There is something thrilling about going to secret bars
making the booking, dressing up, finding it and ordering a not so ordinary drink. Here’s where to get the world’s best secret thrills!
You may have heard about the concept of secret bars and speakeasies. You must make a reservation (sometimes ages before!), there’s no sign, and when you knock you have to give your name or a code word to be let in. They typically serve cocktails and more expensive beer types, and some are known to mix cocktails to order – just tell them what flavours you like and a magical concoction will appear.
You may not have heard where this concept came from, other than it being a seemingly easy marketing trick. In the Prohibition era in the US, in the 20s, alcohol was illegal and so illicit bars started opening up, called speakeasies (you had to talk quietly about them), blind pigs or blind tigers (which circumvented the law by having an act with a free drink for customers). They were very profitable and flourished despite numerous raids and would often serve cheap cocktails made with moonshine (locally brewed alcohol) and something sweet to mask the taste of the moonshine. And obviously you had to be “in the know” to know the location and how to get in.
Nowadays this concept is retro and is making its comeback, with venues popping up all over the world. Cool cities have cool bars, and so we’ve done some research and found the best of the best in the trendiest cities, so that next time you’re in any of these places you have your night sorted.
Callooh Callay – A beautiful Lewis Carroll themed-bar with an amazing list of cocktails that will make you want to come back regularly, that actually consists of three secret bars. The first is a small seemingly normal bar, the second is reached through a wardrobe, and the third requires a passcode.
Ladies and Gents – The entrance to the bar is hidden in what seems like a public toilet. Most cocktails are made with their own distilled liquors that include gin and whiskey.
Kench & Bibesy – Seemingly an industrial restaurant, the downstairs moveable brick wall opens to a dark bar with a limited but impressive selection of cocktails. They also do seasonal small plates.
Bart’s – Hidden in an apartment building in Chelsea this is a very popular spot, so make sure to get your reservations in on time. The drinks are good and some are strange (there’s one with Stilton in it…) and there is a small garden with shisha.
The King of Ladies Man – Set inside the slick Breakfast Club, this is a 1970s styled bar with drinks from the same era, done well.
The Butcher – Have a trendy burger and then when the night gets going, head through the kitchen to the secret speakeasy. You need a password to get in, but it’s worth a little hassle. Creative cocktails and friendly bartenders (unheard of in the Netherlands) make for a wonderful evening.
Le Syndicat – Find the clean spot on a dirty graffiti covered to open this secret bar. Complex cocktails await in an intimate atmosphere.
Moonshiner – Hidden inside a pizza place is a book and prohibition themed speakeasy that serves great gins and cheese.
Buck and Breck – There are endless waiting lists so book well ahead if you’re headed this way. The bar is behind a rundown façade, inside it is all German clean minimalism. The cocktails are created based on your likes so be ready with some ideas!
Green Door – This is more a kitsch kind of secret bar with cozy corners and atmospheric lighting. It’s a bit out of the way but also a lot more local and less hipster, so if you’re looking for something a little more low key this is a good bet.
Museum Bar HR Giger – Hidden in a tiny village in Switzerland this is a bit of a trip to get to. But if you are into cavernous skeleton-vaulted spaces (the designer designed the set for Alien…) and don’t mind stunning views all around then this is worth a little de-tour. And of course you can eat gruyere cheese.
Foxglove – You’ll need some Sherlock Holmes skills to master this one – finding the right umbrella handle to open the door to the bar, and then finding which cocktails will make your evening magical.
28 HongKong Street – This modern bar is found in Chinatown and hidden by curtains. Don’t bother showing up without a reservation and don’t skip the buttermilk fried chicken.
The Baxter Inn – This secret bar is in a basement in Sydney’s Central Business District. Don’t let the door fool you, inside is a luxurious bar with an impressive selection of whiskeys. No reservations for a change!
The Croft Institute – Why is it that so many speakeasies are in Chinatowns? It’s hidden in a small alley (where else?), and looks like laboratory rather than a bar downstairs, while upstairs looks like a gym. Your cocktail will come in a syringe. Of course.
PDT – Short for Please Don’t Tell, the only way into this bar is through a phone booth at a hot dog place. And of course in addition to the wonderful cocktails, enjoy some old fashioned simple hot dogs.
Raines Law Room – Raines Law was the law that first made alcohol illegal, even before Prohibition. You need a booking to get through the unmarked door, and ordering is done with a pulley system. And then you get customized mind-blowing cocktails.
The Back Room – Another rare authentic speakeasy that actually operated during Prohibition. Only discoverable through finding a sign that refers to a toy company, this cozy bar still serves drinks Prohibition style: in tea cups and in paper bags.
Bathtub Gin – Bathtub looks like a coffee shop but once you find the secret entrance you enter the Prohibition era in all its glory. They serve small plates so no worry if you haven’t had dinner yet.
The Gibson – Make a reservation and be hipster to get in. The cocktail list seems short but in fact the bartenders have a lot more up their sleeve so don’t be afraid to ask.
Blue Room – This bar is found behind a bookcase on the fourth floor of the Los Angeles Athletic Club. A real speakeasy from 1912, it has seen a few celebrities and is stacked with memorabilia and photos. Unfortunately, it’s members only, so you need to find a member friend first.
No Vacancy – To get inside involves a house, a bed, doors and more. Walk in to great cocktails and shows which are, well, fiery.
Lock & Key – Once you have found the entrance, you will need to find the right doorknob that opens the door to the bar. They are known for their negronis!
Blind Barber – Fronting as a barber shop, the back is a wood-panelled atmospheric bar. They also do gourmet sliders so come hungry as well as thirsty.
Local Edition – Hidden in a basement, this bar has a newspaper theme. Lots of typewriters. They also have a theater for movies, and on movie nights the drinks will be customized to the movie theme.
Ipswitch – Ipswitch is the super secret bar inside Bourbon and Branch. On top of to The Library, Wilson & Wilson and Russell’s room, the other 3 secret bars at B&B, Ipswitch takes climbing through a trap door and a lot of convincing the staff to get in to.
The Gotham Club – Behind the scoreboards at the AT&T Stadium is a member only bar. It’s fun with arcade games, ice cubes in the shape of baseballs and bowling. Now all you need to do is find someone who is a member to take you.
Noble Experiment – Push the kegs near the bathroom at Neighborhood restaurant for the door to Noble to open up. Inside you will find skulls. Lots of them. And lots of cocktails, thank god.
Room 13 – Tucked in an alleyway in a hotel you need a password and a membership to get in. Unless you happen to be staying at the hotel, in which case you’ll get to enjoy this bar as well. Note there is a dress code!
Fifth Province – This is a speakeasy pointing to Irish heritage. Drink Guinness and do a little riverdance at this traditional Irish pub.
Williams & Graham – This is the bar you were all hoping exists. You go into what looks like a bookstore, and on the boozy book shelf you pull the right book to open the door to the bar. An extensive range of cocktails, we wouldn’t expect anything less, will keep you busy throughout the night.
Fiume – The entrance is at Ethopian restaurant Abyssinia. Take the stairs and find yourself at Fiume, which feels more like a living room than a bar. Lots of craft beers and whiskeys but at reasonable prices, something we’re not used to from secret bars!
Jules Basement – This is not a prohibition style bar. Think minimalist with skulls and live jazz.
Don’t forget to read Sarah’s article about: Champagne Cocktails