The first time I visited SpeakEZ Lounge was for their 2012 New Years Eve party. It was a prohibition-themed party, which seemed appropriate, given the restaurant’s name. So my friends and I got dressed up in what we assumed was an appropriate zoot suit style and headed just north of the city to where SpeakEZ was tucked away on the side of an old brick building.
A jazz band played on the teeny tiny stage and I did a little East Coast Swing on the teeny tiny dancefloor. The singer had a vintage hairstyle and seduced her antique microphone as she sang her sultry tune. The lighting was dim and the tables were a dark heavy wood. With all the suspenders and fedoras and slinky dresses, it did kind of feel like it was the 1920s, and there was a rush of danger as we sipped on “forbidden” drinks all night long. It was a great party.
Since then, though, I’ve been a bit confused by what SpeakEZ Lounge really is. Because every day can’t be a prohibition party. This isn’t the 1920s, after all. And in the light of day, it doesn’t really feel like a speakeasy at all. It is an average restaurant you can walk right into (no password required) and you can go to the bar and order a drink and not have to worry about getting arrested. Which I guess is what everyone wants in a restaurant, ultimately, except for when they visit a speakeasy. I went back once since the party, but without the party, it just felt like a normal bland place.
But then this blog project came along, and as I was scouring Grand Rapids event calendars looking for new things, I came across the MartiniMoth event that SpeakEZ holds every month. Some of you may have heard of the Moth Radio Hour on NPR where people get up and tell engaging stories just for the sake of telling stories. And while I’m pretty sure what SpeakEZ does isn’t associated with the official Moth non-profit group, SpeakEZ has used the idea of that program to inspire Grand Rapidians to start telling their stories.
So in the spirit of discovering new things about my city, my husband and I ventured out to SpeakEZ to check out this event.
Upon arriving, every table was full; there were a few spots at the bar, but we couldn’t see or hear from there, so we asked a nice couple if we could squeeze in with them at their overly large table.
“Are you here to tell stories?” the man asked me as soon as I sat down. I laughed out loud. “No, I’m just here to listen to the stories,” I replied.
“You should get up there and tell a story,” he egged me on. I’m going to assume that he had ordered a couple of drinks before that cup of coffee that sat in front of him.
But I could have told a story, apparently. There is no signing up early or registration that is required for telling stories at MartiniMoth. They really did encourage people who were there, who were eating dinner or having casual conversations, people who just came to eat or drink or listen, to get up on stage and tell a story. And my husband and I started to brainstorm about what stories we could get up and tell.
In the end, we didn’t get up and tell a story. But it was nice to know we had the option. And it was nice to know that, above all, SpeakEZ was just trying to encourage and engage its community to get up and say something. And I greatly admire the people who did get up. Of course, some were better than others. But they all were braver than I was. Maybe next month, I’ll find a story to tell.
If I think about it, SpeakEZ does live up to its name. A speakeasy in the ‘20s was a place where the community could go when it didn’t have anywhere else to turn. It's a place that provides when no one else will. And as far as public storytelling goes, there’s really no other option that I know in Grand Rapids. Not only that, but SpeakEZ is about the only place in Grand Rapids that shows soccer matches, and they were packed when the World Cup going on. In their neighborhood, they are kind of the only casual-yet-upscale restaurant around. So in many ways, SpeakEZ does exactly what it should. It provides a resource that people can’t get just anywhere. When there’s a need for something in Grand Rapids, SpeakEZ answers the call.
For more info about SpeakEZ Lounge, visit their website.