Food & Drink

The Insider's Guide to Phoenix Speakeasies

Published On 10/18/2016 Published On 10/18/2016
best phoenix speakeasies
Under Tow

Imagine a world without bars… it’s not pretty, huh? It’s almost hard to believe that the generations before us struggled through Prohibition, drinking in secret, seedy places just so that we could proudly sip our cocktails without fear today. But the idea is sort of sexy, too. Lucky for us, some of these hidden speakeasies still exist in modern-day Phoenix. From historic hidden rooms and underground basement cellars to newly constructed hideaways, this is your ultimate guide to Phoenix’s speakeasy-style drinkeries.

Melinda's Alley

Downtown Phoenix

This mysterious-yet-cozy 49-seat bar is located deep beneath the Renaissance hotel Downtown. Decorated in Victorian-era flair, it’s one of the newest cash-only speakeasies in town where thirsty weekend drinkers can get their fill of modern cocktails and gossip about whether Melinda was a former brothel madam (or so we’ve heard). While there’s no established address for this spot, just look for the red light in the alley. If it’s on, the drinks are pouring.

Arizona Biltmore

The Mystery Room at the Arizona Biltmore

Phoenix

You’ve got to know the “whisper word” to get into this historic speakeasy, which originally opened in 1929. Accepting guests on an invite-only basis, the Arizona Biltmore was truly the bee’s knees and heralded as a jazz-age celebrity hangout. The Mystery Room -- once a men’s smoking room for drinking bootleg beverages while the resort kept watch for Prohibition raids -- was accessed only by a secret staircase, and its bottles of booze were concealed behind a double-sided bookcase that swiveled. After Prohibition ended, the resort opened its first non-secret cocktail bar in 1933. Although Prohibition is over, the Mystery Room has kept to its true social function. Look for the “whisper word” on the resort’s social media pages to get access to the drinking spot on Sundays.

Lauren Topor

Honor Amongst Thieves

Phoenix

This second-story lounge is located above The Colony, and is one of the newest cocktail bars in Phoenix. Although it’s not located underground, this hidden cocktail hangout has no shortage of Prohibition-era flair. From the drinks to the decor, Honor Amongst Thieves nails it. The drink menu is divided by martinis, signature cocktails, cheekies (small shots), and citywides (a beer and a shot). And, when you order your libation, in true speakeasy fashion, you’ll likely get a “welcome shot” with your cocktail. Drinkers can use the back stairs to get in -- but be aware, seating is limited to only 80 people.

Rokerij

Rokerij

Phoenix

Translated to “smokehouse” in Dutch, Rokerij specializes in just that. Take the stairs down to the Rokerij cellar and imbibe in cocktails like margaritas and martinis, or choose from a menu filled with steaks, chops, and a lineup of small bites including grilled shrimp, chipotle ribs, blackened scallops, and bacon-wrapped jalapeños. The dimly lit underground drinkery is furnished with copper top bars, wood-clad ceilings, and plush seating areas with cushy booths. This dungeon-esque spot is a weekday happy hour must, but it’s also great for brunch on weekends, where you can order favorites like huevos rancheros and a breakfast quesadilla.

The Womack

The Womack

Phoenix

This '60s-inspired cocktail lounge just swung open its doors -- making it the newest spot on this list. The throwback-style bar pays homage to the eccentric Phoenix nightlife of the past and the now-shuttered iconic hotspot Chez Nouz. There are no windows in this dimly lit bar, and the moody space is complemented by rich leather seating and gold-flecked velvet wallpaper. The menu features classics like lobster caprese and French onion dip, and you’ll likely find 1960s staples such as the sloe gin fizz and an amaretto sour on the cocktail list.

Hanny's

Downtown Phoenix

This swanky restaurant and bar is housed in a former department store that was constructed in 1947 called Hanny’s. Today, the name is still the same, but you won’t find any dress shirts or snappy shoes. Instead expect a vast combination of great food and drink, including Champagne cocktails, wines, classic martinis and Manhattans, and a selection of beer in addition to other boozy concoctions. Be sure to take a ride in the glass-floored vertigo elevator to the basement while you’re here.

Under Tow

UnderTow

Arcadia

Making its debut this year and modeled to look like the hold of a clipper ship navigating the seas, Arcadia’s inconspicuous underground drinkery is unlike anything that Phoenix has ever seen. UnderTow features an ornate wooden hand-carved bar and is laden with cargo elements one might see on a ship. Currently offering about 30 different exotic drinks, including Tiki cocktails like the Scorpion Bowl, Dutchman's Demise, and the Smoking Cannon, UnderTow is bringing old-school Tiki back to life with a new twist. There’s no food on the menu here… yet. Soon, hungry patrons can order a bite from a selection of about 15 small dishes put together by chef Cullen Campbell of Crudo from across the street, which will include tastes like bao, shumai, and ribs. The space is small, so reservations are highly encouraged.

Lauren Topor

The Ostrich

Downtown Chandler

Positioned directly below Crust, in the basement tunnels that run underneath Downtown Chandler, this craft cocktail lounge has a storied history. The space that’s now The Ostrich was once a popular secret drinking destination for thirsty travelers and Arizona’s elite. The low-lit, speakeasy-styled space is decorated with cozy, historic furniture, and the menu lists classic Prohibition-era cocktails alongside new concoctions like The Candlestick Maker, a mezcal-filled libation, and The Baker -- a modern take on a whiskey sour.

Valley Bar

Valley Bar

Downtown Phoenix

This destination for live music, spoken word, and performance just so happens to be located underground. To get there, you’ll have to navigate an alley and take a flight of narrow steps downward. Once you’re inside, make your way to the Rose Room, named after Arizona’s first lady governor, the late Rose Mofford. This loungey space offers a list of more than 50 wines and a collection of unique cocktails, many of which are named after iconic, or infamous, Arizona politicians. Valley Bar also features a full kitchen which turns out eats like flatbreads, charcuterie boards, and salads. We recommend visiting on Sunday when Valley Bar offers all-day happy hour.

Kazimierz World Wine Bar

Scottsdale

Called Kazbar for short, this underground Scottsdale wine bar offers a vast selection of wines. And when we say vast, we mean it. This trendy haunt has more than 2,000 bottles to choose from. The cave-like space can be accessed through a backdoor entrance. Upon arrival, guests will be greeted by a candlelit space filled with wooden wine casks and plush couches. In addition to wines, Kazbar offers a selection of craft cocktails and internationally inspired bites including artisan cheeses, sliced meats, fondue, and flatbreads. There’s also live music on select nights.

The Little Woody

The Little Woody

Arcadia

This bustling underground hangout is home to a handful of arcade games and an extensive whiskey collection. This “upscale dive” is decorated in log wallpaper with wood paneling and an illuminated red bar. Sidle up and order drinks like the Gun Shy Sour, Alcohol Salad, Arizona Mule, or the Wrecking Ball, to name a few.

Merc Bar

MercBar

Phoenix

Picture a dimply lit, upscale living room decked out with dark wood walls, leather furnishings, and cushy couches, and you’ve got a pretty accurate picture of MercBar. Modeled off of the now-shuttered NYC MercBar location in SoHo, this swanky cocktail bar has been a nightlife staple in the Valley since the mid-1990s. Bar visitors will find a good selection of both classic and unique cocktails on the menu, from the Purple Rain (made with 7 Leguas tequila, concord grape juice, lime juice, and agave) to the mint julep or classic Bellini.

The Salt Cellar

Scottsdale

Scottsdale’s longstanding underground seafood restaurant isn’t exactly a speakeasy, but if you’re looking for a culinary adventure, this spot fits the bill. Take the antique wooden stairway down three flights to the hideaway bar for happy-hour specials, fresh fish, and seafood selections. Salt Cellar has received numerous accolades for its seafood-focused menu that features ocean-dwellers from around the world, including spots like Hawaii, New Zealand, Boston, Alaska, Georges Bank, Chesapeake Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. Salt Cellar was also one of the first places in Arizona to offer twin happy hours -- where discount drinks are available from 4pm to 7pm and from 10pm to 1am --  where a Long Island oyster shooter will only cost you a buck-fifty.

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Lauren Topor is a Phoenix writer who loves a good happy hour. Follow her to the bar on Twitter.

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1. Melinda's Alley 50 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Usually we’d warn against lurking in dark, shadowy alleys, but if it’s Melinda’s Alley, a Phoenix speakeasy in the basement of the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown, we might just let it slide. Marked only by a red light, the no-frills lounge shirks gimmicks that other speakeasies embrace; the austere menu offers a mere 5 cocktails, detailing only the name and base spirit of each to encourage conversation with the bartender. With old surf rock blaring throughout the cash-only joint (the cement walls provide great acoustics), clink your intricate, too-heavy Victorian glass and make a toast to Melinda’s.

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2. The Mystery Room at The Arizona Biltmore , Phoenix, AZ

Unlike most speakeasies, which lack real, honest-to-goodness Prohibition authenticity, The Mystery Room at the Arizona Biltmore has been around since the good ole days of illicit booze consumption. Originally serving as a liquor den under the guise of the name Men’s Smoking Room, The Mystery Room now (legally) serves seven liquors, one liqueur, and some fresh fruit and juices, but at a pretty penny. The password to enter changes weekly, and while it’s posted on channels as mundane as social media, you can be sure it’ll be something eerily cryptic. After undertaking the journey from the Biltmore lobby to the second floor secret corridor, you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring gold-leaf ceilings inlaid with glass and photo walls reserved for glamor shots of celebrities who frequented the haunt in the ‘20s. But don’t waste time knocking to get in; here, you’ve got to take the risk of opening the door yourself.

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3. Honor Amongst Thieves 5538 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85014 (North Phoenix)

If you can keep a secret, Honor Amongst Thieves is the place to go for a cocktail beyond the average well drink. The top level of Uptown Phoenix's Stock & Stable restaurants serves as a bar mysterious enough to earn the speakeasy title. Helmed by top-notch mixologist, Stephanie Tesler, this dark, moody space hosts seemingly simple cocktails that experiment with liquors and play with rarely seen drink flavors like roobios tea, dill bitters, and sweet potato.

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4. Rokerij 6335 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016

Rokerij, an upscale haven for lovers of seafood, steakhouse, and New Mexican cuisine, specializes in juicy grilled steaks cooked over blazing pecan wood fires, fresh fish, and small plates, like the crowd-favorite bacon-wrapped shrimp or scallops. The dimly lit restaurant is cavernous yet warm, best suited to both dates with your SO and celebratory occasions, particularly when you’re seated at the plush, oversized booths. The beverage program offers wines, beers, and cocktails, but the real standouts are the seasonal libations. Sit barside and take advantage of the gleaming coppertop piece; even in the Phoenix heat, Rokerij will make you feel fresh.

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5. The Womack 5749 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85014

Paying homage to Chez Nous, one of Phoenix’s most illustrious cocktail clubs of the ‘60s, The Womack, a cocktail lounge, bar, and music venue in the city, drips with nostalgia. Black- and gold-flocked wallpaper augments the already shadowy atmosphere; with no windows in the place you are guaranteed to lose track of time, and you’ll love every minute of it. Funk, soul, and R&B performers jam before the small parquet dance floor. If all this doesn’t bring you back to simpler times, order a drink. You’ll choose from traditional cocktails, like a tequila sunrise, amaretto sour, and old fashioned. For bites, the menu focuses on sharing plates, so expect options like popcorn and spicy nuts, deviled eggs, and lobster caprese with heirloom tomatoes, burrata, and pesto.

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6. Hanny's 40 N 1st St, Phoenix, AZ 85004 (Downtown Phoenix)

Housed in a former department store called Hanny's that was constructed downtown in 1947, this swanky bar and restaurant goes by the same name, but has replaced button-downs and dress shoes with an extensive menu of salads, sandwiches, and pizzas, plus expertly crafted cocktails. From classic martinis and Manhattans to champagne cocktails like the French 75 (gin, cointreau, lemon juice, and sparkling wine), the friendly bartenders here are slinging a selection of drinks that match the stylish interior. If you dare, take a ride in the glass-floored "vertigo" elevator to the basement where, inevitably, you'll be creeped out by the doll-filled art displays.

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7. UnderTow 3620 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Undertow is a rather brand-new underground cocktail lounge (having opened summer of 2016), serving tiki-inspired drinks to whisk you away to that island-getaway you've been meaning to take... if only in your imagination. Located in central Phoenix, it's had lines stretching out the door since its grand opening, so be sure to get there early!

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8. The Ostrich 10 N San Marcos Pl, Chandler, AZ 85225 (Chandler)

Tunneling underneath Downtown Chandler in the basement below Crust is craft cocktail lounge The Ostrich, which embodies its storied history as a once-popular clandestine watering hole for thirsty travelers and Arizona’s elite. This dimly lit speakeasy is outfitted with cozy, vintage banquettes and Prohibition-era cocktails like Aviation and Negroni, plus new creations like The Baker, a modern take on a whiskey sour.

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9. Valley Bar 130 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Decorated to remind patrons of the unique atmosphere that is Phoenix, Valley Bar has several options to choose from when planning the evening. First, there's the Rose Moffard Lounge (the Rose Room), where you can enjoy one (or several) of their eight draft beers or 50 wines. Then you have the music hall, where you can take in all of the amazing acts on stage while drinking more. What's not to love?

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10. Kazimierz World Wine Bar 7137 E Stetson Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 (Old Town Scottsdale)

Don't worry about pronouncing the name -- this underground Scottsdale wine bar goes by Kazbar, and offers a selection of (prepare yourself) 2,000 global wines. You can access the cave-like space through a backdoor entrance and, once inside, you'll be greeted by candles, wooden wine casks, and plush couches with live music wafting in the air every night. There's also a selection of craft cocktails and bites including artisan cheeses, sliced meats, fondue, and flatbreads.

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11. The Little Woody 4228 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018 (North Phoenix)

With 90 varieties of whiskey, this neighborhood dive will please just about any whiskey lover. They're also mixing plenty of other spirits for you to try, including Effen cucumber vodka, which just might fill your daily serving of vegetables. Or, throw all caution (your health) to the wind and order the Hiso: serrano-infused tequila, sweet pineapple syrup, hellfire habanero shrub, and vida mezcal. Be sure to play a round of darts or skee-ball while you sip on your drink and take in the sounds of local musicians. Most important: happy hour is every day from 4-7pm!

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12. MercBar PHX 2525 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016 (North Phoenix)

The original MercBar -- in New York's SoHo -- is no longer slinging drinks, but fortunately, the Phoenix location is still up and running and serving craft cocktails that embody this bar's smooth speakeasy feel. You'll want to check out the double a, made with agave spirits, grapefruit and lemon juices, a touch of raspberry simple, bitters, and a grapefruit peel. Feeling something more classic? Considering ordering a Moscow mule, bellini, or Mercer sour.

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13. The Salt Cellar 550 N Hayden Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

You'll take an antique wooden stairway down three flights to access this longstanding Scottsdale hideaway, where fresh seafood dishes and happy hour specials abound. Salt Cellar's menu features ocean-dwellers from around the world, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Alaska, Chesapeake Bay, and The Gulf of Mexico, to name a few. Some favorites in the extensive lineup are pan-fried lobster, Alaskan halibut with lemon caper butter, and Pacific swordfish with mango salsa. Alongside a glass of white wine or a classic cocktail, order from the oyster bar that offers selections like a Long Island oyster shot, steamed clams, and halibut ceviche.

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