Lamb Chops marinated in a cabernet demi glace. Further embrace your gluttony by ending the meal with the Natalia’s own creation—shooter desserts. Cheekily prepared in shot glasses and offering eight different selections of housemade mousse, flavors include key lime pie, honey pistachio, strawberry shortcake, peanut butter, tiramisu, chocolate hazelnut and sea salt caramel. 


It’s not hard to fall head over heels with Speaks’ Jazz Age aesthetic and decade of debauchery motif—the Leveys made sure to fully enhance the pleasures of dining in hiding and in luxury, accompanied by top-shelf liquor of course. The artful back wall is impossible to miss—presenting a historic New York Times headline of the lifting of our constitutional ban, “Prohibition Ends At Last! 14 Years Dry Era Over.” Guests feel transported back in time beside the mural of old-style wallpaper portraying a famous photo of a man partying joyously on a paddywagon with a martini glass in hand the day Prohibition announced its demise. “It’s all been immortalized,” says George. “And we wanted to bring that back to life with Speaks.” 

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