The famous speakeasies during the Prohibition era—hidden spaces often requiring secret passwords where bartenders urged their patrons to “be quiet and speak easy”—may have numbered in the hundreds of thousands. It’s estimated that in New York City alone, there were more than 30,000 of them. Today, in a nostalgic throwback to that bygone era, speakeasies have once again become all the rage in most metro areas and even some smaller communities, with many of them sporting the inconspicuous entries and nostalgic decor of yesteryear, when sipping a cocktail was a true occasion. Here are seven easy-to-get-to but perhaps not-so-easy-to-find options well worth the effort of seeking them out.
The Den at Ghost Baby. Courtesy of Ghost Baby
Down a hidden alley in the Over the Rhine neighborhood, two purple globe lights mark the point of entry to this subterranean space that once housed one of the many breweries found in this former German immigrant neighborhood. Enter first into “The Rattle Room,” which, even with its elegant Art Deco vibe, does little to prepare you for the much larger space, The Den, which is positively drenched in swank. Crystal chandeliers hang from the vaulted ceiling over semicircular banquettes adorned with fringed red lamps.
Unique cocktails sport unusual ingredients like basil, carrots and rhubarb, while other choices include mocktails, hemp seltzers, wine and, of course, beer to honor the neighborhood’s heritage. ghost-baby.com, (513)-381-5333
Tiki Tiki Bang Bang serves cocktails that taste as good as they look. Photo by Catie Viox
Tiki Tiki Bang Bang
Two skeletons dressed in island garb hint at what lies behind the bamboo curtain at the back of what appears to be a shuttered video rental store. Step through it to a Polynesian paradise where a thatched roof overhangs the bar and woodcarvings of stern deities dot the walls. The bartender shouts “Aloha!” to all who enter, while the sounds of Hawaiian luau music or Carmen Miranda songs fill the air and video screens show classic beach movies.
Not surprisingly, the cocktail list is filled with fruity and frothy rum drinks—Mai Tais and Painkillers, natch, but also such concoctions as The Screaming Skull with hazelnut liqueur, Curaçao and chocolate bitters. The menu warns that some of the bold concoctions here will cause “intense sensations to the senses.” See if you agree. discoveryrumclub, (513)-559-9500
Sacred Palm. Photos by Ann Fazzini
Located in the basement of Mikey’s Late Night Slice in the hip Short North neighborhood, this Tiki-inspired space is a challenge to find. Walk through a darkened kitchen clean-up area, and suddenly you’re greeted by neon lights, faux cherry blossoms cascading from the ceiling, a bamboo bar, and tufted couches and club chairs. Owner Mike Sorboro describes the place as a “Tiki-easy” with elements of Miami Vice and Las Vegas lounges thrown in.
Rum drinks are popular here, with the Sweet Poison—made of two rums, blue Curaçao, tropical juices and coconut—a top seller. As cool as the place is, it once was even cooler, quite literally, since patrons formerly entered through a refrigerated beer storage area until the local Health Department put a stop to it a few months back. latenightslice.com, (614)-869-0249
Wiseguy Lounge. Photo by Rich Warren
Decorated with mugshots of Prohibition-era mobsters, Wiseguy Lounge is tucked upstairs from Goodfellas Pizzeria. Its made-from-scratch cocktails, some with up to 20 ingredients, include the Broken Hatchet and the Wooden Nickel. A crowd is likely to form during their dramatic preparation. The first is made with bourbon, hazelnut, black walnut, rye bitters, cinnamon and crème brûlée and ends with a flash of fire, and the second, with bourbon, muddled blueberries, blue maple agave, allspice dram and several kinds of bitters, culminates with a puff of smoke. Every three months, a new set of imaginative cocktails is created by Wiseguy’s artistic mixologists. goodfellaspizzeria.com/wiseguy-lounge, (859)-916-5209
Hell or High Water’s library. Courtesy of Hell Or High Water
Hell or High Water
Enter a door marked “Duluth Trading Company” into a nondescript foyer, and wait for a wall to swing open to admit you. Then, descend into Hell or High Water, a chic subterranean space sporting Art Deco light fixtures and old-timey radio speakers playing jazz standards.
Take a seat in the Red Velvet Lounge (where you press a call button to summon a server) or in the two-story-tall Library, with leather couches and armchairs and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves where patrons frequently leave messages (even marriage proposals!) to each other inside the hundreds of volumes shelved here. Cocktails fall into either the strongly alcoholic “Hell” category or the sweeter, fruitier “High Water” group. hellorhighwaterbar.com, (502)-587-3057
Pin + Proof. Courtesy of Pin + Proof
Pin + Proof
Louisville’s Pin + Proof, nestled in the downtown Omni Hotel, is perhaps the world’s only speakeasy with a four-lane bowling alley. Throw some strikes or spares while enjoying mint juleps or Manhattans mixed with the best of Kentucky’s bourbons—perhaps even from several dozen private barrels featuring one-of-a-kind bourbons. The cocktails include both an Old and a New Fashioned (made with rye and absinthe) as well as the Hard to be Humble and the Float and Sting, both paying homage to the city’s native son Muhammad Ali. The vintage decor includes a series of large brick archways that were part of the city’s water department headquarters, which once stood on the hotel’s site. omnihotels.com/hotels/louisville/dining/pin-and-proof, (502)-313-6664
Prohibition Bourbon Bar. Photo by Rich Warren
Prohibition Bourbon Bar
Claiming the largest collection of bourbons in the world—more than 6,400 varieties at recent count, including some selling for many thousands of dollars per bottle—this intimate bar also offers more than 600 varieties of rye, 250 different scotches and 70 types of Japanese whiskey.
Located at the rear of a coffee-roasting business inside a building that once housed a pharmacy fronting an infamous speakeasy frequented by mobsters and mafiosi, the spot has become a pilgrimage site for bourbon aficionados, many of whom travel hundreds of miles to drink the rarest of the world’s rare bourbons. newberrybroscoffee.com, (513)-300-1347
Although they’re no longer illegal, speakeasies give that same thrill to patrons of being “in the know” about their mysterious locations as they did during Prohibition. Visit any of these establishments—if you can find them—and see for yourself.