Speakeasy bars during the Prohibition era were everywhere. And nowhere. Boozers were required to remain hush-hush, lest their favorite backdoor moonshine distillery be discovered by the police and promptly shut down. Today, we are free to enjoy a cocktail or seven wherever we please. But in choosing the perfect barstool, a sense of danger adds appeal to throwback speakeasy bars. Think secret entrances behind bookshelves and phone booths, and well-guarded passwords. Of course, it’s hard to keep secrets in the epoch of Instagram and “location services enabled,” but these seven bars have raised, well, the bar on maintaining mystery.
Adults Only (Los Angeles, CA)
Adult video stores are fairly irrelevant, thanks to the advent of the Internet. Yet this one in Los Angeles thrives off Sunset Boulevard in the ritziest, most enticing of locations: behind a Burger King. Gather your mettle (aka a Whopper), head into a storefront with “XXX” proudly displayed, and through the back sits an immaculately designed throwback to the 1920s. Woodwork and dark wallpaper conjure images of hiding from the police, and extravagantly designed, lush couches provide comfort—even if the cocktail names are unsettling: The “Money Shot,” “Rusty Trombone,” and “Dirty Sanchez” are demonstrated both in the bookstore and at the bar. And given the “Dirty Sanchez” is a sweet and spicy concoction of mezcal, sweet cucumber, and zesty serrano chili, we’ll opt for that one. For now…
Angel’s Share (New York, NY)
So undercover it doesn’t have a website, Angel’s Share stands out amid the infinite speakeasy bar scene of New York (there are…a lot). To find it, head into a bustling Japanese restaurant in the East Village, get out of the way of servers with plates full of sushi, enter an unmarked door, and you’re in a Narnia of candlelit tranquility. Angel’s Share takes no reservations, asks patrons to keep their voices down, and the wait for even a spot to lean against the bar is typically an hour or more. Stick around. And shut up. Sipping a “Summertime,” made with jasmine-infused rum, over hushed whispers, is the epitome of calm.
The Owl Bar (Baltimore, MD)
This one in Baltimore doesn’t take major sleuthing to find (or minor sleuthing, for that matter), but earns points for its history of ingenuity. A statue of the eponymous owl took up residence in the lobby of the 1902-built Hotel Belvedere (now condos) to give thirsty lawbreakers the signal. When its eyes were lit up, the hidden bar, nestled way in the back, was open for business. The Owl Bar now serves legal drinks, of course, but its classic look remains. The patterned bricks in the high walls have been preserved, as has the immaculate molding of windows and archways. The statue, too, remains.
Chapter Room (Atlanta, GA)
Congratulations! You have been accepted to Brewniversity! No SAT scores required! Atlanta‘s Taco Mac (Southern-style taco and chicken wing joint) already boasts a nice selection of craft beers, but to gain access downstairs in the Chapter Room, you must download Brewniversity’s mobile app and enroll, tuition-free. Admittance allows you access to the vaunted beer-bastion Chapter Room, located downstairs. The beer list is far more robust and international, plus the bar’s hiding an impressive list of whiskeys. Ironically, you can use technology to track how much you drink, using the app, and earn points toward nothing in particular—except to redo college drinking doppelbocks instead of Miller High Life.
The Drifter (Chicago, IL)
The Drifter in Chicago serves up a freshly caught red herring: It’s located in the basement of what has now become another bar called Green Door Tavern. You thought you were done drinking? Think again. Head downstairs to the bathrooms, stumble through an unassuming wooden door between the men’s and women’s rooms, and you’ll find an actual former speakeasy. The Drifter space is small but cozy; rubbing elbows with other drinkers transports you a century back in time, when liquor was at a premium and everyone wanted in. The drinks that will be served that night are pulled from a tarot card deck. So if you loved a particular cocktail, don’t expect the same next time. But always expect elaborate woodwork and—occasionally—burlesque dancers to complete the time travel back nearly a century.
Hanson’s Shoe Repair (Orlando, FL)
Two decades from now, we seriously doubt anyone will remember voicemail. It’s tedious to not only leave one, but to listen. And who wants to hear voices?! Suck it up, though, and call Hanson’s Shoe Repair—a hidden Orlando bar and occasional music venue worth the inconvenience. Potential visitors call and are asked to leave a message with the time they’d like their “shoes repaired” (no promises on preventing falls while wasted) and how many pairs they’re bringing in. If all seems well, Hanson’s will provide the password for entry that night. The code changes each night, so hold onto it preciously to enjoy craft cocktails in what looks like, well, an old-timey shoe repair shop. The best part: Passwords arrive via text. The future is now.
Bourbon and Branch (San Francisco, CA)
“Please speak-easy” is the first rule of Bourbon and Branch (the second rule isn’t, “You do not talk about Fight Club). This raspberry-tinted San Francisco bar—with working-man decor ranging from books to barrels—is rigid about its policies, but it’s all in the interest of providing the 20 or so patrons a relaxing, reflective experience. See, within this particular speakeasy is yet another secret room in the back, behind a bookshelf. There’s a password to enter, “books,” and inside is an impressive library for your party to enlighten themselves and sip delicious cocktails . Just don’t order a cosmo. House rules.
Tagged: Food & drink