Only a few years ago when speakeasy-style bars started popping up around LA, the trend may have seemed destined to be short-lived. But now with secretive watering holes opening nearly every month -- each with an entrance more elaborate than the last -- it’s clear we have an obsession with drinking in hidden places. And while LA has long been full of exclusive bars and clubs that demand you be on the list, these clandestine spots offer a fun and often low-key alternative to the velvet ropes and only require a bit of curiosity and resourcefulness to get in.
While the city has a few places that served as actual speakeasies during Prohibition -- namely the Del Monte Speakeasy in Venice and the yet-to-be-revived basement of The King Eddy Saloon -- the speakeasy revival really didn’t hit LA until 2009. That’s when The Varnish quietly opened behind an unmarked door at the back of Cole’s (which incidentally survived through Prohibition selling low-alcohol “near beers”). Shortly after, brothers Jonnie and Mark Houston opened La Descarga, the first of what would become a mini-empire of secret entrance hotspots that occupy a good portion of this list. Since then we’ve seen an explosion of secretive spots -- with some requiring passwords, while others are hidden behind highly conceptualized fronts -- and we’re likely to see more pop up in the near future.
And while some of the secret bars around town capture that Prohibition-era vibe of dark woods and Edison bulbs, these days you can find hidden entrances with themes ranging from the porn section of a video store to a disco-era rec room. And as long as you promise not to tell who told you, here are the best secret bars in LA and how to get into all of them:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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If you are looking to really impress someone and you have to cash to spare, Ten Pound Bar is the place to be. This fancy Scotch bar has an upscale dinner menu, a patio, a fireplace, and some of the oldest and finest Scotches available for you to buy.
If you haven't heard of Adults Only, it's no accident: with the craziest secret-entrance-to-a-bar, hidden in the back of a strip mall, in what looks like a porn store, this cocktail bar dispenses quality handcrafted drinks and a length beer and wine list to All Who Dare. So, do you?
After the owner's daughter took over, the Santa Monica institution Warszawa transformed into hip, refurbished Solidarity, which luckily still offers the best Polish food in the area, plus (shhhhh) a secret speakeasy in the back. You really shouldn't miss the steamed pierogi or creamy beef stroganoff in the main dining room, which is dimly lit and adorned with framed Polish art and movie posters, but make the hidden lounge your destination. At the back of the restaurant, look for a (moveable) white bookshelf next to an ice machine. The bookshelf gives way to a clandestine space outfitted with thick red curtains, eclectic vintage furniture, live piano music, and cocktails like vodka martinis and the Warsaw Mule with Polish vodka, lemon juice, ginger, and a rosemary sprig. This area also leads to a spacious covered back patio aglow with twinkle lights.
Sometimes you want to see what’s behind a door just because it’s closed, and member’s club The Rendition Room will indulge your non-member curiosity . . . if there’s room inside. Just ask the staff at Vitello’s Italian restaurant, within which our club is hiding and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be led into a dim parlor with pleated leather library chairs and flickering candles before blood red curtains veiling personal booths and a marble-topped bar. You can keep it classic with a standard martini and a shrimp cocktail, or go a bit more decadent with The Forbidden Sintini (double-espresso vodka, creme de cocoa, white chocolate liquor, cream and dark chocolate shavings) and short rib sliders . . . because you did just make it in here, didn’t you?
To gain access to this tiny, secret cocktail bar in Venice, you'll either need to email for reservations or inquire with your server at Scopa Italian Roots, the restaurant Old Lightning is hidden behind. With just enough room for 25 people, this clandestine spot is like a mid-century bachelor pad with some Tiki decor and about two dozen variations on classic cocktails. Owners Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix have curated a collection of rare liquors from estate sales, global travels, and generous friends to create killer drinks that don't get caught up in fancy foams or infusions. The pair are happy to give you some history behind these liquors, most of which are whiskies, rums, and tequilas (and often no longer being made), and craft a customized cocktail for you. You'll need to dress up for the occasion (or at least avoid shorts and flip-flops) and forgo your phone at the door.
You just filled up on Asian tapas at Culver City restaurant Fin when you see someone head down the restaurant’s alleyway. All you see down there is a service door. There’s nothing in there for you . . . EXCEPT A SECRET BAR. Alley Lounge doesn’t subscribe to the cramped, musty, faux-1920s speakeasy air that many hidden haunts do. Instead, it keeps things current: vaulted ceilings, turquoise walls, gray velvet banquettes and booths, contemporary cocktails. Yet, they still engage in some vague nostalgia play on the cocktail list with the Gatsby (cognac, Combier, lemon) while also nodding to the odd rhino head mounted above the bar with the Smirking Rhino (rye, muddled ginger, agave). The snacks are all comfort, featuring Port-braised beef tacos and buffalo chicken baguettes.
The Exhibition Room, in true speakeasy fashion, does not exhibit itself readily: In the back of Roxanne’s Lounge just past the pool tables, itself a historic yet inconspicuous Long Beach bar, lives a retro phone booth that serves as your entrance (with the password, obtainable via reservation) into a throwback cocktail cavern serving some of the most refined drinks and rare liquors in the area. Dress to impress. Dark and transportive, the 40-seat bar inhabits what was once a upholstery storage unit, but the church pews and display of alcohol relics (thanks to the Long Beach Historical Society) have classed things up since those days. Weekend live music, burlesque and comedy completes the tribute to the brave boozers who withstood the zealotry of American Prohibition.
This full blown speakeasy is located inside a standard 1980s style apartment complex, in a standard apartment. What makes it truly special is he bartending duo of Matt and Cary, who make every guest feel welcome while whipping up killer cocktails in this invite-only bar.
Pro tip: avoid the crowd at The Normandie Club, hit the buzzer at the back of the bar, and enter The Walker Inn, where your mind will be blown by their unexpected cocktails. The menu is based around an elaborate theme, such as regional climates, and it changes roughly every four to six weeks. Second pro tip: pair your cocktail with the unusual omakase-style pairings at the bar.
In the back of Cole's -- specifically behind an oak door that's marked with a framed picture of a cocktail -- is The Varnish, a tiny bar from the vaunted mixologists behind New York's Milk & Honey and Little Branch. The bar is an intimate, Prohibition-era hideaway with cozy wooden booths, soft jazz playing in the background, and expertly-made top-shelf cocktails. Order the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, or go off-menu and let the bartender make you something unexpected.
This speakeasy necessitates smart casual dress: no tees, sandals, shorts, hats or jerseys. Once you're in though, they'll be sliding boozy punches, Hurricanes, and the Elder Fashioned your way as you relax in '70s-throwback decor behind the blue light-marked entrance.
Straight out of The Brady Bunch set, this 70's living room-themed Hollywood bar is decked out with hammocks, an Airstream Trailer, and a DJ spinning Bee Gees-esque beats. It's hard to tell what's cooler -- the epic secret entrance through a refrigerator door, or the no-cover. Weekend nights usually draw the biggest lines, but Good Times is open on weekend afternoons, aka the perfect time to kick back on the patio and order up some Tex-Mex street food and craft cocktails.
On such a bizarre stretch of Vermont that the only way to describe it is "across from the Vons", Lock & Key is a speakeasy totally hidden behind this unassuming/terrifying unmarked red door. Knock on said door and a dude wearing a bowler and ascot will answer and let you in. PRO TIP: Don't ask him if he's in Mumford & Sons.
Opening tonight, Seventy 7 Lounge's an LA speakeasy in the neo-classic sense: the only marking's a glowing "Cocktails" sign, and the only way in is to tell the doorman the password, accessible every day on their Twitter, which is now finally useful for something other than following @GloriaSteinem.
From a former Doheny barman and the guys behind Piano Bar, La Descarga is a painstakingly-designed, two-story ode to pre-Fidel Havana, complete with a secret entrance, weathered ceiling/walls, a felt banquette, bathrooms festooned with reprints of old, Cuban newspaper articles, and a bar made of white Carrera marble.