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Secret Bars and Speakeasies Worth Seeking Out

Going out for the evening to get a drink with friends can be a lot of fun. Mix in a splash of adventure, intrigue—and even taboo—and it can make the outing all the more exciting. That is why speakeasies, a concept born of the 1920s Prohibition era, still thrive today. From a janitor’s closet in New York City to a pawn shop in San Francisco or a therapist’s office in Prague to a nonexistent hotel room in Hong Kong, here are some watering holes that require a little effort to find—for drinks and entertainment that are most certainly worth the price of admission. —FAN CHEN


01 The Pawn Shop

SAN FRANCISCO

“CASH FOR GOLD…WE BUY GEMS COINS ANTIQUES GOLD,” reads the window sign of this wine bar which was indeed a pawn shop in the 1900s. To enter, one must pick up the gold phone and chat with the sometimes prickly pawn master, who allows entry depending on his mood. “Something interesting to pawn or sell…may help your cause,” the bar hints. Featuring Spanish tapas cuisine, the menu consists of mostly European wines, small plates and late-night-craving bites.

02 La Noxe

NEW YORK CITY

Imagine a cocktail bar on your commute—climb the subway stairs for a different underground vibe: vinyl music, velvet banquettes, scarlet light. Take the 1 train to 28th Street, find the dark navy door that looks like the janitor’s closet near the turnstiles and enter this swanky speakeasy tucked inside the station. By day, enjoy coffee, fresh juice and sandwiches. After 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the menu shifts to Mediterranean cocktails, tapas and music.


03 The Harrison Speakeasy

BUENOS AIRES

This bar is doubly hidden: once you locate it behind an upscale restaurant, Nicky NY Sushi, you must acquire the password (ask to “visit the cellar”). The bar’s name comes from a Prohibition-era gangster, Nicky Harrison, who operated his own speakeasy behind a fish market. No photos are allowed inside the warehouse space which features both classic cocktails and also novel concoctions like the Pisco Brulee, served in a coffee cup with a thin layer of caramelized sugar on top and fresh lime liquor underneath.


04 Red Frog

LISBON

This escape is a bar within a bar. The sky-blue staircase leads to Monkey Mash’s tropical, bright-yellow interior. Make a left, ring the bell underneath a red frog affixed to the wall and enter a completely different world, where dim light is reflected off various mirrors in vintage gilt frames. Red Frog is designed to be a private room, the founders say, where the bartender focuses more on the guest than the drink—maximum 12 patrons at once, despite a waitlist of usually over 150.


05 AnonymouS Shrink’s Office

PRAGUE

It’s an experience you’re unlikely to have elsewhere: behind a secret door, a masked bartender presents you with a stack of cards and a giant book of patient archetypes and traditional cures. Inspired by Freudian psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, the infamous inkblot card test is used to create a unique concept: cocktail therapy. From the cards—the menu—you are asked to pick an image and color that speak to you and explain why; that self-revelation is important, as it will affect how your drink is prepared.


06 Bellboy

TEL AVIV

Strings of rusted tungsten lights, a wooden board of skeleton keys, jars of liquor with yellowed stick-on labels like chemical reagents…This is Bellboy, a Prohibition-era themed bar with the motto to have fun. Cocktails arrive in a conch shell, with a roasted pine cone, in a cloud of smoke or beneath bubbly foam. But if Bellboy isn’t secretive enough for you, try to find Butler, a tiny bar-within-a bar that hosts just 12 guests.


BANGKOK

Hidden behind a gym locker room, to enter this bar, you must find the right locker to open the door. Then, on to a vintage industrial interior: dark gray brick walls, metal pendant light and leather stools. Five award-winning mixologists designed the menu’s “Past, Present and Future” concept. That is, three variations of similar cocktails—traditional; a modern twist; and bolder, more creative takes like smoked Earl Grey tea leaves and hazelnut liquor.


08 Room 309

HONG KONG

It’s a place that ought not to exist: Room 309 of The Pottinger boutique hotel. To check in, ask for a key card at the Envoy restaurant. The realm that awaits includes pillars of carved lions. Head bartender Antonio Lai wants to avoid preconceptions about a drink based on its color, so he makes crystal-clear cocktails in aromas and flavors, naming them “Invisible Cocktails.”


09 Janai Coffee

TOKYO

The English translation for this bar’s name: “isn’t coffee.” Another trick: The only way to gain entry to the reservation-only speakeasy is on its website. (Tip: Move the mouse to the logo at the center and trace it clockwise until a completely different web page appears and unveils the hidden menu and hours.) Coffee shop by day and sake bar by night, Janai aims at a playful, effortless vibe, and blends most of its signature drinks with coffee elements, like coffee lemon sour, coffee craft gin tonic or coffee black currant soda.


10 The Swinging Cat

SYDNEY

Hiding behind a Subway sandwich shop is a destination with no signs but much New Orleans-style jazz. Once inside, the timber floors, plush velvet banquettes, warm lamp light, tropical foliage and band playing by the baby grand piano form a sleek space that allows a spell of debauchery.

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