Charleston: The Ultimate Local's Guide
Hidden on the second floor of the Montage Beverly Hills, just above the newly minted Georgie restaurant, you’ll find a super-swank whisky bar unlike any other -- OK, maybe one other. £10 is the official North American outpost of Macallan Scotch (the only other one is in Dubai!), where you’ll get to sip some of the finest single malts in beautiful Lalique crystal glassware with ice spheres made from imported water from the Scottish Highlands. It’s also the only place in the Western US where you can sip 65-year-old Macallan, making this about as luxe as speakeasies come.
How to get in: Make a reservation by calling or texting (310) 906-7218. And be ready to spend a bit.
After gorging yourself at Animal, you’ve likely wondered about that mysterious place across the street with no sign, blacked out window, and a steady stream of model-types making their way past a bouncer. Well, wonder no more. Inside -- if you manage to make it in -- you’ll find a low-key, dimly lit club with exposed brick, velvet curtains, vintage chandeliers, and elaborate artwork created by some of the rockstar clientele. At the heart of the bar is a weekly rotating menu from Chef Jared Simons that features everything from Southern comfort fare like the signature fried chicken to a hearty bolognese to an upcoming monthly Sunday dinner series with plant-based versions of the weekly menu like smoked carrot tartare and Southern fried hen of the wood mushrooms. Simons then works with the talented bar team to develop creative cocktails and wine selections to pair with the menu.
How to get in: Call (323) 651-1583 for a reservation. Or know somebody.
Remember when you were a kid and really wanted to peek inside the “Adults Only” section of the video store? Well, now you can at this secret Hollywood spot. Only instead of The Complete Works of Ron Jeremy, you’ll find beautiful stained-glass windows, plush couches, a pool table, and a big screen showing cult classic movies. Oh, and adult beverages, of course, like the snicker-worthy Rusty Trombone with tequila, grapefruit, and white pepper syrup, or the Money Shot, which includes a can of beer and a shot of fernet.
How to get in: Look for a fake video store (are there any other kinds these days?) in a Hollywood strip mall and follow the glowing pink neon sign at the back.
Warszawa, Santa Monica’s decades-old Polish institution, recently reinvented itself as Solidarity. In addition to a spiffy refresh to the restaurant, they’ve created a secret bar with thick red curtains, eclectic furniture, a piano, and plenty of vodka (obviously). Beyond the lounge area, there’s also a spacious covered patio where you can sip martinis to your heart’s content.
How to get in: Make your way through the dining area (stopping first for pierogi and stroganoff, of course), and look for a (moveable) white bookshelf next to an ice machine.
Tucked in back of the legendary Vitello’s, this new speakeasy is actually a members-only club (kind of like the jackets), but they allow walk-ups whenever there’s room in the 35-seat joint. Inside you’ll find wingback chairs and intimate booths, 1929 Wurlitzer jukebox, cocktails made from small-batch spirits, like the new D. George Benham's Sonoma Dry gin and LA’s own Loft & Bear vodka, and small plates, like waffle fried chicken bites.
How to get in: Become a member or ask at the front desk of Vitello’s if space is available.
From the team behind Scopa Italian Roots comes a bar... behind Scopa Italian Roots. Without giving away too many of the hush-hush details, inside you’ll find what feels like a mid-century bachelor pad with some Tiki flourishes and room for about 25 people at a time. And while you’ll find a menu of about two dozen variations on classic cocktails -- no fancy foams or infusions here -- the real draw here is the extensive collection of rare liquors that Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix, the booze nerds behind Scopa, have collected from estate sales, global travels, and generous friends. The lineup leans towards whiskies, rums, and tequilas -- some of which aren’t even made anymore -- with which they’ll happily walk you through a bit of history and create a customized cocktail. Also, prepare to leave your phone at the door and skip the shorts and flip-flops for the night.
How to get in: Email for reservations or have a friendly chat with your server at Scopa.
Should you find yourself in need of a clandestine watering hole after eating at Asian tapas spot Fin, head down the restaurant’s alleyway and look for what looks like the kitchen's service door. On the other side, you’ll discover a sleek little bar with deep blue walls, dark wood, and white wooden animal heads. Because what would a secret bar be without a huge rhino head on the wall? Order up a distinguished cocktail like the Nucky Thompson with gin, sweet vermouth, and amaro, and, should your hunger return, there’s a late-night menu with bites like the slow-roasted beef tacos.
How to get in: Walk down the narrow alley next to Fin, round the corner and look for the peacock. Well, a painting of one anyway.
Some of the best cocktails in Long Beach can be found through that 1940s-era phone booth standing at the back of Roxanne’s Lounge. Once you say the correct password into the phone’s receiver, you’ll be whisked inside a former upholstery storage space that’s now a 40-seat bar featuring well-worn church pews, a cocktail museum thanks in part to the Long Beach Historical Society, and an impressive liquor collection -- including hundreds of small batch and hard-to-find whiskies, gins, and liquors -- used in making some exceptional cocktails. They also feature live music and entertainment Fri-Sun, tiki nights every second Thursday, and the occasional silent film.
How to get in: Make a reservation on the website, get the password, go to the phone booth.
Unlike some of the more “official” bars on this list, this under-the-radar spot is actually located in somebody’s apartment in Glendale. Roommates Cary Daniels and Matt Blackburn, the team behind the intimate cocktail gatherings -- that usually consist of only about a dozen or so guests -- took the summer off, but are returning this fall with an expanded collection of rare spirits they picked up on a road trip home to Texas that they look forward to sharing with guests. What started more as an R&D night to test out new cocktail creations on friends -- Blackburn has worked in several bars around town and wanted room to get more experimental -- quickly exploded into a highly sought after hideaway. Despite the demand, the duo has purposefully kept the gatherings intimate, so that they can interact with guests and introduce them to their latest liquor discoveries in cocktails -- like the Hibis-kiss with pisco, hibiscus, lavender, and egg white -- that use homemade shrubs, tinctures and hand-carved ice cubes.
How to get in: Follow them on Instagram and keep an eye out for invitations then hit them up via the email in their bio asap.
This charmingly sorta-divey K-Town bar can be spotted by the solitary “R” on the exterior. If you know the password, you'll get access to great drinks, bar bites like wings and tacos, and likely a raucous night of karaoke. They even have a secret boozy brunch with a killer breakfast burrito.
How to get in: Know. The. Password. (Hint: Check the bar’s Facebook page.)
Since you’re probably overdue for a fresh trim anyway, head to this two-for-one barbershop where you can get a shave-and-a-haircut followed by an Old Fashioned at the bar in back. That’s right, it’s business up front, party in the back -- just like that mullet that you should definitely ditch while you’re there.
How to get in: Make your way through the door at the back of the shop.
The Parlour Lounge
This moody cocktail lounge is tucked in the basement of Long Beach's Federal Bar, inside the former bank’s old vault. To get there, make your way to the back of the upstairs bar towards the bathrooms and then look for a hidden door where you’ll be asked for a password before making your way downstairs.
How to get in: Kindly ask one of the staff of the Federal Bar and they can likely help you out.
If you thought the cocktails at The Normandie Club were insanely good, just wait until you discover the seasonally rotating, omakase-style cocktail service of the intimate bar hidden inside. If you want the full tasting menu experience (and you do!), make a reservation for the bar seats two weeks in advance. Otherwise you can reserve a spot in the lounge area, or try your luck just walking up (though aim for early and a weeknight if you hope to get in).
How to get in: Make a reservation online or just head to the back of The Normandie Club, look for a little buzzer to the left of the door and hope there’s room.
One of the older spots of LA’s recent speakeasy boom, The Varnish is a fantastically subdued and cozy spot hidden behind Cole’s one of the oldest bars in the city that actually operated through Prohibition. The dimly lit haunt offers fantastic cocktails, intimate booths, and an upright piano that gets a workout every Sunday-Tuesday after 9pm for live jazz.
How to get in: Grab a sandwich at Cole’s -- the disputed birthplace of the French Dip -- and then head to the door in the back. Arrive early though, as seating is limited and the crowd is kept to a minimum.
You may have already guessed that this kinda Latin-themed lounge in the Valley doesn't have any signage, just, uh, red doorage; what's not totally clear is that in addition to delicious drinks, it also has an excellent food menu.
How to get in: Go to Robano's Pizza. Walk down the alley. Find the red door.
Secreted away inside of The Line Hotel is a totally rad '80s-themed bar from those maestros of secrecy and themes, the Houston brothers. Once you manage to get inside, you’ll find DJs spinning your favorite jams, '80s memorabilia galore, private karaoke booths, and nightly performances from breakdancers and Michael Jackson impersonators.
How to get in: Look for a line near the loading dock, then go find yourself a snack inside. Trust us.
Another Houston brothers hideaway, this '70s-themed shack hooks you up with groovy decor, a swingin’ soundtrack (DJs and live music), a far-out back patio, and plenty more vintage vibes. Can you dig it?
How to get in: Look for a garage sale in an alleyway, then take a closer look at that refrigerator.
Just judging by the nondescript exterior of this K-Town spot, you might pass it off as another generic dive instead of a super stylish cocktail bar. You also may be surprised to discover a great rundown of food, including a knockout banh mi chicken sandwich, and an airy patio with a second bar.
How to get in: Step inside the front room, then try to figure out which door knob will actually get you into the bar.
If you didn’t find the whiskey you were looking for in the vast collection of Seven Grand, you either A) have very refined tastes, B) really want to expand your whiskey knowledge, or C) have trouble making decisions. Whichever the case (or all three), you’ll want to migrate from the main spot into this tiny, exclusive bar, where you’ll sample some seriously hard-to-find whiskies and learn tons from the knowledgeable staff. You may even be convinced to become a member and get your own whiskey locker.
How to get in: Make your way to the back of Seven Grand and look for an unmarked door and a doorbell. Become a member to make a reservation or try your luck by walking up (ideally on the early side and not on Friday or Saturday).
While we don’t usually advocate wandering down back alleys, we make an exception for this Parisian-themed speakeasy. Here you’ll find antique chandeliers, crushed velvet wallpaper, an absinthe fountain, and live jazz and burlesque performers some nights. They also have some solid bar bites to keep the Green Fairy of the absinthe cocktails at bay.
How to get in: Follow the neon “Cocktails” down the alley to a wooden door.
The historic Janes House -- the oldest residential home on Hollywood Blvd and where Charlie Chaplin and other stars sent their kids to school -- is now home to another elaborate Houston brothers hideout. Inside you’ll find meticulously restored details like ornate crystal chandeliers, tin ceiling panels, and dark wood beams, while outback you’ll get a beautiful patio surrounded by a brick wall and a white marble bar from the 1930s covered by a glass greenhouse frame that makes you forget you’re in the heart of Hollywood. On weekends there’s live jazz, burlesque dancers, and gravity-defying performances, including jugglers on a tight rope.
How to get in: Find the doorman in the back of the building, have patience, then find yourself guided towards a bed, that’s not just a bed...
At this secretive Houston brothers tribute to 1950s Havana, you’ll find lots of rum-fueled drinks, a special cigar lounge, live music, and plenty of fiery dancing. Sure, you can hop a flight to Cuba these days a little easier than in years past, but if you’re a little short on travel funds, La Descarga is a great alternative.
How to get in: Making a reservation helps, so do that first. Then look for a nondescript door on Western Ave where a doorman will show you to an office, where you’ll then be directed to a closet. You’ll want to go in that closet.
Not far from No Vacancy is yet another Houston brothers spot -- this time underground in a space believed to have been actor Rudolph Valentino's speakeasy in the 1920s. The sultry, cavernous bar promises quality drinks (surprise!), plenty of Prohibition-era flourishes, DJs spinning just about everything except jazz, as well as live music some nights.
How to get in: Look for a doorman in front of an alleyway just off Hollywood Blvd, inquire politely about the secret code, make your way down a staircase and enter said secret code.
This magical spot is yet another in a long line of bangers from the Houston Brothers. In this case, it’s an ode to classic illusionists like Houdini, with cocktails that take on mystical properties (i.e., smoked at the table) and a secret entrance that leads into a showroom, which features nightly performances from Magic Castle vets and an actually-good jazz night from Fred Durst -- yep, that Fred Durst.
How to get in: Look for the door off of Hollywood Boulevard; you’re going to need a separate ticket (available via the website) for the shows, though.
Playa del Rey
This whiskey bar is part of the multi-concept Playa Provisions space in Playa Del Rey; the menu is stacked with the brown stuff, displayed in vintage barrels in a wood-covered room that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to Tennessee.
How to get in: Enter Playa Provisions, then look for the door under the red light.
This ultra-tikified bar in the massive Clifton’s Cafeteria is based on a long-forgotten restaurant from the 1930s, and leaves no tropical stone unturned. The themed decor includes a full-sized boat (!!), tiki-god totems, and dangling lights, the cocktail list is obviously rum-soaked and Trader Vic's-influenced, and live performances (ranging from Polynesian dancers to ‘40s-influenced bands) happen regularly.
How to get in: There’s a secret staircase downstairs -- find it, and you’re there.
This lounge is hidden inside the ultra-fancy Kendall’s Brasserie, and has become sort of a go-to before shows at Disney Hall, as well as a late-night jazz destination downtown, thanks to its classy vibe and seriously delicious cocktails. There’s also a separate food menu with oysters, short-rib poutine, and pig-ear trotters, perfect if you want to indulge in some great food without watching your wallet go bust.
How to get in: You can make a reservation online, but most nights you can walk in by talking to whomever’s at the host stand at Kendall’s -- who’ll then escort you to the door next door.
Located inside Laurel Hardware, this speakeasy specializes in vodka -- just kidding! It’s fully stocked with around 100 different mezcal varieties, and there’s also a menu of contemporary Mexican dishes (to help gird your stomach for the aforementioned 100 mezcal varieties). It’s ultra-tiny, with just a few art deco-ish tables and a small bar, so get there early when the place opens at 5pm -- and then, after you’re properly mezcal-ified, it’s an easy walk through the curtain to dinner.
How to get in: Go to Laurel Hardware, and look for a curtain at the front of the restaurant. Now walk behind that curtain.
Hidden inside Downtown’s Bar Clacson and named after a motorcycle term sits this highball-oriented, rock-themed speakeasy from The Varnish’s Eric Alperin and NYC impresario Richard Boccato, which has only eight cocktails on the menu (simple stuff, like Jack & Ginger, as well as an Old Fashioned) and tons of punk vibe to boot. Don’t miss the old-school Pac-Man and pinball machines towards the back wall, either!
How to get in: Walk through Clacson and look for the sign that says “Highballs” with an arrow. Follow the arrow.
Sunset & Vinyl
Possibly the most secret bar on the list, Sunset & Vinyl -- a turntable-themed bar with a ‘60s-and-’70s motif in an unlikely (and fully unmarked) location above 800 Degrees in Hollywood -- doesn’t even have a web page, Facebook page, or an Instagram account. Nevertheless, here’s the low-down: It’s the 800 Degrees chef’s place, he’s got some people from The Three Clubs helping run the show, and you should go there. Now.
How to get in: Go into 800 degrees, walk past the bathrooms and up the stairs, and you’re in.