Atlanta’s Best Secret Bars (And How to Get In)
The roaring ‘20s are not back, but retro drinking establishments that people can't stop roaring about most certainly are. And no, it’s not like you really have to speak quietly about where these places are and how you get into them -- as this very article proves -- because alcohol is gloriously legal to drink and Prohibition is never coming back -- except for maybe vaping (but who cares?). So, take the information below, memorize it, and share it as loudly as you want.
The expansive restaurant/winery/concert hall opened this past summer, and just announced what’s probably Atlanta’s newest, speakeasy-style cocktail bar for folks looking to hide out for an intimate evening, all week from 6 p.m. to midnight. The “luxe industrial” design borrows from PCM’s guts and bones, with good decorative use being put to vintage electrical boards and switches leftover from when it was an old Sears & Roebuck. At the bar there’ll be cocktails such as the Masataka Swizzle (Nikka Taketsuru 12-year Japanese whisky, amaretto, lime juice, demerara syrup, and mint), and the El Conquistador, which blends Mezcal Amaras Espadin, sherry, spiced pear liqueur, and lemon.
How to get in: You’ll need to follow them on social media (citywineryatl on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) where, every week, they’ll release a name. Once you’ve received it, head out to PCM; there’s an unmarked door on the left side of the art supply shop Binders, where you’ll find a door guy waiting for you to tell him that name you heard, or, you know, to just stare at you like you’re in the wrong place.
Nothing’s wrong with you if you never knew there was a speakeasy inside the delicious Muss & Turner’s because everything’s right with the food and drink in the main area. The place is named after an “in-house sage” who throws monthly meet-ups for ladies at one of the designated tables where featured speakers break down all-things-life. If you’re not female and find yourself uninvited, just go any other time -- there are great chicharrones and charcuterie to go with your “Brown Thrasher,” a concoction of bourbon, lemon, Amaro Averna, and hickory-smoked apple shrub.
How to get in: Walk straight in and keep going until you get to what looks like a walk-in cooler, open it, walk past the wine cellar, down the hallway, and start soaking up the atmosphere as well as the cocktails.
RPB, which now has a not-so-secret pizzeria attached to it, gets the style of Prohib-era cocktails as close as you’re gonna get them, thanks to fresh juicing, rare tinctures, bitters and flavor agents, and hard-to-find liquors including a Pappy that’s hundreds for an ounce. The bartenders are always as well-dressed as are their bevvies and the venue itself, with its hand-painted backlit ceiling, honey onyx bar, and restored brick floors. They’ve also got a “mob-style” kitchen which you can rent for private poker and pool games, with tables already set up.
How to get in: Find somebody who knows the phone number, or try hitting Amalfi first and tipping your bartender.
The owners of Speakeasy also run Bone Lick BBQ, which means you can get smoked wings and other great meat madness to layer your stomach with before walking through the bookshelf door leading to the hidden bar. It sits just above The Music Room, which is usually a bit noisier with DJs spinning dance tunes all night, so Speakeasy is an ideal spot if you need to get away from the loudness and grab a classier cocktail. Get there between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. for $5 classic cocktails (paloma, daiquiri, mule) and global street eats, including a Cuban sandwich called “Castro’s Pop Tart,” or Taiwanese fried chicken.
How to get in: Walk into Bone Lick, past the bar, hang a left near the kitchen and look at the bookshelf. It’s really a door -- those books are glued on and aren’t going anywhere. Pull the wooden frame; it swings open to the right.
Below and behind El Azteca is one of the weirdest, tiny dancing places not even Elton John’s ATL lovin’ ass could have seen coming. Expect an industry crowd early in the week, where other bartenders and service staff get their drinks even more low-priced than you, but that only makes the conversations that much more colorful. Also, if you see people dancing, there’s a good chance that they’ve been partying all day/night, so be prepared to walk around them as they groove to DJs like Speakerfoxxx -- which inspires some quixotic and jerky dance moves.
How to get in: Go down and around the back of the restaurant to a graffiti-paint-dripped gray door. If it’s after 10 p.m., El Bar is open, the door will open too.
It was called The Fred, but Taco Mac must’ve realized beer bars aren’t human, so the owners renamed it and kept the seasonal, classic, and very rare beers (plus added more). It's also got wines and cocktails, and didn’t alter the beautifully barrel-shaped interior. GA did, however, take away the requirement to have a high number of their “Brewniversity” loyalty points to drink the good stuff, and made it so you can get in there and enjoy premium brews -- about a dozen drafts, 50+ bottles, and a secret stash of 750ml brews that start around $20. They’ve also got a smaller, separate food menu that includes beer-brined wings, flatbreads, truffle fries, and knockwurst with bacon-braised onions.
How to get in: Walk down the side of T. Mac, behind the building, and you’ll see a door with a plaque of a monkey. Knock, and ye shall be received.
Smokebelly went belly-up, but The Blind Pig stayed up while the space on the other side transitioned from BBQ to Mexican (it’s now Chido + Padre's). Not much else changed. They’ve still got the ornate rugs, dark-painted brick walls and wood furnishings, and all the other trimmings you’d expect from their secret-society-inspired hangout. Drinking is definitely throwback-fancy -- ask for a Roosevelt (espresso liqueur, small-batch bourbon, velvet falernum, chocolate bitters, lemon and egg white), or the timeless gin and Green Chartreuse Last Word. And don’t miss their occasional comedy sessions featuring local and traveling acts.
How to get in: They’ve calmed down on the password stuff; just arrive Friday or Saturday after 8 p.m. and before 2 a.m., and look for the black unmarked a door with the small pig attached to the wall above it.
Tri-Cities residents don't care that you don’t know what the hell goes on in Hapeville, East Point, or College Park, but you’re going to want to be included on The Duck Club, as it’s tucked inside the rear of Rev Coffee Roasters -- yup, the same folks from the great coffee spot in the Jonquil (no-man’s-land) area of Smyrna. Inside the dimly lit shotgun space, you’ll find hung animal heads, tapped beers by Hapeville’s own Arches Brewing, a damn good fried chicken sandwich, great wings, and one of those six-sided poker tables.
How to get in: Walk in Rev and head to the back-right side of the room. There’s a door just before the back wall, and a hallway that curves to the left. Go there. It leads to your happy place.
Chops is already exclusive enough, as evidenced by the price point on the unbeatable seafood and steaks, but there’s even more secrecy and selection when it comes to what it's hiding for real elites. Pick a cigar from the huge humidor room to smoke, and listen to a live pianist or cellist while you drink and experience great secret service. Ask for the Frank Sinatra table if you’re really believing you belong.
How to get in: You could look for the secret door, but the staff will just quietly laugh at you since you’ll have to be a member or have one walk you in. Find a way to get that done, then go outside and to the back, and look for a big dude with a list, near a door.
Rare 750ml bottled beers, parlor games like shuffleboard and skeeball -- as well as ancient British ones no one knows about or cares for like “skittles” and crokinole -- are all waiting for you underneath a menacing giant squid hanging from the ceiling (don’t worry, it’s wooden). BBP keeps a great, rare 750ml cask beer situation, and hosts a ton of events that make it not as stuffy as other local speakeasy-esque joints (read: Argo-Skee, date night comedy shows, weekly all-vinyl DJ parties, and more). The bad news? Um, there isn’t any. Other than you’ll need to take yourself home at some point.
How to get in: B-line it through Argosy, straight to the back, after 8pm, Wednesday-Saturday only.
It’s not necessary to know anybody famous -- or be in the mafia -- to get into one of ATL’s best steakhouse’s secret den. The dark-bricked hideaway has large paintings between wraparound booths with arched entrances, and the mirror-backed, glowing marble bar is perfect for leaning against -- which helps as leaning and drinking do kinda go together. While you’re there, you can order anything off of KR’s menu, from lobster Calabrese risotto to a 26oz porterhouse for two.
How to get in: It’s reserved for private events Monday through Thursday, but open to anybody Friday and Saturday nights. Just tell the host at KR Steakbar you wanna go to The Bureau, and they’ll lead you in -- through the kitchen. Or walk the red-lit corridor.
The name means “secret,” and you might walk right by it if you’re trotting around Two Buckhead Plaza looking for speakeasies, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to find or that folks don’t know it’s there. Based on the Japanese idea of exceptionally detailed service (“Omotenashi”), this dimly lit, mid-century modern-meets-brutalist bar is reservation-only, serves small plates and desserts, and isn’t shy about pricing drinks, so expect to pay around $20 per cocktail (and yes, they’re worth the markup). Plus the experience of being in a cloaked, two-story environment where everybody knows they’ve been screened in advance makes for a very bossy evening, and sets up a night of stories that you shouldn’t be sharing anyway.
How to get in: You’ve gotta make an email reservation request, and you have to include the word “LOVE” in the subject line. You have to be referred. You can’t bring a large party in. You’re encouraged to not run around yapping about it either, so be mindful of that if you intend to have your next reservation accepted.
Located underneath the main bar of Buckhead’s oldest British bar is what looks like a bunker for World War II veterans that never aged, possibly due to alcohol’s amazing pickling effects. Are there frills? Hell no! Drinks? Hell yes! And darts.
How to get in: Walk past Churchill's super-divey main bar, and down that uninviting staircase near the bathrooms. The private-membership vibe makes it a lot less hole-in-the-wall-y, but that’s also part of the mystique.
Just behind Churchills, you’ll find S&D. This 25-and-up venue sells itself for private events but is also a good place to be on Thursday nights, where members and folks who are privy to its location come through to mingle and dance without the fratty aftertaste of other Buckhead spots. The concept is Wall Street greed, and their high-end spirits -- including rare vintages of Japanese whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon, as well as cocktails such as the bluish Bull Market (mezcal, lemon, crème de violette and agave nectar) -- are well worth the investment. There are even “vesseled” group cocktails that clock in around $100 and can handle up to eight folks.
How to get in: Look for a private wood porch after 9 p.m. It leads to an unmarked door. You don’t have to be a member, but they get special privileges. And while membership is free, it requires invitation.
Formerly the tasting room of Old Fourth Distillery, this Edgewood Avenue sipping station is modeled after Prohibition-era “locker club” speakeasies historically located around Downtown (AKA private clubs where booze was securely stashed away so only members could swig). Step inside the wooden walls, belly up to the marble-topped bar, and have cocktails in draft format (G&Ts, mules, etc.), specialty mixes like the amazing “Milk & Honey” (a bee’s knees with milk-washed gin), or pre-bottled cocktails like the strawberry collins made with O4D’s gin and vodka.
How to get in: No membership is required, just don’t show up between Sunday and Wednesday expecting to be served. Hours are Thursday to Saturday, 7 p.m. to midnight.
Rumor has it that Robert Downey Jr. and all those other big movie stars filming around ATL these days are secretly dining, drinking, and partying the night away inside this extra-secret hidden spot in the same building as Local Three. It’s from the same team, the crew behind Muss & Turner’s, but unlike Eleanor’s you can’t just walk your regular ass in and feel special. It’s more of a high-end, exclusive restaurant than a bar (fancy steaks and seafood, particularly), and the decor is throwback Hollywood, with movie memorabilia and framed images of classic film moments. At least that’s what we’re allowed to tell you.
How to get in: Be invited. Who knows how that works, but you probably need to already have money, since this isn’t at all open to the public. And word on the street outside is that memberships cost thousands of dollars per year, but once you’re paid in, you can basically come inside and ask for whatever the hell you want, and it’s not likely to be turned down.
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