How to Find America's "Hidden" Bars Slideshow
September 9, 2011
Wilson and Wilson (San Francisco)
This popular spot is actually located inside its sister establishment, the highly acclaimed craft cocktail den, Bourbon & Branch. To get into the detective agency-themed, Prohibition era-style bar — the concept for which was inspired by an actual missing woman from the 1930s whose purse was discovered in the walls during the space's construction — you must first make reservations online. With only 20 seats available, reservations can be made for up to two people, for no more than two hours. Once you've made your reservation, you'll receive a confirmation with a password that you have say at the door at Bourbon & Branch (which, coincidentally, is distinguished by a sign outside that reads "Anti-Saloon League"). Then, finally, a host will walk you across the main bar and through another door to the narrow, concealed space.
PX (Alexandria, Va.)
This isn't exactly the kind of bar you just stumble into — you have to seek it out. Located behind the corner fish 'n' chips spot, Eammon's (which also owns the bar), look for an unmarked door lit by a blue light. Knock or ring the doorbell, and a waitress will peer out through a sliding peephole — don't worry, there's no password required. That said, the second-floor space only holds about 35 seats, so reservations are recommended, although not mandatory. Also recommended? The fantastic garden-to-glass cocktails.
Apotheke (New York City)
On the vibrant, well-trafficked streets of New York's Chinatown, it would be easy to overlook a venue with a clear sign out front. So, when it comes to finding this elusive, unmarked spot (on a small side street, no less), it's important to keep your eyes peeled — the bar's façade is actually that of an old noodle shop called Gold Flower Restaurant. And while food may not be the focus there anymore, once you've had your fill of the excellent cocktails featuring house-infused spirits and homemade tinctures, you need but walk outside to find yourself in one of the city's best neighborhoods for late-night cheap eats.
The Varnish (LA)
No one is saying going into legendary LA eatery, Cole's French Dip, and walking past the sandwich counter to the unmarked door in the back is easy. But for cocktail enthusiasts, it is certainly worth it. This is a dark, speakeasy-style bar with an unflinching passion for the freshest homemade infusions and mixtures — the kind of place where you almost wish you needed a password to get in, and where you’ll always enjoy drinking the "bartender’s choice."
Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar (Chicago)
From the outside, and when you first walk in, this place looks like little more than your average neighborhood liquor store. But those in the know will walk assuredly over to the large walk-in cooler door, and open it to find this relaxed spot where locals like to linger over quality beers and classic cocktails.
PDT (New York City)
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Even though the name of this hidden bar (which opened in 2007) is short for "Please Don't Tell," this being New York City, it wasn't long before everyone did. Still, it's not uncommon for first-timers to fumble when they get in the pint-sized phone booth located inside East Village hot dog joint, Crif Dogs. For the uninitiated, all you need to do is squeeze yourself in, pick up the phone and press a button, then wait for the door to slide back and be greeted by the hostess. Or, worse comes to worse, go buy a hot dog (they're very good) and sit and watch someone else do it correctly.
Needle & Thread (Seattle)
It's not that the cocktails at the much-lauded spot, Tavern Law, aren't worth your attention — they certainly are. Still, curious types will have no doubt taken notice of the large vault door in the main room and the old-fashioned rotary phone that hangs beside it. Don't be shy. Just pick up the phone and enter the number in your party or your reservation password and you'll be taken upstairs to the intimate space where there isn't even a menu — just an adept bartender with a series of questions to help craft you a cocktail.
Blind Barber (New York City)
Get "buzzed while getting buzzed" seems to be the mantra at this young New York neo-speakeasy. Because you see, at this East Village spot, the barbershop façade is not just a façade — the place is actually a fully functioning barbershop during the day. But, after hours, if you walk through the door at the back of the room you'll find yourself in a drinking den where (appropriately) you can order cocktails like the Sweeney Todd.
Bathtub Gin (New York City)
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Don't let appearances deceive you — typical, quaint Chelsea coffee shop this is not. If you have any doubts, the small illustrated placard that hangs in the window should clue you in that you're in the right place. Walk inside to find a fake wall with a red light above it — that's the door, and if the light is on, you're welcome to step inside for a drink.