The history behind Chandler's newest speakeasy

Posted at 12:32 PM, Sep 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-26 15:32:36-04

Life in Chandler during the early 1900s was simple: wagons and Model T Fords chugged along grated roads, farmers tended to their crops, and locals spent their downtime at the park or local watering hole.

Years later, life is much busier and faster-paced, but it’s created a certain nostalgia about the past and even encouraged many to hone that history and try to replicate the simpler times.

Mike Merendino and Ryan Mitchell co-own Crust restaurants and opened their third—and largest—location in August near the historic Hotel San Marcos near Chandler Boulevard and Arizona Avenue in downtown Chandler.

Focused on large portions and simple Italian cooking, Crust’s newest location features an old-world atmosphere with vintage light bulbs dangling from the ceiling, patterned wallpaper and restored wood.

“We’re mom and pop at heart. I grew up in the food service business with my father’s pizzeria back in New York,” said Merendino.

But, the real story lingers just down the hall where a full-sized taxidermy ostrich stands tall and a hidden door that leads down into the basement.

During construction, Merendino and Mitchell heard rumors that the basement once operated as a speakeasy, a term coined for places that illegally sold alcohol during the Prohibition.

“The rumors are that the tunnels led to different spaces—the old railroad station, the golf course club house,” said Mitchell. Those tunnels have since been covered up, but guests may be able to play a game of “I Spy” to see remnants of where they may have been.

They also apparently found boxes of ostrich feathers collected and saved by Dr. A.J. Chandler himself, the city’s founder.

While it is hard to prove those rumors to be true, Merendino and Mitchell didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to celebrate a piece of the building’s supposed history.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility, considering Chandler has its own annual ostrich festival. If anything else, it creates a quirky conversation piece when customers walk through the door.

They cleared out the basement, left the exposed brick, added some lighting, built a bar, and purchased the leather booths from Tempe’s Monti’s La Casa Vieja, which closed its doors in 2014.

Collectively, the room has a mysterious and edgy vibe to it.

The lounge is designed to cater to those looking to relax after a long day at work, including the staffs at the nearby bars, without the concern of obnoxious and overly drunk twenty-somethings.

They’ve teamed up with local mixologist, Brandon Casey to help create signature cocktails and plan on serving small plate options and entertaining with live music.

While Crust is open to the public upstairs, The Ostrich Room is expected to open in early October. But, don’t expect a big to-do when it does open, speakeasies were known for their secret code words, so in keeping with tradition…you’ll just have to check the wooden door with the small window at the end of the staircase.

A soft opening was held in August, but the restaurant will host a grand opening celebration on Saturday, September 26 from 3-8 p.m.

Crust - Chandler
10 N. San Marcos Place, Chandler, AZ 85225
Hours: Monday - Friday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Saturday - Sunday, 12 p.m. - 9 p.m.