15 Secret Speakeasies That Serve up Some Seriously Good Cocktails
Even though Prohibition is long over, people’s love for vintage-themed bars is at an all-time high. Speakeasies are no longer a thing of the past — they're now an exciting way to have a fun night out in many cities around the U.S., or even around the world.
Speakeasies weren’t always just a gimmick for mixologists and bar owners. According to The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, these hidden establishments, also known as “gin joints” and “blind pigs,” came about as a response to the restrictive alcohol ban during Prohibition. Even though Prohibition was intended to sober up the country, it pretty much did the exact opposite — causing many illegal alcohol sellers (called bootleggers), including Al Capone, to profit immensely.
According to The Mob Museum, Capone made an “estimated $60 million a year” as an illegal beer and hard liquor supplier for local Chicago speakeasies.
These bars were often set up in back rooms of other businesses, in basements, and even inside people’s own homes. According to History.com, the term “speakeasy” may have come from patrons whispering passwords through small openings in the door in order to get in. Not only were they a place to have a stiff drink, but they also provided live jazz music to the masses.
Today, speakeasies don’t have to deal with bootleggers like Capone or hide from the law. The modern speakeasy movement is a little more above ground, but it’s kept some of the fun elements like passwords, vintage decor, finger foods, and popular cocktails. According to Restaurant Business Online, the popularity fueling the resurgence of speakeasies may stem from the feeling of exclusivity their secretive ambiance provides (while still being very accessible). Only people who are “in the know” can join in on the fun — or so it feels.
Today, pretty much every major metropolitan area has a speakeasy that savvy bar-goers know about. Take a look at some of these intriguing options, and see if there’s one in a city near you.
PDT, New York City, New York
We couldn’t include all of the incredible hidden bars in NYC on this list since there are so many, but this might be one of the better-known speakeasies in the city. Located behind a phone booth in an East Village hot dog joint, PDT, which stands for “Please Don’t Tell,” is an unexpectedly upscale bar. It’s best to get a reservation early, and when you arrive, enter the phone booth and dial 1 for the secret door to open. Then, enjoy curated cocktails (and hot dogs, if you’re hungry).
Apotheke, New York City, New York
Perhaps you can tell by the name, but Apotheke is inspired by old-time pharmacies (also known as apothecaries). This speakeasy really takes their theme to heart, as drinks are served in antique medicine bottles. They also have a long list of absinthe for anyone who wants to feel truly Bohemian. In order to get there, you have to go own a side street in Chinatown, where you’ll see a sign that says “Chemist” in front of the bar’s address number.
Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This speakeasy has some historic ties, as it’s named after one of the biggest illegal alcohol rings from the Prohibition era. It’s a little easier to get in since there’s no password, but definitely get yourself a reservation ahead of time. The bar's menu pays homage to its namesake with cocktail categories like Rebellious Spirits. Plus, there’s a tiki bar upstairs if you’re feeling tropical.
The Violet Hour, Chicago, Illinois
This bar epitomizes the phrase "don’t judge a book by its cover," because you’d never guess there’d be a sumptuous, ritzy bar inside if you saw it just from the outside. The entrance is located in the alley behind a row of businesses, where you’ll see a beautiful facade painted with an ever-changing mural. It’s not your typical street art – this graffiti is your doorway to a swanky lounge with creative cocktails, velvet curtains, and plush decor.
Midnight Cowboy, Austin, Texas
There are lots of great bars on 6th Street in Austin, but this one is marked with a very dubious sign. Midnight Cowboy is actually located inside a former brothel, so look for a sign that says “Midnight Cowboy Modeling Oriental Massage,” and you'll find the right place. Press the buzzer that says "Harry Craddock," and you’re in for some incredible cocktails with interesting Texas vibes. Reservations are usually required and are only available in two-hour time slots. The bar, which has a back patio, also has some room to accommodate walk-ins, but only when the vacancy sign is lit up.
The Patterson House, Nashville, Tennessee
This Tennessee bar takes the history of the speakeasy seriously. Its dark wood paneling and silver wallpaper really transports you back in time to the Roaring 20s. Plus, there are no phones, no standing, and no random hookups. Decorum is everything here, but in exchange for following the rules, you’ll get some excellent cocktails, nice conversation, and a break away from the other crowded, loud bars in the city. This bar sounds like an especially great place for a nightcap (as long as you also follow the dress code).
The Gibson, Washington, D.C.
This luxe speakeasy might have some of the most creative and curated cocktails ever. Many of the bar’s best drinks are made with a mix of a few familiar spirits and some other ingredients you may not have tried before, like Don Ciccio Rabarbaro (a rhubarb liqueur), Genepey (an herbal liqueur), and Nardini Aqua di Cedro (a citrus liqueur). They even have some non-alcoholic cocktails and custom cocktails. In order to get inside (and order your specialty drink), find a door located between two other D.C. restaurants - Marvin’s and Busboys & Poets, and wait to be seated.
My Bar 635, New Orleans, Louisiana
This Bourbon Street bar is actually quite easy to find since there is a “normal” bar at the street level and a speakeasy on the second floor. Escape hectic Bourbon Street and take a seat on the upstairs balcony to watch the party below. New Orleans is the perfect place to find some authentic 1920’s vibes and live jazz music, so if you’re into both of those things, this might be your ideal watering hole.
El Carajo International Tapas and Wines, Miami, Florida
Not all speakeasies have to be centered around signature cocktails. This hidden bar, located in a former Mobil station convenience store, brings its patrons over 600 wines and the largest sake menu in the U.S. Of course, nothing goes better with wine than tapas. El Carajo may not be as hidden as other speakeasies around the country, but its humble exterior would certainly fool anyone who doesn’t know what they’re looking for.
Melinda’s Alley, Phoenix, Arizona
In true speakeasy form, this hidden bar is only marked with a red light in the alley between Monroe and Adams streets in downtown Phoenix. It's usually only open on Friday and Saturday nights, but even if you went every week, you’re guaranteed a different experience because this bar changes its menu of five signature cocktails each week. The bar is drenched in moody red lighting, so soak in the speakeasy atmosphere as you sit on vintage furniture and sip your creatively crafted drink.
Williams and Graham, Denver, Colorado
Don’t be fooled by the facade of this perfect late-night speakeasy. The front, which conceals the bar behind it, looks like a simple book shop. Once you’re ready to enter, you have to pull on a certain book and voila! You have access to over 60 carefully crafted cocktails and an incredibly tempting food menu that includes bites like mac and cheese with bacon jam and a lobster BLT.
Circa 33, Portland, Oregon
Circa 33, named for 1933, the year Prohibition was repealed, is dedicated to whiskey. With over 100 varieties at their disposal, this vintage-style speakeasy is a whiskey and bourbon lover’s dream. Plus, they have some excellent bar bites to complement your cocktails. Perhaps what sets this bar apart from all the rest is that it’s not just serving up great food and drinks — it also has some fun recreational activities that you don’t usually see in speakeasies these days. Next time you’re at Circa 33, be sure to take advantage of their dart boards and pool tables!
Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency, San Francisco, California
This might be the only speakeasy located inside another speakeasy that we’ve ever heard about. In order to gain access to this detective-themed bar, you first have to get into another hidden haunt called Bourbon & Branch (by using a password). Then, of course, you need another password to get into Wilson & Wilson, but it’s worth all that memorization. Anyone who’s a film noir fan can appreciate this bar’s attention to detail, which includes some cocktails named after famous detectives.
La Descarga, Los Angeles, California
Be sure to dress your very best to get into this Cuban-themed speakeasy. The dress code strictly states that “hoodies, t-shirts, beanies, baseball caps, sneakers, athletic wear, shorts, or flip-flops” and other similar attire are not permitted. That said, going to a high-class bar known for its signature rum cocktails and cigar lounge seems like the perfect excuse to dress up.
Noble Experiment, San Diego, California
You’ll have to sneak behind a stack of kegs at the back of a local gastropub, Neighborhood Alehouse, in order to access this secret bar that’s best known for its wall of skulls. Reservations are required for this unique speakeasy, and usually a week in advance, but the bar also tries to accommodate walk-ins when it can. The best way to get in touch with the bar is by texting the number on its website. All the secrecy is well worth it, not only for the amazing cocktails, but also for the elevated bar food menu.