Prohibition marks the time in American history from 1920 to 1933 when the production, transport, import, and sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited. Despite the law, Americans still wanted to drink alcohol. That is how and when speakeasies, named after the idea of speaking easy or quietly about liquor establishments, became popular.
While prohibition may be a fairly American concept, secret bars are all over the world in places like basements, hidden backrooms, and other out-of-the way spots. Then and now, most speakeasies are unassuming in nature, a nod to the times when drinking establishments survived if they weren’t obvious. Some have unmarked doors, confusing signs, or even no signs at all. Often you gain entry by looking for a vacancy sign, a colored light, a simple knock on the door, or a ring on a phone.
Entry into many of these speakeasies (historic spots and newbies too) can be tough. In some cases you need reservations, a password, or in the least, a GPS to help you find these alcohol-serving hotspots. Some of the speakeasies have bare décor while others are a flashback to flappers, Gatsby, and the Roaring 20s (think chandeliers, velvet couches, and dark wood floors).
PDT in New York City (which means "Please Don't Tell") lives up to it's name by being so tricky to find — you need find the unassuming hotdog establishment it's located underneath, walk into a secret phone booth and press the secret buzzer for access. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, secret bar 001 is so difficult to find that most locals advise using a GPS or calling ahead for a reservation and asking for exact directions (and, even then, you may not find it that easily. Then there's the occassional bar that tries to hide by making you think it's something else: Midnight Cowboy in Austin, Texas, has a sign outside suggesting it's also an oriental massage parlor, though inside it's really impressively cool and schick.
The focus at these drinking establishments is an attention to quality drinks. Plan on ordering a classic cocktail (or two) like whiskey, brandy, or gin. Better yet, ask your bartender to make you a custom cocktail based on your drink preferences. You’ll be impressed by a great cocktail served in a cool setting.
Prohibition in America may have been repealed over 80 years ago but speakeasies linger and many more are still popping up in the U.S. and across the globe. These bars are appealing for lots of reasons including a return to a time when going out for a cocktail meant dressing up, kicking back, and having a good drink and a good time.
Read on as we introduce you to 22 of the world’s most amazing speakeasies.