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Newly opened speakeasy back on ice

Bar owner Robert Ruiz said the shutdown is temporary and the result of miscommunications with ABC officials in San Marcos.

High-end liquor lines shelves behind the bar in The Charles Kenneth “speakeasy” bar in the basement of the historic old building that houses the Land & Water Company restaurant and bar. (Charlie Neuman)

Carlsbad’s just-opened speakeasy The Charles Kenneth, has slipped back into history — at least for a while — as the now-shuttered basement bar works out permit issues with the state.

The old-fashioned, 44-seat cocktail bar held its grand opening celebration on the evening of July 7, but within hours of opening, its doors were closed again by officials with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Bar owner Robert Ruiz, who also owns the Land & Water Company restaurant upstairs, said the shutdown is temporary and the result of miscommunications with ABC officials in San Marcos.

Ruiz said he’s spent 13 months getting his alcohol license paperwork and city zoning issues taken care of. But the final sign-off on the property was unexpectedly delayed when an email to seal the deal was sent last month to an ABC staffer who is on a leave of absence. When he didn’t hear back with any follow-up requests, Ruiz said he assumed all was approved.

Portrait of Rob Ruiz, owner of the Land & Water Company restaurant and bar, in the walkway leading to his Charles Kenneth “speakeasy” bar in the basement of the restaurant’s historical old building that was built in 1887. (Charlie Neuman)

“They felt like I’d opened it without consulting them, but we have gone to great lengths to get everything approved properly,” he said. “At this point I’m rushing to work closely with them to get it open again as quickly as possible.”

The Charles Kenneth has had a bumpy history. Ruiz first opened a rustic version of the speakeasy in November 2015, but closed it just two months later because a change in the managing partnership required a new liquor license.

Ruiz, 39, discovered the vacant basement space four years ago while remodeling the interior of the 130-year-old building at 2978 Carlsbad Boulevard for his restaurant. The ornate Queen Anne-style mansion was once known as the Twin Inns, a hotel and fried chicken restaurant owned by the Edward Kentner family.

For years before he leased the property, Ruiz said he’d heard and read rumors that the basement was used as a speakeasy during Prohibition. When he found a large wooden bar in the basement, as well as a delivery button that rang a bell behind the bar, he assumed the rumors were true.

Bar manager Cory Volkening installs an old style light bulb in the walkway leading to The Charles Kenneth “speakeasy” bar. (Charlie Neuman)

In 2012, an article in Carlsbad Magazine quoted Kentner’s son, Ed Jr., talking about rum runners and moonshiners making deliveries to the building during Prohibition. “There was a call button on the back of the house for the bootleggers to use when they delivered. It’s probably still there,” he said in the article.

Ruiz found such a button during renovations and still has it.

Last week, Kentner said his comments about the buzzer were “mere speculation,” and to his knowledge there was never an actual speakeasy on the property during the ‘20s and ‘30s.

Kentner believes the speakeasy rumor may have started after 1984, when his family sold the property to Robert Burke. Burke removed the lobby stairwells and sealed off access to the cellar, giving the downstairs area an air of secrecy.

Exterior view of the historic old building on Carlsbad Boulevard at Carlsbad Village Drive that was built in 1887 that houses the Land & Water Company restaurant and bar and Sun Diego Boardshop. A “speakeasy” bar, run by the Land & Water Company, is opening in the building’s basement. (Charlie Neuman)

Kentner, who spent 65 years living at the Carlsbad Village property, said the cellar area was used by the family over the years for slaughtering and preparing chickens, storing potatoes and wine, a gift shop and a carpentry workshop, but never a clandestine bar.

Nonetheless, Ruiz said he’s had several old-time Carlsbad residents tell him stories about drinking illegal booze at the property during Prohibition.

The Charles Kenneth is named for Ruiz’s late grandfather, Charles Kenneth Ruiz, a decorated Navy veteran of three wars. Several portraits of the elder Ruiz decorate the walls of the retro bar.

Once it reopens, The Charles Kenneth will be accessible only via a password, which will be updated each day on the bar’s social media accounts and website (thecharleskenneth.com). Ruiz said the bar’s reopening will also be announced on the website and its Facebook page (The Captain Charles Kenneth).

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Speakeasy reclaims its secret space in Carlsbad

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