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Liu Vaine's Speakeasy Success
Published Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Photos by Christine Carignan.

With Child and Family Services on one side and a (seemingly) closed bookstore on the other, the corner of Pearl and Elm Streets in Nashua doesn’t quite look like the ideal destination for a night on the town. But a keen eye will notice white decals with the word “CodeX” next to arrows leading up to a giant bookcase masking an industrial metal door. Bar hoppers who pick the right book will be able to ring for a host dressed in Prohibition-era garb to let them into CodeX Bar, a speakeasy lined with shelves of antique books and vintage décor.

CodeX is owned by Liu Vaine, a Claremont native who’s spent the last several years spreading his entrepreneurial wings in three of the Merrimack Valley’s largest cities. After bartending for several years in Concord, Vaine set his sights on owning his own restaurants. He’s helped to operate several in Greater Manchester, including opening his own venture, N’awlins, in 2013 on Elm Street in Manchester. Two years later, Vaine and his partners developed their first speakeasy, with N’awlins acting as the “cover operation” for 8ne5 at 815 Elm St. Like CodeX, 8ne5 offers a classic, Prohibition-era atmosphere, requiring its patrons to use a password to gain access.

From left: Crystal Decoteau, bar manager; Liu Vaine, owner; Matthew Berry, executive chef; and Chris Arguin, executive assistant.

Vaine sold N’awlins and 8ne5 in June 2015 to focus on creating CodeX, which began its covert operation in September of the same year. (N'awlins closed in late 2016 with plans to reopen eventually in Nashua, per its Facebook page.) CodeX is also a functioning bookstore, as the books lining the shelves in the lounge are for sale. But while the furnishing and accessories, including an antique phone booth, create a vintage vibe, so do its cocktails.

“Nowadays, bartenders already have every flavor at their disposal. If you want, you can order a vodka that tastes like Fruit Loops,” says Vaine. “We want to highlight old-school standards.” CodeX focuses on craft bartending, using classic cocktail recipes with ingredients handmade in-house, including fresh squeezed juice, bitters, sour mixes and syrups. Crystal Decoteau, bar manager, says the staff sometimes spend a week preparing syrups before they are cocktail-ready. All flavored vodka is infused at the bar, and liqueurs are mixed by hand using various house-flavored spirits.

Decoteau mixes a drink.

Nods to a bygone era can be found on the menu as well. Matthew Berry, executive chef,  offers food that reflects the same care put into CodeX’s craft cocktails. As much of the menu as possible is sourced from local growers, including Brookford Farm in Canterbury, Dowie Farm in Derry and Hall Farm in Hollis. The menu changes regularly to maintain seasonal freshness, and Berry’s food and cooking choices are reflective of Prohibition era trends. Since duck was popular in the 20s, Berry uses it frequently in his dishes, also choosing to use brining techniques to reflect old methods of preserving perishables.  

Vaine says they will typically fill and flip the 75-person-capacity space every hour or so with groups ranging from six to 20 patrons, including bachelorette parties, birthdays and book clubs. With a piano in lieu of pulsating electronic dance music, Vaine says the atmosphere is much more welcoming for diverse groups than an average bar or club. “However busy it is, we don’t pack people in. We’d rather make people wait than have a standing room only that makes the room uncomfortable to be in,” he says.

While CodeX keeps Vaine occupied at night, his days are spent at Milk & Honey Juicery + Café in Manchester, which he opened in February. Along with coffee and tea, the café offers gluten-free and vegan options with natural ingredients, including “superfood” juices and smoothies, whole grain bowls and organic nut milks made onsite.

Vaine says the impetus behind Milk & Honey was the lack of a natural food cafe with vegan options in Manchester. “I used to be a lazy vegan and hated cleaning my juicing machine. I’d always wanted to own a vegan place so I could order juice and not have to worry about the mess,” he says.

Beyond CodeX and Milk & Honey, Vaine is planning to further his city-hopping ventures by bringing another speakeasy to Concord, this time with a barbershop as a front operation. Vaine aims to open Chuck’s BARbershop by June at 90 Low Ave. He says there will be an actual barber on staff who will let people into the speakeasy and offer haircuts from open until close. For more information, visit codeXbar.com and milkandhoneymanchester.com.

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