You have to dial six numbers to enter the members-only “Speakeasy” of this Afro-Caribbean restaurant

Vic’s Speakeasy door at Lydia on H. Photograph by Victor Chizinga.

At Afro-Caribbean restaurant Lydia on H, a sleek black bookcase opens to reveal a “speakeasy” that you can only access if you pass the screening process and meet the spot’s salary requirements.

Vic’s Speakeasy has only been open for the “showcase” so far, but will officially debut on Friday night. Chef/owner Victor Chizinga is selection of members, capped at 40 people. He declined to answer questions about how he determines who enters and who doesn’t, but says members will need to earn at least $100,000 a year. “We want to make sure that participants can afford this monthly fee and not stress out,” Chizinga said. Membership costs $250 per month if you pay monthly or $200 if you sign up for six months.

Chizinga opened Lydia on H in February as a tribute to her late mother, Lydia. The H Street Northeast restaurant offers Caribbean cuisine from Chizinga’s travels and Malawian dishes inspired by her heritage and her mother’s cooking. Chizinga wants the restaurant, which includes a lounge with live music and an outdoor patio called Lake Malawi, to welcome everyone in the spirit of her mother’s passion for entertainment. However, he says the “speakeasy” is more of a “personal space” for him, as Lydia on H is usually quite busy.

Benefits of Vic’s Speakeasy membership include lockers to store bottles or cigars, access to a private bathroom, and the ability to host private parties in the space. Almost everything else remains a secret that you can only unlock if you are a member. Chizinga even refused to share the cocktail list or reveal the opening time.

“What happens in the speakeasy stays in the speakeasy,” Chizinga says, calling it a “secret society.”

One thing he shares: Every spirit, beer and wine offered at Vic will be from a black-owned brand. Chizinga, who has about 15 years of local bartending experience, says his favorites include Guidance Whiskey from Tennessee, Blackleaf Vodka from France and Equiano Rum from Haiti. Chizinga says he hopes to offer at least 15-20 bottles and has around 13 in stock so far. (You can also find them at Lydia on H, which has a wider selection of spirits.) It’s not hard to find black-owned liquor brands, he says, but state regulations can sometimes make difficult to find distributors. (The private bar’s library door also displays books by black authors, but don’t expect to be able to read any of them – they’re taped up so people can’t pick them up.)

“During my days as a bartender, it was hard to see a black-owned spirit or beer on the shelf,” Chizinga says. “So now that I have my own space, why not make more people aware that there are these spirits that the black community has created?”

direct message Lydia on H on Instagram to get a link for the membership review.

Michael M. Tomlin