Is there anything better than having a drink after a long day at work? (hint: no, there is not)
While today your watering hole down on the corner may seem like a given, time was where something as simple as getting an old fashioned was strictly forbidden. America, 1920-1933: Prohibition.
Naturally, the Volstead act brought on the golden age of cocktail bars: illegal, hidden places, or speakeasies, where visitors had to “speak easy” so as not to be heard by spoilsports outside while they were enjoying an illicit tipple.
Prohibition is thankfully over, but the trend for hidden, secret bars continues. Apart from no longer being raided routinely, they retain much of the original form: secret spots with innovative cocktails, tucked away in corners you’d never look for a bar if we weren’t here to tell you to. On this list you will find speakeasies hidden in pastrami joints, behind bookcases and unassuming wardrobes. From New York City to Barcelona, these places pride themselves on being hard to find.
Take a look at the bars below and try to act inconspicuous as you step through a phone booth for a secret drink and, for God’s sake, keep your voice down.
1. Le Boudoir, Brooklyn Heights, New York City
Photo Source: Melissa Horn
Just like Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, but with jazz. Find a bookcase at the Brooklyn Heights restaurant Chez Moi that looks like it may be a replica from the Austrian transplant monarch’s library and pull. With any luck, this will reveal a set of stairs leading to the secret bar in the basement: a room decked out in red velvet furniture, low lights and an actual doorknob lifted from Marie Antoinette’s Versailles bedroom (don’t ask us how they pulled that one off). The cocktails are about as low-key as you’d expect given the theme, and the bar is secret like the cake loving queen’s boudoir habits certainly were. Have the crispy frog legs if you dare.
Must Try: The Guillotine (Mezcal, Scotch, Banane and Honey)
Photo Source: Nicole Franzen
2. Moonshiner, Paris
Photo Source: Moonshiner
You step into an unassuming Italian restaurant, Da Vito, and look around. People are having dinner. Forks twisting spaghetti like balls of yarn stop mid-motion, its holders staring at you, the doe in the headlights. You must have come to the wrong place. This can’t be it, you think, until you catch a waiter’s knowing smile: it must be, then. You take a chance with the only fridge you can see, opening the door expecting salami and tiramisu. Welcome to Moonshiner. The bar you find behind the cooler feels like you’re in a speakeasy created by Italian immigrants to the USA, which makes for a very authentic experience: 30s art deco décor, low jazz and a secret vault hiding the top shelf whiskey. While many speakeasies today still hold on to the practice of serving the desperately thirsty with prohibitive prices fit for prohibition, drinks here range from 10-14 euros, in other words are a steal. So get a drink, neat or spiked, as the lingo goes, and be glad you made a fool of yourself walking into that fridge.
Must Try: The Rock ‘ O Co (Jura prophecy whisky, beetroot, homemade coconut syrup, sherry vinegar, bitter chocolate)
3. #findthelockerroom, Bangkok
This place is so secret, it doesn’t even have a name. You’re going to have to put some effort into drinking here, and, as the proverbial hashtag goes, #findthelockerroom.
Photo Source: Asia City Media Group
To look for it, get to Ping’s – a chinese restaurant in Thonglor, and head for the locker room in the back. Behind a row of cabinets is your secret entry to this very special bar: with the drinks theme being past-present-future, you can get just about any classic cocktail, order the same thing with a contemporary twist or a mindblowing futuristic spin. F*ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, goes the motto here, so you better bring your sense of humor.
Must Try: The Bloody Mary, three ways – past, the classic recipe, present: The Harakiri (tequila, fresh tomato juice, Japanese plum liqueur, lemon, green tea syrup and spices) or future: Bloodless Maria (mezcal, clarified tomato vermouth, miso paste, shiso leaves)
4. Havana Social, Bangkok
Photo Source: Havana Social
The longest road in all of Thailand, Sukhumvit Soi, holds many familiar pleasures. But how about a secret one? On the 11th street off the legendary road to perdition is a phone booth most people walk by without a second glance. Step inside, dial the secret code and the false back swings open, transporting you to Cuba of the 40’s. This of course means rum, rum, rum, so grab a mojito like you’ve never had one before and head to the cigar lounge. All you need to do now is to find a cool local to tell you the code.
Must Try: The Sazerac (Rittenhouse Rye, Absinthe Parisienne, Creole bitters and a sugar cube)
5. Pastrami Bar/El Paradiso, Barcelona
Photo Source: Almost Locals
If you’re ever in Barcelona, you’ve got three great choices for clandestine drinking. Your first stop should be El Paradiso, a speakeasy hidden behind the fridge of a pastrami joint, fantastic in its own right if you’re looking for a bite to line your stomach. El Paradiso is headed by one of the best mixologists in Spain and its elegant decor reminds of anything but deli meat – you’ll feel like you stepped into a Spanish rendition of Hopper’s Nighthawks. All this doesn’t mean their prices are astronomical, even if the drinks taste like they should be.
Must Try: The Great Gatsby (amaro and whisky blend with vanilla and chocolate tobacco)
6. El Amario, Barcelona
The second secret bar in the Spanish second city is El Amario, or “the wardrobe”. This place is as authentic as it gets, accesible via a wardrobe located in the front room of a house. Yes, really. Opening hours are about as official as the place itself is, so you’ve got to get lucky with the timing, but boy is it worth it. We hear the best time to knock on the wardrobe like a lunatic is at 3AM, when, with a little godspeed, the owners will like your face and let you in on the best kept secret in town. So secret in fact that there are no photographs of it.
7. Speakeasy/Dry Martini, Barcelona
Photo Source: Miruna Corneanu
Last but not least, the old bait-n-switch. The guys at Dry Martini cocktail bar have flipped the script on this one: the popular bar has a secret restaurant in the back. The password protected food joint was added for locals in dire need of some fuel to keep going, but has grown more accessible with time. Today, all you need to do is reserve a spot to get in, which may sound easier than it is: this eatery is in high demand, so plan ahead.
Must Try: The Pipe (Glenmorangie and Lagavulin whiskies, absinthe, spice droplets and smoke)
8. PDT, East Village, New York City
PDT, or please don’t tell anyone about this speakeasy hidden behind an old phone booth ar Crif Dogs, a hotdog joint. Pick up the receiver to be granted entry and say hello to the taxidermy at this weird watering hole. Their drinks are just as off-kilter but just as beautiful as the stuffed fauna on display. Also, it’s open until 4AM, so you have a lot of time to get to know the inhabitants better, critter or barkeep.
Must Try: The Sixth Street (guava-spiked ginger beer, kaffir-lime cordial and pungent curry powder)
9. dinnertable East Village, New York City
Photo Source: dinnertable
Another Freaky Friday move: dinnertable is a hidden restaurant in the East Village bar The Garret. Ringing a doorbell inside the bar will open the doors to a secret restaurant serving family style food according to the owners, although we don’t know if your family meals included smoked short-rib tartare served with marble rye or a braised veal with guanciale and black garlic.
10. Sunshine Laundromat, New York City
Photo Source: Jake Inferrera
If the previous entry sounds a bit too fancy, we’ve got just the place for you: Sunshine Laundromat hides your dreams behind its piles of laundry and rolling dryers: a speakeasy unlike any other, in that it is comfortingly lowbrow. There’s no room for fancy drinks containing fish eggs here – this hidden gem serves beer, and wine, and that’s about it. It’s got a TV and 30 arcade games, which seems like way too much fun for the snooty crowd. Find the suspicious standalone dryer and step into your home, but better. Bring quarters.
Must Try: The Medieval Madness pinball machine
11. Jub Jub at Callooh Callay, London
Photo Source: Addie Chinn
The name is quite a mouthful, and arguably helps with keeping the place secret, as you really can’t mention it anywhere with a straight face. Sneak through the wardrobe in the back, which leads to a hidden bar, grab a drink and go up the staircase to another hidden bar! Barception. With a menu that changes every couple of weeks, this place will always have something new for you to discover in its hidden den.
Photo Source: Highball Hoodoo
Must Try: a new thing every time
12. Barts, London
Photo Source: Barts
At first glance, the Chelsea Cloisters look like any other residential building. But watch out for the Mickey Mouse wallpaper and all will be revealed, but smile pretty if you don’t know the passwords because the people behind the peep hole have got to like your face. With a little luck, you’ll end up at Barts, a weird little speakeasy with an eccentric crowd of locals. If your jeans seem too plain for the occasion, worry not, this place has dress up boxes for you to fall into and come out dressed like a Dickens character.
Must Try: The Purple Prohibition pitcher (Russian Standard Original vodka, black raspberry liqueur, cranberry juice, strawberry purée, lemon juice, gomme syrup and Prosecco)
13. Evans&Peel Detective Agency, London
Photo Source: The Nudge
Come armed with a hard case to crack (“where my life went wrong” doesn’t count, probably). If the case is worthy of the resident Sherlocks here, they will try to solve it while you have a drink (or two, or three…) in the hidden bar accessed by a lever hidden in a bookshelf as shown in any 90s comic. Have wine and/or beer (you best stick to one, really) concealed in brown paper bags and order your cocktails without raising suspicion.
Must Try: The Salty Can’t Dance (Angostura bitters, Ardbeg whisky, orgeat syrup, lime juice and salt)
14. Call me Mr. Lucky, London
Photo Source: Matt the List
Want to get lucky? Tell the people at this place, keep your cool, and they just might lead you down the stairs through the kitchen into Mr. Lucky’s lair. The theme, befitting the occasion, is of course tequila. This low-lit bar with chinese lanterns hanging off the ceiling is sure to do it for you. Since you got this far, you might as well take a crack at the wheel of fortune and score some free booze.
Must Try: the Tian Green Margarita (Tapatio Blanco tequila with kaffir lime leaf and red chili, lime coconut milk, and lemongrass-infused agave)
15. BYOC, London
Photo Source: The Nudge
BYOC stands for bring your own cocktail, and that is what you need to do here. Grab a bottle of something fancy, get down to this juice bar in disguise, hand the health nut behind the counter a crisp 20 and follow him to the secret speakeasy through a concealed door and down a tiny staircase. Be sure to tip your hat, for you are in the 20s now, all Edison lamps and retro tunes. This joint is so far off the map it doesn’t even have a license, but will mix anything you brought with their house finest: syrups, juices, spices, herbs, salts, and a lovely range of homemade cordials.
16. The Chelsea Prayer Room at Goat, London
Photo Source: Goat Chelsea
If all this clandestine drinking has got you feeling like a sinner, go and confess at the Chelsea Prayer Room. Tell them you’re ready to repent, be given a secret code to enter into a keypad lock and pay your dues at this small, cozy bar that’s about as far from a confessional as you can get. Grab a prayer book to inspect the menu and don’t leave here until your penance is done.
Must Try: The Temperance&Tonic (Hendricks gin, cucumber, elderflower)