When Susan Brown interviewed for a job at the Downtown Lynchburg Association last year, her conversation with Executive Director Ashley Kershner eventually turned toward ideas for events the organization could host.
“One of the things she was talking about for her ideal, forecasted vision is that we could do some really fun, party-type of events that could expose people to places downtown that they’d never experienced before, in a way that they’ve never experienced them,” Brown, now the Downtown Lynchburg Association’s (DLA) program manager, said in an interview last week.
That conversation is coming to fruition next week when the DLA hosts its Speakeasy fundraiser, which Brown described as “very underground, hush-hush” — a nod to the role speakeasies played during the Prohibition era, serving as secret clubs that served alcohol when the sale, manufacturing and transportation of it was illegal.
“The challenge,” Brown added, “was how do we spread the word while being hush-hush?”
To that end, DLA staffers have been promoting the event in the same way underground dinners typically work: attendees know there is an event happening on a specific day — in this case, Saturday, May 4 — but won’t know the exact location until a few days prior.
“We definitely want people there, but we’re trying to keep that air of mystery by not revealing our location until much closer to the event to our ticket holders,” Brown said.
The idea of a Speakeasy party fit right in with that concept.
“There’s an air of glamour to the Prohibition era,” Brown said. “Glamour, yet intrigue, and kind of getting a little down and dirty when you think about it. When you think of Prohibition and bootlegging, it wasn’t clean and shiny. It felt like the right feel.”
General admission tickets are $52 and include hors d’oeuvres and one signature drink created by the Virginia Distillery Company.
The DLA also is offering a series of add-on options, called ticket enhancements, such as the “Gatsby Express,” which costs $26 per couple and includes valet parking, two additional drink tickets for beer or wine, and advance notice of the event location (a week prior to the event, earlier than general admission ticket holders).
Other enhancements, ranging from $21 to $26, offer additional whiskey tastings and oysters served up by The Water Dog, respectively.
“Our vision was really to create a bunch of experiences,” Brown said.
In a news release about the event, Kershner echoed that sentiment, saying the event is “a great opportunity to support downtown and enjoy a fabulous party all at the same time.”
Live music will be provided by local band Flat Five Jazz, “playing some jazz standards and some modern twists on songs,” Brown said.
Burlesque performer Tansy, referred to as the “Elizabeth Taylor of Burlesque” in a news release about the Speakeasy event, will take the stage as well, doing what Brown called a “Lynchburg version, and not a New York City version, of what her show is.”
“We wanted to present something new and different with someone special,” she said. “And I think this definitely is. … We haven’t pushed it over the edge. We’re just nudging it a little.”
Virginia Distillery Company is providing all of the whiskey, and Purple Door Catering will create the appetizers, which Brown said will be “truly grab-and-go.”
“We really wanted to keep it fun and on your feet and really have a party sense. It is a fundraiser and the funds will be raising money to support DLA and our projects and programs. We know there are a lot of great fundraiser galas out there, and we didn’t want to try to compete with those. We wanted to do our own thing.”
As far as the location, Brown wouldn’t offer any hints.
“It is not a place people have been,” she said, “[to] a party like this.”