Speakeasy bars are associated most often with American history and culture due to their rise in popularity during the U.S.’s prohibition years, but technically, an Australian newspaper coined the phrase “speakeasy” as early as 1837, and the British were using the phrase “speak softly shop” years before that. It really doesn’t matter where the phrase “speakeasy” originated, so long as there are still a few around, right? And Europe is one of the best places to find speakeasies that stick to the hush-hush traditions of hidden doorways, secret passwords, and most importantly, knock-your-socks-off cocktails!
What is a speakeasy?
Speakeasies started booming in the U.S. during the late 1800s and even more so between 1920 and 1933, when the sale of alcohol was strictly forbidden. A large percentage of the U.S. population didn’t take kindly to the new liquor laws, and underground shops and bars began popping up throughout the country. Because the sale and production of alcohol was forbidden, many shop owners started brewing their own whiskeys, gins and moonshines, and to keep their operations on the down-low, they often did the brewing in the bathtubs of their own homes. Instead of selling the alcohol to customers, bar owners would charge entrance fees for sometimes-odd (but always quiet) attractions and performances. In bigger cities like New York, the mafia is rumored to have run several popular speakeasies, often frequented by celebrities.
Some establishments never revealed an owner’s identity at all. These speakeasies, also called blind tigers or blind pigs, were “holes in the wall” where patrons could order a drink by placing money in a drawer that was then slid into a hidden compartment. The person on the other side of the wall would place a drink in the drawer and slide it back, keeping everyone’s identity a secret!
While the prohibition years are considered a rather dark period in America – due to constant police raids, segregation laws and illegal activities – speakeasies offered a place for people of any gender or color to mingle freely without conflict. Most bars had hidden entryways and required patrons to know a password to gain entrance, and all required civility and silence.
Speakeasy bars may not be known for their hush-hush atmospheres and bathtub brews anymore, but some establishments, particularly in Europe where the moniker began, still maintain underground bar traditions of secret doorways, quiet entertainment, and of course, one-of-a-kind cocktails – that thankfully don’t start in the family bathtub!
1. Milk & Honey – London, UK
Location: Look for a buzzer and a tiny sign at 61 Poland St, Soho.
Loved for its almost pitch-dark atmosphere and passive vibe, Milk & Honey is a 1930s-style bar with three floors of intimate seating. Located on Poland Street in Soho, patrons can cozy up on a padded sofa while sipping a whisky, wine or signature cocktail – prepared only with juices hand-squeezed the same day!
Milk & Honey is open from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. every day except Sunday for members. Non-members can make reservations online and are welcome to stay until 11 p.m.
Some house rules for Milk & Honey include no hooting, hollering, shouting or loud behavior and no fighting, play fighting – or even talking about fighting! Though, members who want to make some noise can reserve The Games Room, a private party venue, on the second floor.
2. Nightjar – London, UK
Location: Walk down Old Street and enter the boring-looking door at 129 City Rd, Hoxton.
With serving vessels as unique as the concoctions inside them, Nightjar makes a splash when it comes to speakeasies. (Though, you’d never know it from the drab entryway.) Guests can forget about being quiet at this low-lit juke joint, as Nightjar features live swing and jazz music every night.
The bar has a faithful fan base who gather regularly to sample the bar staff’s old school and outrageous cocktails. Will tonight’s special drink contain gin, peanut butter ice cubes or mozzarella cheese? And will it be served from a Japanese-style ceramic teapot or a copper vessel? Nothing is prohibited at Nightjar! (They serve Asian street food, too.)
Nightjar is open from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday; 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday; and 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission (paid to nightly performers) is free on Monday and Tuesday; ₤5 on Wednesday and Thursday; and ₤8 on Friday and Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome but run the risk of not getting a table, so reservations are encouraged and can be made up to 90 days in advance.
3. Calloh Callay – London, UK
Location: You won’t find a sign, but you will find black double doors at 65 Rivington St, Hackney. Enter there.
With cocktails as quirky as its Lewis Carroll-inspired décor, Calloh Callay in the Shoreditch district has been a favorite hidey-hole for charismatic Londoners since 2008. All guests are welcome to enter The Front Bar and sample one of 23 signature cocktails, including a Rust & Oil, made with rum and lime, or a Nuts & Bolts, featuring scotch whisky flavored with maple, lemon, chocolate bitters and ginger ale.
The mixtures might sound crazy, but they are just crazy enough to have won the World’s Best Cocktail Menu at the 2012 Spirited Awards. Calloh Callay also was named one of The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Calloh Callay’s Front Lounge is open from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily. Walk-ins are welcome, but seating can only accommodate groups no larger than 8 people. Seats can be reserved for free in the Back Lounge by calling the bar in advance. The Back Lounge is open from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The JubJub is reserved for members only and is open from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Membership to The JubJub is free and is decided upon application and special invitation. Members receive keys to The JubJub, which is accessed through a Narnia-style wardrobe. In other words, this place screams speakeasy, but it screams it very quietly. Shhhh.
Check In to The Old Ship Inn Hackney, Step Out to Shoreditch, London
4. Mezcaleria – Paris, France
Location: Sneak into 1K Paris hotel at 13 Boulevard du Temple, and go to the back of Inka Restaurant.
Featuring all things mezcal (think sister of tequila), Mezcaleria is an explosive Mexican-themed speakeasy where the owners express their culture as much as their creativity. With fiery cocktails spiced up with unique flavors like cinnamon and chili, Mezcaleria promises a dimly-lit speakeasy atmosphere with a kick.
Guests are invited to stretch out on colorful, oversized cushions or pull up a seat on a wooden barrel, but no matter where people decide to relax, they will have a view of the monstrous Christian cross on the ceiling which dominates the décor.
Visitors destined to sample one of these smoky concoctions will need a few pointers first: this speakeasy is found inside the 1K Hotel, behind the kitchen of Inka Restaurant. Listen for Latin music, and look for candles and skulls!
Mexcaleria is open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Entry is free, and no membership is required.
5. Moonshiner – Paris, France
Location: Locate Da Vito pizzeria at 5 Rue Sedaine, and walk through the freezer doors. Yeah, that’s right, it’s through the freezer.
A terrible place for selfies but an awesome hideout for serious cocktail connoisseurs, Moonshiner embraces the American prohibition era in both style and name. Guests can enjoy classic cocktails while jazz tunes bellow from an antique gramophone. Moonshiner keeps 83 different kinds of whisky in stock, and the intimate low lights invite patrons to lounge as long as they like.
Literally, the coolest thing about visiting this speakeasy is finding the door! Moonshiner is hidden inside Da Vito pizzeria, and the entryway is through the walk-in freezer doors. Push those bad boys open to find the opposite of a chilling atmosphere.
Moonshiner is open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Admission is free, and no password or membership is required.
6. The Butcher – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Location: Call for a reservation and password to open the secret door at Albert Cuypstraat 129.
While The Butcher advertises that it makes the “Best Bloody Burgers,” it doesn’t advertise that it features some of the best bloody cocktails in Amsterdam as well. Tourists hoping to spend an evening trying the unique drinks (and burgers) at The Butcher need to have an inside connection, as the restaurant reveals next to nothing to no one about this hole in the wall.
Rumor has it that prospective patrons who make nighttime reservations at The Butcher will receive a password and directions to a secret door within the burger joint. Hours are noon to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; noon to 1 a.m. Thursday; and noon to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Check In to NH Amsterdam Museum Quarter, Step Out to Amsterdam
7. Hemingway Bar – Prague, Czech
Location: The door is easy to find at Karoliny Světlé 26, 110 00 Staré Město, but reservations are a little harder to come by. Call ahead!
Dedicated to the famed author’s favorite drinks, Hemingway Bar keeps a diverse collection of absinthe, rums and sparkling wines. This speakeasy is so dedicated to Ernest Hemingway’s favorite pastime, in fact, that it keeps a limited edition of Hemingway Absinthe behind the counter. The inside of the bar is rugged yet sophisticated, just like Hemingway would have liked it, and walls are covered in photos of the man himself.
While many patrons choose to sip an absinthe cocktail like Hemingway liked to do, the bar’s owners recommend the Becher Butter Sour, made with Becherovka Original infused with ghee, lemon juice, egg white and sugar syrup and complemented with a dehydrated orange slice.
Hemingway Bar is open from 5 p.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Walking into Hemingway Bar and finding a seat is possible – but not probable, as this place fills up fast most nights of the week. Guests should call ahead for reservations and follow the speakeasy rules once they arrive: speak politely, and do not use vulgar language; do not change seats or move the furniture; and do NOT bring a computer. The bar owners don’t allow it. Plus, Hemingway would be ashamed!
8. AnonymouS Bar – Prague, Czech
Location: Michalská 432/12, Staré Město, where the bartenders are hidden but the entryway isn’t!
Guests who have a fear of creepy masks and conspiracy theories might want to steer clear of AnonymouS Bar, but let’s face it, the intrigue of this speakeasy should trump any late-night jitters. Inspired by Guy Fawkes (a British rebel who supported a plot to blow up King James I) and the comic book series “V for Vendetta,” AnonymouS Bar owners also nod to fighting tyranny and uncovering hidden truths in the present day. That’s deep! But, hey, it’s a speakeasy.
Behind masks, mixologists concoct signature cocktails like the Hot Fawkes and Luxury Leather, but this spirited underground bar offers more than 200 varieties of whiskies, wines, champagnes and liqueurs. Guests may never see the barman (or barwoman) behind the mask, but the experience will be unforgettable.
AnonymouS Bar is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome, and this one’s easy to find!
Check In to Art Hole Hostel, Step Out to Old Town Prague
9. Fairytale Bar – Berlin, Germany
Location: Find Am Friedrichshain 24, and press the buzzer.
Get lost in a world of fairytales where patrons sip cocktails from slippers and waitstaff are dressed like characters brought to life by the Brothers Grimm. Guests fortunate enough to gain entrance to the speakeasy quickly understand why it is so popular: drinks are ordered from pop-up menus, and the atmosphere reflects how Alice must have felt in Wonderland.
Located on the north side of Volkspark Friedrichshain, Fairytale Bar is open from 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. All you need to do to enter is ring the buzzer.
10. Buck and Breck – Berlin, Germany
Location: Brunnenstraße 177, inside the “CLOSED” warehouse.
Obscure, dark, plain and hidden, Buck & Breck takes pride in keeping its business on the down-low and only keeps 30 seats in the joint to prove it. While signature cocktails are the bar’s most popular drinks, bartenders here are happy to whip up traditional drinks and special requests. Guests should try the Buck & Breck cocktail, however, since they may never get another chance.
To get there, head to Volkspark am Weinberg. The bar is directly across from the west side of the park, and the entrance is hidden behind a building that looks like a warehouse and is prominently marked CLOSED. Ring the buzzer labeled “BAR” and hope there is a seat available. If not, the doorkeeper will take your number (and might just call you back if a table opens).
Buck and Breck is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.