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Inside the venue: Sonoma Speakeasy

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The Sonoma Speakeasy and Music Hall, 452 First Street East, Suite G, Sonoma. sonomaspeakeasymusic.com

Many years ago, developers wanted to split up and renovate the old Food City Market on First Street East. There was much discussion about losing “old Sonoma.” But Safeway had already moved into its present location, after being where the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is now.

Downtown Sonoma was changing. The writing was on the vacant walls of Food City. Progress.

What had been the back room and produce department at Food City became what is now the Sonoma Speakeasy and Music Hall. For a couple years now, owner Jodi Stevens has strived to offer a fine combination of good drink and great music at the Speakeasy. Recently, she appears to have hit her mark, as the Speakeasy is one hopping place to be.

Over a glass of local bubbles, Stevens recently told of her dream to own a place just like the Speakeasy. Having been raised in Rohnert Park and attending Rancho Cotati High School, she felt a strong connection to the area. When The Sonoma Speakeasy and American Music Hall was listed for sale by original operator Eric James, Stevens followed her heart and jumped in feet first.

Stevens established herself as a singer during high school, singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at homecoming games and graduations. That gave her a taste for performing, and she was soon found singing in several well-known Sonoma County bands. She has performed at the Sonoma City Party with the band Crossfire.

With the Speakeasy, Stevens now has the chance to seek out and hire her favorite bands, find the new ones that pop up, and even perform with them, all on her own stage. Stevens regularly performs on Wednesday nights with the band Arcosonics. Local songbird Sue Albano said about Stevens, “Jodi’s spectacular voice graces the room now and then from her secret microphone behind the bar.” Talk about living the dream.

The Speakeasy now offers nine separate shows each week. Tuesday through Sunday, there is a lively and varied lineup of local and regional talent presented on the tiny stage. Tiny in size, that is. From that tiny stage comes some mighty big music.

Tuesday’s entertainment begins as the farmers market winds down. Wednesday belong to the Arcosonics, bringing a night of swing-flavored tunes. Saturday night is when one might find that ubiquitous form of music called “Americana.” Sunday’s early slot is slated for a small guitar-based act; the later spot goes to an open “blues jam.” Despite the weekly format, Stevens wants to make the Speakeasy “musically different every night.”

When Stevens took over the long rectangular space, the stage was placed awkwardly in the corner, making playing music and dancing cramped and restricted. Stevens moved the stage to the far end of the room, brought in her own sound system, and a cozy performance place was born. She has continued to make subtle improvements to the space. She still has a few more ideas of making it “... a little more fabulous.”

Stevens has sought to form and maintain a strong core of musicians and patrons. She said, “Our musical family outweighs us individually. We are blessed. The people here are all super great human beings.”

The bar at the Speakeasy offers beer and wine, but that sounds too limiting. Several of the drinks are reminiscent of more traditional cocktails. Their “Moscow Mule” is derived from flavored sake. Local, yet hard to find wines and beers comprise the impressive list. Stevens says they offer about a dozen non-alcoholic beverage choices.

The Sonoma Speakeasy and Music Hall, 452 First Street East, Suite G, Sonoma. sonomaspeakeasymusic.com

All in all, Stevens want to “keep people happy.” She told of being very conscious of volume levels in the small room, and even offers ear plugs to listeners. All efforts are made to provide patrons with what Stevens calls a “joyous experience.”

Sue Albano enjoys the Speakeasy, and plays there often.

“There’s something mysterious and mischievous about this awesome little hole in the wall,” she said.

A new band called the Sidemen has also found the Speakeasy to be a great place to play. All seasoned musicians, they have spread the word among their peers about this cozy new place. In recent weeks, several very well-known players have found their way onto the stage at the Speakeasy.

It’s no wonder. “It’s like home,” Stevens offers.