Farewell to the 18th Amendment, but not to the bars that act as though we’re still in the prohibition era!
Speakeasies originated during the 1920’s when alcohol was then illegal but the demand was still so high that establishments were driven underground to service the needs of John Q. Public.
To gain entrance to a speakeasy one would have to provide the correct password to the doorman so as to protect the integrity of the secret (and illegal) operation. Speakeasy was a term bartenders used to remind their patrons to “speak easy,” so that unwarranted suspicion would not be brought upon theme and essentially foil the ruse.
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For purposes of this article I’m qualifying a speakeasy as a bar that aspires to maintain the secretive spirit that harkens back to this bygone age. Optimally, there should high quality cocktails, a secret entrance, an unmarked building, a required password and decor fitting to the prohibition era.
The bars listed below have many of these qualities (some more, some less) but I especially wanted to locate joints that required a password, just like back in the day!
So if you’re feeling a little adventurous and want something a bit different for your next cocktail night out, be sure to check out one of these awesome spots.
Basement Tavern at the Victorian
Located beneath a 19th century home is a speakeasy inspired bourbon bar. For entry, you’ll need to trail to the house’s rear, spryly duck down a flight of stairs before reaching a subterranean space with taxidermy and exposed piping. Drinks here aren’t as mixology-driven as the other speakeasies, so visitors should feel at ease ordering a beer, vodka cranberry, or something from their bourbon-focused menu.
2640 Main St
Santa Monica, CA 90405
A vintage-inspired barbershop precedes this two-year-old speakeasy on Washington Street in East Village. From the storefront it doesn’t look too out of the ordinary, with its plain white door and spinning barber pole. However, after 6p.m., head to the back of the barbershop where you’ll find a characterless door that serves as a passageway to a dark, but active bar. Inside you’ll find a parlor complete with brass taps, a worn checkered floor and grandpa’s den. Pair any one of their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with one of their daring and unique beverages.
10797 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Carefully hidden inside an underground bank vault in the Historic Core is a vintage inspired bar with red vinyl booths. Extract some liquid assets from this dark neighborhood bar with an intimate space called the Boot Nugget Room, where thumping speakers won’t interrupt your private conversation. This intimate bar that holds only about 80 or so will truly make you feel as if you’re one of the privileged to have entry to this vintage speakeasy inspired bar.
801 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
This New York style speakeasy is directly beneath the Houston Brothers’ other bar, No Vacancy. Rumor has it that this space used to be Rudolph Valentino’s speakeasy, where he’d escape with a bevy of beauties. True or not, the myth makes for an even more alluring speakeasy inspired Los Angeles bar. Make sure you know the password and be prepared to see the word “SEX” in large font as you enter. It shouldn’t be that entirely surprising, since Dirty Laundry has now earned the status of one of the city’s sexiest bars.
1725 North Hudson Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90028
The Del Monte Speakeasy at Townhouse
Underground catacombs and caves leading from the former Abbott Kinney Pier to the basement of the Townhouse transported illegal shipments of whiskey and rum to its equally illegal Del Monte Speakeasy. A stairway in the Townhouse will lead you downstairs to a classy vintage room with low ceilings. They’ve got a boutique list of seven cocktails, all $12, ranging from a Moscow Mule to a Fiery Paloma, made with jalapeno infused Arette Blanco, tequila, lime, grapefruit, giffard pamplemousse and salt.
52 Windward Ave
Venice, CA 90291
Los Angeles’ first private power plant has been transformed into a hip bar characterized by dark and eccentric features. No password is required at this back alley bar, but reservations are recommended and they do enforce a dress code. Yet another hostess in flapper attire will escort you and your cocktail clad friends down a grand staircase enforced with iron banisters into a nightclub that fuses the 1920s with industrialism. The space here is vast with enough features to entertain you as you sip the night away in the historical Higgins Building.
108 W 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Good Times at Davey Waynes
The Houston Brothers have done it again with their refrigerator tribute to Narnia. If you love That 70s Show, dive bars and a speakeasy feel to a bar then Good Times at Davey Waynes has to be added to your bar to-do list. It all starts with a garage sale and a group of you piling into a garage among a line of dapper-dressed people. Then through a refrigerator you’ll enter a 70s living room with retro beer cans, candy and a ton more and then the main bar where beer taps are coming out of antique refrigerators. They even have an Airstream with alcoholic snow cones. I think it’s safe to say this place is pretty rad.
1611 N El Centro Ave
Hollywood, CA 90028
This Cuban-themed reservation-only bar on Western Ave operates in typical speakeasy fashion. Expected guests are led up a narrow stairway into an office, inspected for on-point attire and then are admitted entry through a secret armoire closet into the heart of the Havana-inspired speakeasy. Once you’ve entered the Cuban Narnia you’ll be treated to live music, sexy burlesque shows every hour and great drinks. If that’s not enough, a hallway resembling a back alley just behind the bar will lead you to a cigar bar where quality Dominican leaf cigars are rolled. Choose one with full bodied smoke or one with a medium flavor.
1159 North Western Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Lock and Key
Find the illuminated key and unassuming red door on Vermont Ave to explore one of the most cleverly designed speakeasy entries in Los Angeles. Behind that red door is a black wall with hundreds of locks and doorknobs; one of them actually will allow entry. A kind hostess will play the you’re getting warmer game as you try to decipher which door lets you in. When you’ve finally chosen the correct one you will be whisked away into a bar with top-notch cocktails and smooth jazz. Oh and don’t look up if you’re not accustomed to mirrored ceilings.
239 S Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Next Door Lounge
A dapper doorman dressed to the nine’s in a three piece suit and top hat will politely greet you before requesting a password in exchange for entry. If allowed entry, you’ll see waitresses dressed in red flapper dresses sashaying past you, plush sofas and black and white movies projected on the wall. Expect classy drinks such as champagne cocktails, snazzy fizzes, and nifty sours.
1154 North Highland Ave
Hollywood, CA 90038
This Hollywood bar in the historic Hotel Juniper offers 3400 square feet of pre-prohibition fun. Built within the Janes House, you’ll travel upstairs and through a dimly lit corridor and past some locked rooms before you’re put through a series of tests that will determine your eligibility for entry. If allowed entry into this hotel inspired bar from the men of La Descarga you’ll be privy to a lot of gin, garters, phonographs and old fashioned bar stools.
1727 N Hudson Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028
The Parlor Lounge Inside the Federal Bar (Long Beach)
If you ask a server at the Federal Bar in Long Beach, they’ll hook you up with a password for the speakeasy that resides beneath. Just past the upstairs bathrooms you’ll find a nondescript staircase leading to down to a richly decorated, intimate space, perfect for a late night cocktail.
And coolest of all? Because the bar is built inside what used to be a bank, they’ve actually reconstituted the old vault as a VIP area where you can get bottle service.
102 Pine Ave
Long Beach, CA 90802
Located across from Paramount Studios, Pour Vous offers Angelenos a Parisian prohibition speakeasy parlor complete with aerial dancers and fire-throwing/eating acts. There won’t be any sign out front and it might look a bit eerie at night, but that changes once you pass through the thick velvet curtains. When inside you’ll admire the theatrical lighting as it highlights certain sections of the room as you claim a spot by the focal fireplace. If there’s a certain day of the month you’re not looking to hit up another dive bar, this is place to go for sophistication and elegance.
5574 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
This establishment in Koreatown doubles as a dive bar and speakeasy. The building is not entirely unmarked, but the upside is that the password changes every few weeks instead of daily. Often overlooked, this unpretentious bar offers the basics, but has an atmosphere quirky enough to be worthy of a spot on your bar hopping Saturday evening.
3331 W. 8th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
If you just happen to stumble upon a red neon “Cocktails” sign in a dark alley in the heart of Culver City, you’ve somehow navigated yourself to Seventy 7. The owners of Rocco’s Tavern have tucked their new alley-speakeasy behind their Italian eatery. A new password is required daily by a man who gives you the once over through a sliding window in the entry door. Once inside, the design is reminiscent of the Prohibition era, including the 1920s era drinks.
3843 Main St
Culver City, CA
The Sayers Club
This bar’s existence may often go unknown simply because its entrance is through the back of a Hollywood Papaya King. Who would have thought a classy lounge’s entryway would be via a hot dog shack? At a yellow door next to Papaya King’s counter you won’t be asked for a password, but your name will have to be on the list. Upon entry you’ll step foot inside a large room with leather sofas, dim lighting and a stage that might descend from the ceiling sometime during your visit.
1645 Wilcox Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028
This trendy bar in Pasadena is most recognizable for its superb drinks including a roster of 250 beers. During the day people might think this is just a New York style deli, but at night it becomes unrecognizable. A number 25 above the entryway is the only indicator that you’re actually at this speakeasy inspired bar in Old Town Pasadena. Red dim lighting softy floods the space where you must correctly answer either a question or riddle on their Facebook page for entry. When answered correctly you’ll find bartenders dressed as flappers, candles lining the walls and speakeasy decor throughout the bar.
25 N Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91103
Tucked away in an old storage room of the “Originators of the French dip,” lies an intimate, laid-back speakeasy only accessible by a top-secret door. In speakeasy fashion the only give away of its existence is a cocktail etching on the door. A throwback to “Boardwalk Empire,” the location is quite fitting and welcoming of intimate conservations with a small group of friends or a new beau.
118 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
A 19th Century English inspired speakeasy named after a village not far from Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford Upon-Avon invites you for an evening of elegance and style. All decorative pieces, reminiscent of an English manor, have been shipped directly from England for an authentic experience. Expect to see the staff wearing bowties, skinny suspenders, rolled-up sleeves and guests who dress similar to that era. Guests can choose from one of three rooms to occupy themselves in and for kicks we suggest hanging out in the Sidecar.
1029 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
The Writer’s Room
Launched by the
self-important literary genius James Franco, this hangout encourages attendance from a creative crowd. What was once the ‘back room’ of Musso & Frank’s until the 1950s when the Vogue Theater acquired it, lies a vintage-inspired cocktail bar. Legends like Fitzgerald and Faulkner used to occupy this space between rewrites and now you can too even if you aren’t some legendary screenwriter or author of some sort. The hidden entrance between Las Palmas and Cherokee Avenue will lead you to a wooden staircase that takes you down to a narrow interior filled with vintage furniture and antique chandeliers. Get your name on the list and for an evening you can pretend you’ve been transported back to Old Hollywood.
6685 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90028
Do you know of a secret bar or speakeasy in L.A. we omitted in our list? Have tips on any of the above establishments? Let us know in the comments below!