Way before gamblers flocked to Jack Casino in Downtown Cincinnati, bootleggers, illegal casinos and adult entertainment clubs filled the streets of Newport just across the river.
In the heart of it all was a clandestine casino inside the present-day Newport Syndicate, which hosts Gangsters Dueling Piano Bar, private parties and weddings. The building is the starting and ending point for the Newport Gangsters Tour, which walks tourists and locals alike through the history that earned Newport the reputation of “Sin City of the South.” Tour guides take guests down the same hallways in which gamblers were hidden during the operation of the illegal casino.
While the threat of law enforcement discovering the activities does not loom over the business like it did during the era of illegal drinking and gambling, the spirit of Prohibition resistance is very much alive at Newport Syndicate. Those lucky enough to know a secret password can make reservations for dinner in The Backroom. But don’t try searching the Internet for the password because you won’t be able to find it, and the staff probably won’t tell if you ask. (Careful readers may find it in this article).
Despite its secrecy, the speakeasy is still quite popular. “People want what they can’t have, and if they’re curious enough they’ll find it,” says Sharon Forton, Newport Syndicate general manager and events coordinator. If you know the password, the quiet, intimate space with shiny gold walls and vintage decor is the perfect place to impress your date or catch up with friends and family.
Dinner in the speakeasy is served buffet style so diners can eat at their own pace and enjoy the night for as long as they’d like. The buffet includes carved meat, salad, vegetables and what Forton describes as “the best chicken dishes ever.” The food is based on recipes from the Newport Syndicate fine dining restaurant that operated from 1995 to 2005. Plates are just $15.
“I wanted to bring the art of dining back,” Forton says. “What happens when you sit in a quieter space with people is you actually talk. People that have had dinner here have been here an hour and a half, two hours just sitting at their table talking.”
Syndicate guests who want a more energetic scene can enjoy diner and a show at the piano bar on Friday and Saturday nights. The gangster experience is complete with an affordable menu of comfort food, great happy hour specials (5:30 to 7:30 on Friday nights) and a dance floor. “People can come spend all night here, have a lot of fun and not spend a lot of money,” Forton says.
Whatever event you are planning—bachelorette or bachelor party, rehearsal dinner, fundraiser, birthday party, corporate event, class reunion, you name it—any of the Newport Syndicate’s spaces can be rented out for the occasion. Aside from The Backroom and piano bar, the Syndicate has two other private rooms ,as well as two ballrooms. Don’t worry, you don’t need the password for all of them.
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