The Art of Finding a Speakeasy: A Guide to Secret Bars You Need to Visit
Prohibition may have ended decades ago, but the allure of the secretive speakeasy continues to captivate many, particularly the younger crowd of beer and pub enthusiasts, casual socializers, or tourists and travelers. In this guide, we dive deep into the elusive world of speakeasies—an essential part of America’s bar scene. Whether you’re already a fan of these hidden gems or you’re new to the idea, we have compiled an informative and interactive list of speakeasies you should visit on your next night out with friends.
A Brief History of Speakeasies
Let’s take a step back in time to the early 20th century when the United States enforced a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. This infamous era, known as Prohibition, lasted from 1920 to 1933.
During this time, secret bars popped up across the country to provide their patrons with illicit alcohol. These illegal establishments were called speakeasies. They required patrons to “speak easy” or speak softly, so as not to draw attention from the authorities.
Fast forward to today, and the speakeasy trend is experiencing a revival, with hipster vibes and an air of nostalgia. Now legal, the modern speakeasy still embodies a sense of mystery and exclusivity, often hidden behind seemingly innocent storefronts and in unassuming basements. The drinks are typically fashioned with a nod to the olden days and feature unique and complex ingredients that harken back to the Prohibition era.
So, how do you find a modern speakeasy and what should you expect? Keep reading to discover our favorite spots and tips for scoring an invitation to these secretive establishments.
The Rules and Etiquette of Speakeasies
Before we dive into our list, it’s important to know how to behave in a speakeasy setting. Speakeasies differ from regular pubs and bars in that they often have strict rules and expectations for patrons. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Reservation: Many speakeasies require a reservation, so make sure to check if this is necessary beforehand. Bonus points if you secure a reservation through a friend or acquaintance who frequents the bar.
- Dress Code: While not always specified, speakeasies tend to fall on the more formal side of casual. Don’t be afraid to dress up a bit, as it only adds to the experience.
- Find the Entrance: Commonly camouflaged as everyday storefronts, speakeasies are notoriously challenging to find. Keep an eye out for unmarked doors, phone booths, or businesses that seem out of place. Sometimes, you may need to walk through another establishment to find your prized speakeasy.
- No Photos: Many speakeasies emphasize maintaining discretion and privacy. Refrain from taking photos or using flash if you’re in doubt of the rules.
- Manners Matter: Since speakeasies have a sense of exclusivity, be respectful and mindful of your behavior. It’s wise to be polite and tip well; after all, you may want to return to the same spot someday.
With these rules in mind, you’re ready to embark on your speakeasy journey. Now let’s take a look at some of our favorite speakeasies across the United States.
Some of the Best Speakeasies in the US
1. PDT (New York City, NY)
Please Don’t Tell or PDT is recognized as one of the original speakeasies responsible for the resurgence of the trend. Hidden behind a phone booth inside an East Village hot dog joint, PDT offers high-quality cocktails and food. The entrance is discreet—patrons must pick up the phone and press a button to access the hidden entrance.
2. The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (Philadelphia, PA)
The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.‘s inconspicuous entrance is located beneath street level—but once inside, patrons are treated to an intimate atmosphere and an imaginative array of cocktails.
3. The Varnish (Los Angeles, CA)
You’ll find The Varnish tucked behind an unmarked door at the back of Cole’s French Dip Restaurant. The drinks menu here changes regularly as the bartenders love experimenting with new flavors and combinations.
4. The Broken Shaker (Miami, FL)
The Broken Shaker (Freehand Hotels) began as a pop-up but, due to its roaring success, transformed into a permanent installation. Step into the lush, outdoor bar area and chill with a handcrafted cocktail using fresh ingredients and homemade syrups and elixirs.
5. The Drifter (Chicago, IL)
Arguably one of the most authentic speakeasies on this list, The Drifter is located in the basement of the Green Door Tavern. This was an original speakeasy during the Prohibition era, and its vintage setting and good music make for an unforgettable experience.
6. The Violet Hour (Chicago, IL)
Another gem located in Chicago, The Violet Hour can be found behind a wall covered in mesmerizing street art. With house rules that emphasize respect and decorum, this spot has a vibrant but elegant vibe, as well as serving some truly unique cocktails.
7. Midnight Cowboy (Austin, TX)
Formerly a massage parlor, Midnight Cowboy now serves up top-notch cocktails in a relaxed, low-lit environment. Reservations are required, and patrons must locate a tiny button on the wall outside to gain entrance.
8. The Gibson (Washington, D.C.)
Stashed away behind an unmarked door near a busy intersection, The Gibson offers an intimate, candlelit retreat for true cocktail enthusiasts. The classic and creative drinks menu changes seasonally, often incorporating interesting ingredients like absinthe.
9. Bourbon & Branch (San Francisco, CA)
Bourbon & Branch stretches across five secret rooms, each with a distinct theme. This speakeasy takes its secrecy and craft seriously, even requiring a password for entry. The spot boasts an extensive drink selection and hosts regular cocktail classes for enthusiasts.
With their mysterious entrances, historical ambiance, and expertly crafted beverages, speakeasies offer a unique drinking experience that celebrates an important part of America’s history. Visiting these secret bars is not only a great way for pub enthusiasts, travelers, and casual socializers alike to experience something extraordinary but also a chance for American bar culture to showcase both its roots and innovations.
Are you ready to embark on your next speakeasy adventure? Start by sharing this guide with your friends, and embark on a journey through hidden doors and secret passages together. Don’t forget to speak easy, dress sharp, and savor the charm that these hidden gems have to offer. Cheers to a fantastic speakeasy experience!