After five long months of renovations, the Circa ‘21 Speakeasy is opening its doors with its first new show on Friday night, Oct. 7.

The restored, refreshed entertainment venue next to the historic Circa dinner theater (1818 3rd Ave., Rock Island) will host a grand reopening Thursday, Oct. 13th starting at 3 p.m. 

The renovated Speakeasy, 1818 3rd Ave., Rock Island, on Oct. 5, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The Speakeasy closed in May 2022 in preparation for the renovations and had to reschedule or cancel many shows over the summer.

It offers a variety of entertainment such as adult comedy, improv shows, big band concerts, drag shows, and is the home of the longest-running burlesque troupe in the Quad Cities, Bottoms Up.

The Speakeasy in downtown Rock Island has been closed for renovations since May and will reopen on Friday, Oct. 7 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The new Speakeasy (with a deep navy blue design) has been remodeled from floor to ceiling with a new bar, sound, stage, lighting, seating, floors and bathrooms. Davenport-based Russell Construction is the general contractor and it was designed by East Moline-based Streamline Architects.

“After so many years of looking at the space and knowing it needed a major renovation, we are so thrilled to finally be able to and the outcome has exceeded our expectations,” Brett Hitchcock, Circa director of audience development, said Wednesday. “It’s a beautiful theater and we cannot wait to show it off to everybody!”

The Speakeasy now includes its first lobby, with two small seating areas looking out on the street, and people can order drinks from the lobby.

The new small lobby has an area to order drinks (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“A lot of times people show up early, and people would walk in, and they can sit out here and have a drink while they’re waiting to get in,” Hitchcock said.

A small seating area with the view in the new lobby (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The tile floor in the lobby is new, part of the Streamline Architects’ Prohibition-era, Art Deco design. All the interior is new (except the proscenium and tin ceiling), including bountiful new lighting, tables and chairs, spacious bar area, flooring, and new black leather-backed bench seating.

There also will be Prohibition-era photos displayed and a large photo of former house manager Brad Hann behind the bar.

The portrait of former Speakeasy manager Brad Hann (who died last month) will be displayed behind the new bar.

Hann, 51, passed away unexpectedly at his home on Sept. 8, 2022. Bottoms Up’s first show back (“Cult Classic” on Saturday, Oct. 15) will be a tribute to him.

“One of the things about this space, it was never lit particularly well. We don’t have that problem anymore,” Hitchcock said. “Streamline did a great job bringing our vision to life.”

Soft opening limits seating

The first show this weekend (Viva La Divas) will be limited to 60 in the audience, because The Speakeasy (which can usually seat about 125) has some new employees.

“We wanted to have just a soft opening and if there were any bugs, to get them all worked out,” Hitchcock said. The official grand-reopening will be next Friday, Oct. 14, with the Manny Lopez Big Band.

A majority of the regular shows moved nearby to RIBCO, including the new improv comedy troupe Nightcaps (adult-themed).

The darker Speakeasy in Rock Island before it was closed for renovations in May 2022.

“The nice thing with ComedySportz opening back up (at Moline’s Spotlight) is there’s been a lot of cooperation back and forth, with Bob Kelly and some of our people with The Nightcaps are joining ComedySportz,” Hitchcock said. “We’re excited about that.”

The Speakeasy was the former home of ComedySportz for years, until 2010.

Renovation planned for years

“It had been our dream all along to do something different, because we knew early on – when we started doing this programming and people were drinking, we knew quickly the bar setup we had here was not conducive,” Hitchcock said. “It wasn’t conducive to moving drinks quickly and being efficient.”

Brett Hitchcock, director of audience development for Circa ’21 and The Speakeasy, on Oct. 5, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Circa planned the renovations for years, and started discussing it about a year ago. Hitchcock got the recommendation for Streamline from Daiquiri Factory owner Kyle Peters.

“We wanted to make the space nicer,” he said. “There were a number of things that led us to do it. It needed to be freshened up. We were hesitant from the sales side next door, to bring potential clients over here for business meetings or parties, because of how dingy it was.”

They want to focus on expanding events beyond Fridays and Saturdays, including more entertainment and private functions, like lunch meetings and receptions, Hitchcock said.

“Now we’ve got a beautiful facility we can do a lot of different things in,” he said. They’re more flexible in seating now. “We wanted that wow factor, and we’ve got that now.”

Work continued on Wednesday morning, Oct. 5, at the new Speakeasy bar area (photo by Jonathan Turner).

From the bar, there is a door now that goes right into Circa’s kitchen,” Hitchcock said. “We’re hoping to get things like DARI meetings, Chamber meetings, Rotary.”

“Those are the things we really want to start doing more of, now that we’ve got this venue,” he said. “We want to show it off.”

Adding new events

Circa is looking into offering other shows, whether live or music or karaoke nights.

Burlesque, drag shows, big band and stand-up comedy has been going monthly for about 10 years, Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock at the renovated Speakeasy on Oct. 5, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

They don’t want to lose their identity “as the edgy place to see shows,” he said of adding new programming. “We’ve tossed around ideas, like maybe ‘Hair’.”

“Maybe more edgy theatrical pieces that are small casts, that might work in here,” Hitchcock said. “Everything is on the table at this point.”

The Speakeasy works so well for burlesque and the annual “Rocky Horror Show,” which will return the last two weekends of this month.

“The energy, you get this intimate room and you put 100 people in here and the energy is so phenomenal,” Hitchcock said. “The push you get from the crowd in this room is great.”

“Rocky Horror” will be the seventh year at The Speakeasy, again directed by Tristan Tapscott.

The new manager is Tia Parker, who has worked many years for The Speakeasy. Hann was really excited about seeing the renovated space, Hitchcock said.

Start spreading the news — The Speakeasy is reopening!!! (photo by Jonathan Turner)

“That’s one of the things I really regret – he and I had so many late-night conversations, after shows just the two of us sitting here, about what this space could be,” he said.

The Speakeasy will have four employees and finding people has been difficult, he noted.

“We’re gonna have to hire somebody else, because we’re not gonna be able to pull from Circa. We’re getting busier over there and Christmas is insane there,” Hitchcock said. “We’re not gonna have any Bootleggers we can pull from over there.”

“We understand this is a part-time job for people,” he said of Speakeasy. “This is kind of, as Brad used to say, this was his social outlet.”

The new restrooms are handicapped-accessible, and all the lights can be dimmed.

The Speakeasy will have a QR code that people can scan on their phones for the drink menu. The food for sale will include pizza slices and nachos.

New drag show Friday

This Friday’s “Viva La Divas” drag show includes the beautiful and talented Dementia Jaide, Milange Cavalli and Justine Thyme, with local comedian Pubali Kundu as show emcee.

The exterior of The Speakeasy (next to Circa) has a new sign (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Tickets are only $10 in advance and $12 day of for this two-hour show, doors opening at 7 p.m. You must be 18 or older to attend – no exceptions. Reserve your seats online HERE or by calling 309-786-7733, ext. 2.

For more information, click HERE.