How to Get Into Philly’s Best Speakeasies and Hidden Bars

From candle-lit underground bars to secretive attic dives.

Thanks to Hollywood, you can probably imagine what it’s like to visit a secret bar. You, the super cool protagonist, swagger down a smoke-filled alley toward an unmarked door. You ring the buzzer and feel a pair of judgemental eyes appraise you through the peephole. Maybe you offer a password. And then, just like that, you waltz into the coolest hangout in town for a night of who-know-what. End scene.

Philadelphia is full of secret-ish bars that work more or less that way, often harking back to the Prohibition-era and all the stiff drinks that came along with it. If you’re looking to inject a little intrigue into your nightlife routine, try out the moody atmospheres and discerning crowds of some of Philly’s best-kept secret watering holes. From candle-lit underground bars to secretive attic dives, you’re sure to find something on this list you’ll dig. Just remember: If anyone asks, you didn’t hear about it from us.

Hop Sing Laundromat

Chinatown
$$$$

After a lengthy hiatus, Philly’s most heralded speakeasy is back. If not for the line of well-dressed patrons waiting outside, Hop Sing Laundromat’s unmarked entrance would be nearly impossible to spot. Pass through the wrought iron gate, though, and you’ll find a spot that’s been dubbed one of the best bars in America. Home to one of the largest collections of liquor in the country, Hop Sing offers expertly crafted cocktails and a setting so intimate and lovingly curated, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped through a time machine. Led by mononymous owner Lê, the good folks at Hop Sing do put up vibe killers, and they’ve got a list of banned patrons to prove it. The bar maintains a strict set of house rules, which you’ll learn upon entering. Here’s a start: Bring cash, tip well, stash your phone (no photos allowed), and, if you can manage it, don’t wear shorts. These days, you’ll also need your vaccination card. Not a picture of it. The real thing.
How to get in: Look for the door with the wrought-iron gate and stainless steel buzzer between 10th and 11th on Race Street. If you go on a weekend it won’t be hard to find, since you’ll likely be joining a queue of people waiting for a seat.

Kontrol

Midtown Village
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The corner of 13th and Juniper is hard to miss on a Friday night, thanks to Bru and Tradesman’s, two concepts from Teddy Sourias’ growing monopoly on Philly’s nightlife scene. These bars and restaurants attract the masses with satiating grub, generous beer lists, and rollicking energy. Underneath the party, though, you’ll find another, more low-key spot to chill. Kontrol, Sourias’ cocktail concept, has no street entrance. It’s in a subterranean passageway that connects Tradesman’s to U-Bahn (another underground establishment from Sourias). Hit up Kontrol’s for industrial vibes, bratwursts and barbeque from the aboveground establishments, and refreshing cocktails from Craft Concepts’ Alexis Alman.
How to get in: Enter through either Tradesman’s or U-Bahn. If entering through Tradesmans, take the stairs down. If entering through U-Bahn, look to your right at the bottom of the stairs. You’ll find Kontrol waiting.

Blind Barber

Midtown Village
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Blind Barber’s storefront at 13th and Sansom presents three stylish-yet-unassuming barber stations. By day, the establishment offers haircuts, house brand grooming products, and a refreshing cocktail. The drink portion of the service may come as a surprise to new patrons, but regulars at the barbershop know that just beyond the facade lies a multilevel speakeasy and restaurant with checkered floors, 70s-inspired artwork, and many more cocktails where that came from.

Presented by a group of owners and partners including Phillies’ All-Star Bryce Harper, Philadelphia’s iteration is the newest location in a chain spanning NYC, Chicago, and Los Angeles. That said, this location is anything but cookie-cutter. Specialty and seasonal cocktail offerings are designed by general manager Phoebe Mortell of Loco Pez notoriety. The bar’s food menu, which includes light bites as well as several creative and delicious-looking variations on grilled cheese, is the work of chef Alex Young, a newer face on the scene. Stop by Wednesday through Friday for happy hour food and drink specials, live music, a good haircut, or all three.

How to get in: By night, head through the unmarked back door of the barbershop for a food, drink, and entertainment experience unlike any other in the region.

Graffiti Bar

Midtown Village
$$$$

We can’t vouch for every alleyway or darkened corridor in Midtown Village, but if you follow the one near the Northwest corner of 13th and Chestnut, you’ll find something awesome at the end. Graffiti Bar, named for its street art-inspired decor, is the year-round, outdoor hideaway established by restaurateur Michael Schulson. Attached to Sampan (Schulson’s contemporary Asian restaurant concept), Graffiti bar offers Asian fare, a lively crowd, and an extremely cool setting for a birthday celebration, weeknight jaunt, or to catch the game. You’ve just got to find it first. The 30-seat, open-air bar is known to fill up early, likely due to its generous happy hour menu. Monday through Friday, 4 pm to 7 pm, head to Graffiti Bar for dumplings, bao buns, and spring rolls under $5, as well as specials on cocktails, wine, and beer.

How to get in: This one is hiding in plain sight: Look for the red neon “Graffiti Bar” sign next to Sampan, then make your way down the narrow alley and hang a right.

The Pen & Pencil Club

Midtown Village
$$$$

While most of the spots on this list are newish ventures seeking to invoke a Prohibition-era mood, the Pen & Pencil Club is an OG speakeasy and one of the oldest press clubs in the country. Since 1929, the club has offered much-needed drinks to journalists, reporters, radio hosts, and other media types. It’s off-the-record, too, if that means anything to you. P&P’s laidback, divey vibe is perfect if you’re looking for some real conversation and a stiff drink (we hear you should ask for the Emeritus Manhattan). Plus, its members-only status means the club stays open much later than Philly’s typical 2 am curfew. Hungry? Brace yourself. P&P is (in)famous for its crockpot of hotdogs. Fun fact: The late great Anthony Bourdain took a shot of Pen & Pencil hotdog water in 2012 after losing a game of rock, paper, scissors.

How to get in: Pen & Pencil club is members-only and largely attracts press, attorneys, and service workers. However, current members are pretty chill about sponsoring a newbie. Head to 15th and Latimer, look for the neon “P&P” sign, and see if anyone is feeling generous.

Ruba Club Studios

Northern Liberties
$$$$

You never know just what you’ll find at Ruba Club, one of the city’s most storied social clubs, Established in 1914 as the Russian United Beneficial Association, Ruba began as a speakeasy for Russian immigrants. These days, the bi-level event space has become a destination for burlesque, cabaret, film screenings, and more. Ruba Club is known for its after-hours crowd, usually filling up around 2 am with partygoers who aren’t ready to call it quits. On off-nights, you’ll find plenty of pool and pong on the first floor. No fancy-schmancy food or drink lists here. Just affordable beer and cocktails for an interesting crowd.

How to get in: Short of having a membership to the Russian United Beneficial Association, or tickets to a show, you’ll likely have to pay a cover to get in. Head down Green Street toward 4th. There will be a darkened courtyard on your left side. Look for a weather-beaten upright piano.

The only bar in Philly where having dramatic friends pays off, Quig’s Pub is a speakeasy for actors and others in the industry above one of the country’s oldest professional theater companies, Plays and Players Theatre. Established in 1911, Plays and Players is no stranger to a big production. But don’t expect a red carpet at this cash bar. Quig’s is endearingly no-frills, exuding that Big Dive Energy that only Philly can muster. With a crowd largely made of theater artists and off-shift bartenders plus a rare $4 beer and shot special, there'll be no shortage of interesting company and conversation. Plus, the bar’s last call doesn’t roll around until 3 am, so you and your scene partner for the night can run lines ‘til late.

How to get in: The easiest route is to become an annual member of Plays and Players, granting you access to Quig’s and other perks. Too big a commitment? Pop in for a show. Afterward, you can mosey on up to the third floor and find this secluded haunt. On a non-show night, your best bet as a non-member is to ride the coattails of your favorite thespian. Regulars can bring a guest.

Palizzi Social Club

Passyunk Square
$$$$

Named after the Italian Painter, Filippo Palizzi, this social club opened its doors in 1918 as a private spot specifically for immigrants from the city of Vasto in Italy’s Abruzzo region. Over time, the club’s membership guidelines have relaxed, and now it’s known among discerning Philadelphians as a destination for old-school Italian cuisine, amazing cocktails, and vintage decor that feels like a page torn from a history book. You might recognize the name of owner and chef Joey Baldino from his Sicilian BYOB, Zeppoli, in Collingswood, New Jersey. At Palizzi Social Club, expect a mouth-watering menu of shareable bites and entrees, every recipe passed down and perfected in the Baldino kitchen. A coveted dish among members is the raviolo vasto, a large ravioli made with spinach and brown butter. The cocktail menu also draws on traditional, classic mixes, with each drink named after a former club president.

How to get in: You’ll need a membership or a friend with one (Palizzi Social Club members can bring up to three guests per visit). Look for the South Philly row home with a red neon sign that says “Filippo Palizzi Club.” Once inside, curb your urge to take a selfie. Cell phone usage is discouraged.

The Foto Club

Harrowgate
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Up for an adventure? Try the Foto Club. This far-flung social club is way off the beaten path of Philly’s popular nightlife neighborhoods. But once you’re there, you really can’t miss it. Its standalone building provides some of the only light you’ll see on the lonely corner of Frankford and Butler in Harrowgate (or Kensington...or Port Richmon, depending on who you ask). Inside, you’ll find an unpretentious but handsome bar awash in warm red and yellow lighting. The indoor/outdoor bar downstairs offers a firepit and spacious wraparound porch. During the warmer months, you’ll find vegan food trucks like Moto Foto slinging delicious meatless treats. Upstairs, you’ll find a spacious dance floor.

How to get in: You’ll need a membership or a member friend who can vouch for you.

Vesper Center City

Rittenhouse
$$$$

A concept by Glu Hospitality (think Figo, Añejo, and Izakaya by Yanaga), Vesper is a swanky reimagination of what was once a Prohibition-era speakeasy and later a gentleman’s dinner club. While the bar in itself is not exclusive, it does hold a little secret for those in-the-know. Delightfully tucked behind a bookcase and down a secret passageway, Vesper’s secret bar is a quiet place to escape the high energy of the main floor. The speakeasy limits the use of cell phones to keep an old-world vibe, so do your best not to document the experience. In addition to the list of standard and seasonal cocktails, the speakeasy has crafted special cocktails around their current resident program, Deceptions. Billed as a “magical night of mystery and illusion,” Deceptions stars Mervant the Deceptionist, a master illusionist who will shock and amaze you (as if the secret passageway wasn't enough).

How to get in: Turn on your charms with the bartenders. If you’re cool, they’ll give you a secret password that unlocks the bookcase and leads to the speakeasy. If not, listen close to the surrounding company. You might hear the password in passing. Say the password into the rotary phone (you’ll know it because it is literally a rotary phone), and the bookcase should open.

Matt Thompson is a contributor for Thrillist.