Back in the 1920’s, alcohol was made illegal- but as if that stopped anyone. In fact, it created a plethora of other problems for the US government like Bootlegging and Gang Crime which swept the country like a virus- so in 1933, they gave up the ghost and just let everyone drink again.
But in between that time, something beautiful happened. There was no way in hell any human wasn’t going to drink- so barber shops, convenience stores and wash houses ingenuously all set up makeshift bars in their basements- using the original shop front to throw the police off the scent. It worked like a charm.
One hundred years on, we still love the concept of hidden bars- thinking of them like exclusive secrets only a select few know about. I’ve come up with a list of some of the best Speakeasies in the entire world, and one of them is right here in Manchester…
Fairytale Bar- Berlin
The only way to explain this bar is to say that it is mental- and it is mental even for Berlin’s standards. As the name suggests, Fairytale will take you down the rabbit hole and into a topsy-turvy world which will have you questioning the nature of your reality. To get in you have to find the ‘Märchenbrunnen’ (Fountain of Fairytales) in the Prenzlauer Berg district of the city. Ring the buzzer and enter into a world of crazy cocktails, champagne in glass slippers, pop-up book menus and staff dressed as puppets inspired by Brothers Grimm and Lewis Carrol. Fairytale lives on the cusp of ingenious and troubling- which has my name written all over it.
Fairytale Bar, Am Friedrichshain 24, 10407 Berlin, Germany
Adults Only- L.A
A Speakeasy AND a screen room you say? Sign me up. Adults Only is situated in Hollywood (obviously) and is a self-proclaimed ‘up-scale dive bar’. I’m going to rubbish that statement and say that it is a complete contradiction in terms- but I’m certainly not here to start a fight. There is a penchant for cinema which runs as a theme throughout the bar- VHS tapes line the wall as you go in the screens play cult classic movies mostly from the 1990s.
The interior is sort of timeless- old fashioned but with that sort of glamorously tired look that comes with movies about dystopian futures- which is a look I can entirely get on board with.
Adults Only, 7065 1/2 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028, USA
Behind Closed Doors – Manchester
Manchester’s very own speakeasy which is so hidden in the centre of the Northern Quarter that even I didn’t know about its existence until about two months ago. Situated at the far end of Oldham Street, this is a late night cocktail bar where you can have a little boogie to some funk and soul. The thing I love about BCD the most is that it smutty- by which I mean that there are homages to porn and sex everywhere. Porn plays on the TV screens, the unisex bathrooms are plastered with vintage pin-up pictures, and the drinks are sex-themed too with names like ‘Stop If I Scream’ and ‘The Chamber of Sins. Entry is given by a rather conspicuous door with a buzzer, but I must admit- it is pretty hard to miss the pink neon light when the sun goes down.
Behind Closed Doors, 93 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW
PDT- New York
PDT is short for ‘Please Don’t Tell’ which is a request I fuck up more and more with every word I write. Soz. Entry is gained through a vintage phone box, which will open out into a relaxed, laid-back cocktail lounge with a quirky and cosy interior. Cocktails are great, obviously- as seems to be the second most crucial bit of criteria for a speakeasy other than being…errr… secretish. Beer and wine lovers are looked after as well though and if the pangs of hunger begin the strike the Hot Dog joint above which acts as a front are happy to oblige.
Please Don’t Tell, 113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009, USA
Floreria Atlántico- Buenos Aires
Possibly the most…shall I say, rustic, on this list, is Floreria Atlantico. But do not let the simple, concrete interior fool you, this bar has some of the best drinks on the planet as make the top 50 bars in the world list year after year. Buenos Aires’ immigrant history inspires all the drinks taking tricks and ingredients from the native cultures that helped shape the entire country.
The signature drink is the Negroni Balestrini and is the absolute epitome of this ethos as it celebrates how incredible flavours can be when cultures collide. This combines an Argentinan gin Príncipe de los Apóstoles, made by the patron Renato Giovannoni might I add, Amaro Averna, eucalyptus and scent of pine nut. This drink alone seems reason to visit alone. Oh yeah, the ‘front’ is a wine/flower shop also which is a quirky idea if you don’t know and a titillating inside joke if you do.
Floreria Atlántico, Arroyo 872, C1011 CABA, Argentina
Mayor of Scardey Cat Town- London
A moody London basement which is accessed via the trendy retro fridge of your dreams is what you will find at Mayor of Scardey Cat Town in London’s Shoreditch. The space is relaxed and eclectic filled with mismatched furniture and random objects including an actual taxidermy moose.
You gain access through the North London brunch hot-spot The Breakfast Club, and in the evening, this downstairs hideaway serves equally good grub. Dirty fires, Jalapeno poppers, pancakes and burgers sit alongside a simple but effective cocktail menu. Mayor of Scardey Cat Town is refreshingly laid back and rebels against the shiny 1920s vibe that haunts most other Speakeasies. If you are ever in London, it is so worth the visit.
The Mayor of Scardey Cat Town, 12-16 Artillery Ln, London E1 7LS
Foxglove- Hong Kong
Foxglove lies in the sweet spot between a bar and the set for a James Bond movie (or the more recent Kingsmen if you want to be a little more current). You begin by searching for a particular umbrella in a closet, which, when you find it, opens up to a glittering Prohibition era corridor where you will be asked to find a specific painting to unlock the VIP room. Brush up on your deduction skills before you go- you will need them.
This bar is traditional with an edgy, modern twist. The same description can be used for the drinks in which classic cocktails are married with Asian ingredients to make fusion drinks which match London Gin with Yuzu and green tea in the most sophisticated way. Foxglove is famous for their oysters too, which are the perfect, decadent treat to reward your detective work with.
Foxglove, 6 Duddell St, Central, Hong Kong
The Butcher- Amsterdam
Hidden behind an unassuming (and by that, I actually mean equally effortlessly stylish) little burger bar in Amsterdam lies The Butcher. Walk through the restaurant- and grab one of their phenomenal burgers on your way- all the way through to the back where you will find a small and rather conspicuous buzzer. A door will open, and you will be asked for the password. Here’s the catch though; it changes every night. So, you will have to be pretty vigilant if you are going to be trusted with Amsterdam’s best-kept secret.
The Butcher Social Club, Overhoeksplein 1, 1031 KS Amsterdam, Netherlands
Le Syndicat – Paris
I have to admit, it was pretty hard to pick just one Speakeasy in Paris. Turns out Parisians like their bars hidden away and dimly lit to hide away from tourists one would expect. Le Syndicat lives in the Saint-Denis district of the city, and this bar has to take le biscuit for the hardest to find. The bar lives behind a rather unassuming, and quite frankly, filthy wall which is plastered with 5cm of peeling posters and guarded by a rather ominous looking bouncer to whom you have to utter the secret password to receive entry.
Expect cocktails, fine French cognac and world-class fizz to the soundtrack of Busta Rhymes and P.Diddy. Le Syndicat sets out to challenge your preconceptions about sophisticated drinking both in style and substance.
Le Syndicat, 51 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris, France
The Barber Shop- Sydney
Have you ever been in the predicament of needing a couple of inches off the top and an expertly crafted cocktail simultaneously? It is a burden we all must bear on occasion. See that is where The Barber Shop comes in- a shop fronted bar which is the very definition of a Speakeasy. Visitors pass through the Barber Shop partition door and step into a welcoming place, where subtle lighting and discreet music adds to the relaxed atmosphere. You will find an excellent selection of fine wines, champagnes, cocktails and all the other bearded, tattooed acquirements you would expect to see in a bar surgically attached to a hipster barber shop. Bravo!
The Barber Shop, 89 York St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia