The Best Speakeasy Bars in LA, and How to Get in
From Cuban salsa dens to hidden doorways that lead to clandestine cocktail destinations, here are LA’s best speakeasies.
From dive bars to rooftop hangouts and fancy cocktail bars, LA has no shortage of top-notch drinking destinations. But if you’re looking to swill behind the velvet rope in style, look no further than the city’s speakeasies, tucked behind concealed doorways and in nondescript back alleys, for unexpected entertainment, drinks, and fun. Since Prohibition, the popularity of underground bars has only heightened, especially in a city like ours where everyone’s looking for their next hidden gem. So the next time you’re craving a Roaring ‘20s-inspired night, head to one of LA’s best speakeasies, ranging from a Cuban salsa den to Old Hollywood haunts and more.
Walk through an unmarked door on Melrose Avenue and up an unfinished staircase into a secret space. The small jewel-box cocktail bar is decked out in Victorian-era furniture, including an actual claw foot bathtub and a small outdoor patio, all to transport you back to the Roaring ‘20s. Stay for the burlesque show on Tuesdays, live jazz on Wednesdays, a saxophonist on Thursdays, and DJ nights on Fridays and Saturdays. The menu features modern versions of classic drinks, food (Lobster Mac n Cheese, Steak Frites, pasta, burgers, s'mores, and more) and even a separate Gin & Tonic menu with eight variations from all over the world.
Death & Co
Hailing from NYC's East Village is this speakeasy where the focus is on the craft cocktails. Enter the building through the unmarked door (past La Cha Cha Chá) and head down a flight of stairs to the basement level where you'll find Standing Room, a walk-up bar that accommodates only 30 people at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis. Designed to be a pre-Death & Co. experience while you wait for your table next door, Standing Room features just eight cocktails. Once in the main Death & Co bar, snag one of the 15 seats in a classic yet playful ambiance with moody dark nooks and tables. Led by beverage director Tyson Buhler and head bartender Matthew Belanger, the cocktail menu here features an original list of 25 imaginative drinks that rotate seasonally and are organized by their flavor profiles. While the cocktails here are known to be on the pricier side, they’re strong and definitely worth it.
Transport yourself to Cuba at this Havana-themed bar. Enter from the street where a door man stands guard in front of a nondescript apartment building. There are two lines —one for walk-ins and another for reservations (make them online ahead of time). Walk up the candle-lit stairwell to find a hostess who will open an antique armoire trap door that leads you to Old Havana, Cuba. Descend the spiral, wrought-iron staircase and take in the Cuban band, dancers, roving cigar servers, and back rooms with more contemporary Latin hits and reggaeton music. The setting is dimly-lit and sultry with chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, cozy booths, and an overhead balcony where dancers appear alongside live musicians Thursdays through Saturdays. As with all the Houston brothers’ venues, be sure to check out the dress code before arriving —men must wear button downs and cocktail dresses and heels are encouraged for the women.
The Slipper Clutch
Rounding out Downtown LA’s bar scene is this music-focused watering hole. Tucked behind the welcome Chatterbox Bar, The Slipper Clutch can be found by a small neon “Highball” sign that guides curious guests to open the side door and enter another era. Sip on classic cocktails amid neon graffiti, pinball machines, and dancers from Jumbo’s Clown Room, plus food pop-ups and live bands in the upstairs Slipper Mezzanine, transporting you to lower Eastside Manhattan in the early ‘90s. Expect thumping bass, guitar, and hardcore and punk acts in a low-ceiling setting with graffiti pens for guests to tag the walls.
One of LA's longest standing speakeasies with a hidden entrance is Blind Barber. With two LA locations, one in Culver City (the original) and another in Highland Park, snag a haircut in the barbershop in the front and enter the secret lounge in the back. Enter through a nondescript door into a lounge with wood paneling, leather booths, and a bar serving up seasonal cocktails.
The Houston brothers reign supreme when it comes to LA speakeasies. Enter this Old Hollywood hotel from the back alley and look for room 1902. There will be a woman of the night laying in bed in the room who might share a bit of her story before opening a hidden door to No Vacancy's sunken indoor-outdoor bar with dark wood paneling. Stop by on a Friday or Saturday night for burlesque acts and live music.
Break Room 86
Escape to the ‘80s at Break Room 86, where a flashback awaits behind a retro vending machine entrance. To get there, head to the back of the Line Hotel, near the dumpsters, and look for the yellow arrows on the sidewalk pointing you in the right direction. Once inside, order drinks off of the VHS tape menu and enjoy the DJ's retro beats or one of the four karaoke rooms — there are even vintage arcade games and an old Pepsi vending machine. And if you stay in the main room, be sure to catch the performances by breakdancers and grab food from the nostalgia-inducing Lunch Box (Cup O'Noodles, Bagel Bites, Hot Pockets and Reese's Pieces).
Be sure to arrive early to LA's legendary bar, The Varnish. Located through Cole's (which claims to be the inventor of the French dip sandwich) in the back of the dining room, this speakeasy can be found with the help of the door attendant, who will take you to the oak door that’s marked with a framed picture of a cocktail. Order classic pours from the bartenders while you wait for your table (first come, first served — no reservations) paired with limited bar snacks. Some of the city’s best bartenders have come out of this watering hole where they pay tribute to both classic and modern cocktails. Expect live jazz music Sunday through Tuesday in the dark, dimly-lit atmosphere with antique wall sconces and moody booths.
Lock & Key
Check out this neighborhood cocktail den in the heart of Koreatown. The theme here is doors — find the red neon sign of a lock and a key and walk through the doors to be presented with more doors. The entrance hall is covered in locks and keys until of course you find the right one to turn. Once you're inside, find lounge seating indoors and an outdoor patio, where you can dance to DJ sets and live bands. Order seasonal cocktails and punch bowls from the bar, or from a pizza window serving up Chicago deep dish, New York-style and Sicilian pies, as well as fries, wings, and more munchies.
The Del Monte
Established in 1915, the Del Monte is one of the city’s oldest bars and located in the basement of Venice’s Townhouse. Functioning as a real speakeasy almost a century ago, the dimly-lit historic spot gets crowded with burlesque dancers, live music, DJ sets, dancing, and more. The space is open until 2 am every night except for Sundays.
Specializing in Japanese whisky is this hidden bar within Seven Grand, the Downtown whiskey bar. Not your classic speakeasy where you go through a hidden entrance, but more of an intimate chill vibe where drink curators come to your table (there's no standing room and a maximum of 35 guests at a time) to get to know your tastes and what you'd like to explore on your whiskey journey. The curator then comes up with a custom flight of whiskies based on your preferences. Expect a candle-lit atmosphere with leather chairs and leather-bound menus, with jazz music blaring throughout through the stereo or record player. There's even an outdoor patio for cigar smoking.
Walk into this Hollywood adult video store marked by a pink neon “Adults Only” sign, in a strip mall no less, only to go to the back where VHS tapes and movie posters line the walls to enter the bar space behind the curtains. The upscale dive bar features reupholstered church pews and dimly-lit full bar with a pool table. DJ sets help turn the space into a rowdy club-like atmosphere.