An Inside Look at America's Best Speakeasies


We all have our favorite bars: the local go-to spots with good drinks, good music, and good people. But sometimes we need something a little bit more… special. That’s when we turn to our neighborhood speakeasies, the spots you most likely won’t stumble into on your own — mostly because you’d never find them. Hidden behind unmarked doors, secret entrances, or guarded stairwells, these Prohibition-era inspired throwbacks add a hint of mystery and intrigue to a night out, combining a sense of exclusivity with serious mixology.

Inspired by Armani Code Sport’s Dive into the Night Foursquare competition, we offer a roundup of some of the best of these hideaways around the country. Check out the ones you don’t know, tell us your own favorites in the comments, and wherever you go, be sure to check in and take part in the Foursquare challenge — you could win a bottle of Armani Code Sport daily, or even the grand-prize trip to NYC for an Armani shopping spree.

Click through the links below to see all our speakeasy selections.

PDT (Please Don’t Tell), New York

NYC’s most well-known speakeasy isn’t much of a secret anymore, so there’s no real need to honor the request in its acronym of a name. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it never gets old going through the secret entrance — an old-school phone booth located in late-night hot-dog hangout Crif Dogs. Drinks are made with freshly sourced ingredients in mind, both sweet and savory (bacon-infused bourbon is among the options); and with hot dogs available from next door, you won’t go hungry either. Like most of the entries on this list, of course, it’s small inside, so reservations are recommended.

Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco

You enter Bourbon and Branch through an unmarked door in downtown San Francisco. Actually, you don’t enter: you stand at the corner and wait for someone to open the door, then either give them your table reservation or tell them the password to get back to the bar (where you don’t need a reservation). Inside, a rotating bookcase leads to the bar, where you’ll find exposed brick and an entire wall full of books, antique liquor bottles, and candles. The bartenders come up with fresh drinks daily, spurring from whatever produce they find at the farmers market in the morning. Be prepared to wait while they prepare your drink, but it is worth it. – Mary Palmer

The Varnish, Los Angeles

People have been coming to Cole’s for French dip sandwiches since 1908, and while the food is still great, we’re more excited about a new tradition that started in 2009, when The Varnish opened its (unmarked) doors. Head to the back, through the nondescript door, and straight into the bar that isn’t listed on the neon sign out front. The Varnish serves Prohibition-era drinks, along with a few things that were nowhere to be seen back then (South American wine, for example). The handsome decor is understated yet elegant, utilizing plenty of wood its interior design, along with selected ornate accents. Meanwhile, the piano isn’t just a decoration — it works, and there’s live jazz every Tuesday night from 8:30-12:30. – Melissa Arseniuk

The Ranstead Room, Philadelphia

If the Rat Pack opened a bar in 1964 Philadelphia, it would have been the Ranstead Room. Inside, red leather banquets and some pretty crazy wallpaper fight for decor dominance, but don’t get distracted. You’re here for the cocktails (created with help from Milk & Honey’s Sasha Petraske): expert takes on all the classics, with the finest, freshest ingredients possible. If you’re up for experimentation, ask for a bartender’s choice; tell them your favorite spirit or mixer, and they’ll craft something totally bespoke. You don’t need a reservation — just show up and put your name in, and wait — but finding the place can be tricky, even though the address isn’t a secret. Look for a brick facade on Ranstead branded with two R’s back-to-back. – Leah Taylor

Cienfuegos, New York

Cienfuegos is above a Cuban Sandwich restaurant in the East Village. The stunning decor recalls what one might imagine as Marie Antoinette’s hideaway in a retro Cuba. They make incredibly unique and fantastic rum concoctions that are well worth the hefty price tag, featuring up to ten rich, perfectly mixed ingredients. The punch bowls are the more sensible way to go if you’re with a group, but you should love what you order, because chances are you won’t be needing another round. The food is actually more affordable than the drinks, and is delicious, as well. – Ashley Waghorne

The Florida Room, Miami

Covertly tucked beneath the swank of the Delano Hotel on South Beach, the Florida Room is a prime choice for expertly made cocktails — even with their notable $16 price tag. The lounge’s intimate vibe easily spurs all sorts of hedonistic indulgences, and head bartender John Lermayer has perfected the art of mixology here, using only fresh ingredients and Latin influences to create the 30-plus cocktail menu. Enjoy live performances by anyone from local bands to national acts, while you try drinks such as the Red Pepper Daisy (tequila, crushed red peppers, lime, agave nectar, and club soda) and the Hemingway Daiquiri (rum, Maraschino, lime, and grapefruit juice). – Omar Sommereyns

Theater Bar, New York

The most entertaining mixology spot in NYC, Theater Bar puts the drinks (and the bartenders) center-stage in a burlesque-inspired atmosphere. As far as the party goes, it may not be as much fun as founder Albert Trummer’s last venture, Apotheke (another contender for this list), but the staff is known for putting on something close to a circus act with each cocktail, at times even going topless. Plus, their main man, Orson Salicetti, is by far the best mixologist in NYC, known for his crazy fusion cocktails — such as the pickled-octopus martini. – Ryan Katana

The Violet Hour, Chicago

There’s no sign at the Violet Hour. There’s even a fake door next to the real, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance. Still, there was never a chance at keeping this upscale speakeasy a secret: Condé Nast named it one of the best bars in the world shortly after it opened. No surprise considering VH’s peerless cocktail list (drinks are crafted with uber-precision, but the wait is always rewarded) and elegant décor (dress accordingly). Doors open at 6pm, which means you’ll want to arrive at about 5:30. Once the tables are full, new arrivals wait outside for a free space. – Stephen Gossett

The Roger Room, Los Angeles

The Roger Room isn’t your typical, wannabe Prohibition speakeasy: it’s a playful (and packed) place, with a carnival twist. The unmarked door off La Cienega is next to a glowing neon hand in the darkened windows, advertising psychic readings — not to be confused with the much larger neon sign across the street advertising live nude girls — but inside, there’s no mystic to be found. Instead, there’s a small yet comfortable room where the colorful and well-accessorized crowd can mix and mingle while enjoying some top-notch beverages. The menu changes, but past favorites include the Dame, the Thug, and the Grifter, while we’ve been known to try more flamboyant-sounding concoctions such as the Flim Flam and the Zucker und Zimmt. This place is packed most nights, so come early if you can, and don’t be surprised if you’re turned away at 11:30 on a Friday or Saturday night. – Melissa Arseniuk

Manifesto, Kansas City

You enter Manifesto through an unassuming alley doorway and immediately are escorted down a dark, steep staircase to the cocktail den. Midway down the stairs, you’ll realize there are no artificial lights and suddenly can’t see a foot in front of you. The waitress will lead you to your table (you have to make a reservation in advance), where a single candle will eventually help your eyes adjust to the darkness. The drink menu is categorized by types of liquor and style of serve, while the men’s bathroom has a sign that says “Al Capone was here” — which could very likely be the case. – Mary Palmer

B Bar @ The Betsey Hotel, Miami

Unbeknown to most pleasure-seekers on gaudy Ocean Drive, there’s a hidden place past the rattan furniture of the Betsy Hotel. Just head through the lobby and down to the basement, into the dark, luxe sub-terrain of B Bar. Enter through the unmarked door to join the other revelers in-the-know, then order one of the specialty cocktails, and try not to lose yourself while looking up at the form-altering mirrored ceiling. – Omar Sommereyns

The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Philadelphia

The cocktails here are amazing, but so is the history: At the peak of Prohibition, the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company served as the front for the largest bootlegging ring in the country. These days, the bar is legit, but the mixologists do serve up some sinful drinks. The Franklin doesn’t require reservations, but the tiny, sexy bar fills up fast, so go early or expect to wait. On street level, you’ll find a doorman (who looks more like Secret Service), who will usher you downstairs. Once seated, a seriously helpful and knowledgeable bartender will present you with a drinks menu and guide you through sections like “Rebellious Spirits” and “I Asked Her For Water, She Brought Me Gasoline” and a rotating selection of cocktails often named for musicians (we enjoyed the “Free Earl” on our last visit). – Leah Taylor