Arizona natives Josh Katz and Sheldon Wiley, along with their partner Moe Murillo, have taken the concept of the seedy, underground Prohibition-era speakeasy and upgraded it with their latest project called 36 Below. The modern cocktail lounge is located at 36th St. and Indian School below Sip Coffee and Beer Garage.
The idea for the speakeasy began months ago when the team was researching ideas for the space formerly known as Undertow, which moved next door and is housed inside Century Grand. They wanted something martini-inspired, and that appealed to women.
Initially, there was a cave-inspired pitch with stalagmites, but that quickly went away after speaking to their brand manager, who suggested another idea – something that had to do with a sign of the times. They stumbled upon the word walipini, which means “place of warmth” in the Aymara Indian language. They are underground greenhouses.
“The idea was to give people the feeling that they’re outside, or looking outside,” Katz said.
The name for the lounge came from both the location and a biblical passage.
“Verse 36 of the Book of Genesis talks about the creation of man and how no trees or shrubs could sprout because two key elements were missing – water and someone to nurture the garden. So as people come down into the space, they’ll see green walls, air plants, moss, and in the actual space will be the greenhouse, where we’ll be ‘nurturing’ the garden,” Katz said.
Construction for the lounge started in January, but the trio ran into some setbacks – permits, spacing issues and materials. They had to redesign elements of the space but said everything is moving smoothly for a grand opening in July.
Guests will find five virtual reality screens that will show images of Flagstaff’s four seasons, which is Katz’s favorite place to visit and where he attended school. The images will eventually show seasons from different locations and weather elements, like thunderstorms.
“We’re going for a very immersive experience. We want people to feel like they’re captivated and forget about whatever else they have going on,” Katz said. “Initially, I was nervous with this new concept, but it looks amazing, and now I feel really good.”
36 Below will offer nine specialty cocktails created by mixologists and industry veterans Sheldon Wiley and Toby Moniz. Each is designed to awaken the senses.
“We want our drinks to invoke a memory – perhaps of that time you went camping with your dad, you know? We want people’s minds to be blown,” Wiley said.
Wiley, who has been called the “fastest bartender in the world” and who holds three Guinness World Records for most drinks made in one minute and in one hour, said he and his team are most excited to see the guests’ reactions and to experience the concept along with them.