dirty martini

Dirty Martini (Photo by Johann Trasch on Unsplash)

Speakeasies are a call back to the Prohibition Era, a time when alcohol was federally prohibited in the United States. A code word would need to be spoken at a hidden door to gain access to an exclusive club or bar. The essence of what makes these elusive locations special is the sense of being admitted to a secret society of classy beverage enjoyers.  Surprisingly for some, these secret bars continue to wow thirsty guests. Speakeasies have become elevated watering holes where larger than life bartenders make ephemeral refreshments, or at the very least, this is the ideal to which these bars aspire. So, what are the characteristics of the best speakeasies in the U.S.?

Speakeasies aren’t merely known for being hard to find. They all have a reputation for serving cocktails that match the mystique. Most adults find that drinking makes social situations easier to handle. Research commissioned by alcohol-free spirit, SENTIA, co-founded by neuroscientist Professor David Nutt, reports that a sixth of the adults surveyed (17%) admit that they feel like “the best version of themselves” when drinking alcoholThe point of the speakeasy experience is not merely the drink, but also the bar and the people in it. The speakeasy is a social experience, and it is the bar itself that sets the stage.

Did you know that your go-to cocktail says more about you than you think? A new study reveals that those who prefer a mojito also have the most success when it comes to dating (88%) and are happiest with their lives (85%). They’re not the only ones having fun, however, as Bloody Mary drinkers are the most adventurous (80%) and are likeliest to say “yes” to everything (73%).

It is the exclusive setting of these iconic American bars that make the experience unique. Expert mixologists create strong drinks that are meant to be savored in a bar full of other patrons. It is this literally intoxicating mix of drink, bartender, and location that make speakeasies appealing to travelers seeking a unique experience. StudyFinds turned to the pros to compile this list of the best speakeasies in the U.S. based on reviews from travel experts. Let us know which secret bars make the top of your list in the comments below!

Downtown Nashville bars lit up at night
City street at night illuminated by neon lights Downtown Nashville bars lit up at night (Photo by Chad Morehead on Unsplash)

The List: Best Speakeasies in the U.S., Per Experts

1. Midnight Cowboy in Austin, Texas

Midnight Cowboy in Austin, Texas is a mythic speakeasy and was at the top of the list for nearly all of our sources. “Housed in a former brothel, the Midnight Cowboy is now a thriving speakeasy bar in Austin. Guests must have a reservation to experience this hip, 1920s-style watering hole,” writes The Travel. 

“Even if you only want to test the limits of your comfort zone for one night, a speakeasy promises a thrill. After all, they began as illicit liquor stores or clubs during Prohibition. Revelers were told to ‘speak easy’ or be quiet about their location, and the whole place operated under the cloak of secrecy,” according to 10 Best.

The allure and fun of the experience might seem like a hassle to some, but for others the excitement begins before even entering. “Austin’s most beloved speakeasy is hard to get into, but it’s worth it. Head to their website to book a time slot (bigger groups may need to plan several weeks). Once you’re on the books, it’s time to find the joint. Head to what locals call ‘Dirty’ Sixth Street and try to spot the Midnight Cowboy Modeling sign with a red light gleaming above. Next, ring the doorbell marked ‘Harry Craddock’ and be prepared to enjoy one heck of an experience,” says Livability.

If you would like to visit this speakeasy, be aware, “Reservations are suggested, although a vacancy light is illuminated if tables are available. (A new casual walk-in space on the patio opened in December.),” according to Architectural Digest.

2. La Descarga in Los Angles, California

The second entry on our list seems to have the ability to transport patrons away from the modern world. La Descarga in Los Angeles brands itself with a classy Cuban aesthetic. “At this hideaway in East Hollywood, patrons must walk up a dilapidated stairway before meeting a hostess, who ushers guests through a door and another entryway, then into a dimly lit bar,” writes Architectural Digest.

La Descarga also enforces a strict dress code that prohibits casual wear. Is this speakeasy worth the hassle? Many of our sources say yes, “going to a high-class bar known for its signature rum cocktails and cigar lounge seems like the perfect excuse to dress up,” says Travel + Leisure.

Drinks? Check. Classy digs? Check. Another account of La Descarga describes the following, “Enter through a closet and travel back in time to 1950s Havana. Named after the Latin jazz music of Cuba, the bar stays hopping all night long with live entertainment and sultry dancing,” according to Business Insider.

3. The Patterson House in Nashville, Tennessee

In keeping with the theme of whimsy and bygone era, The Patterson House of Nashville maintains the trend of richly detailed history. “Named after former Tennessee governor Malcolm Patterson, who fought Prohibition, the speakeasy-style bar channels a bygone era. Guests must be seated to order a drink, phones can only be used for texting, name-dropping is forbidden, and men may not introduce themselves to women unless invited. The Patterson House was designed by local Landy Gardner, who added silvery wallpaper, shelves of books, and a large central bar,” says Yahoo! News.

The atmosphere of the bar is also detailed with purposeful detail to enhance presentation. “The Patterson House screams pre-Prohibition Era, with its 50-plus-item-long cocktail menu, cosmopolitan vibe, and bartenders dressed in Capone-style getups,” says Business Insider.

Class and civility are a big part of The Patterson House’s appeal. “The room is free of phones, standing, and random hookups. Here, decorum is important, but you’ll receive excellent cocktails, decent conversation, and a chance to escape the other noisy, crowded bars,” adds Black Platinum Gold.

4. The Violet Hour in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago’s The Violet Hour is another highly regarded speakeasy bar. Like the other bars on this list, The Violet Hour sets the tone before a guest even enters the bar. “A beautiful facade painted with an ever-changing mural greets you in the alley behind a row of businesses. You can enter a swanky lounge through this graffiti art – velvet curtains, creative cocktails, and plush décor make this not your typical street art,” says Black Platinum Gold.

Once entering, customers are met with beautiful accommodations. “Inside, patrons are treated to a marble bar that spans the length of the room, as well as crystal chandeliers and hardwood floors,” writes Architectural Digest. While there are many speakeasy and themed bars in the city of Chicago, The Violet Hour manages to bring together all the elements of a great speakeasy without being pretentious.

Like the city of Chicago itself, “This bar epitomizes the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” because you’d never guess there’d be a sumptuous, ritzy bar inside if you saw it just from the outside,” says Travel+ Leisure.

5. Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency in San Francisco

The second California bar on this list practically invites guests to get into character and enter a noir world of Dames and Detectives.  “How to get in: Know the password to Bourbon & Branch, know the second password to get into Wilson & Wilson, ring the bell, get verified,” writes Thrillist.

Perhaps this speakeasy bar takes itself a bit too seriously, but at the same time it may be worth it for guests to have an authentic experience in an unusual place. “The fictitious detective agency themed speakeasy is one of four spaces within Bourbon & Branch, which also has The Library (ring the buzzer and say the password ‘books’ to gain entry) and the JJ Russells Room, named for John J. Russell, who purchased the business in 1923 and called it ‘JJ Russell’s Cigar Shop.’ Patrons must abide by the house rules in each bar-within-a-bar space or risk being asked to leave,” according Timeout.

As with the other bars on this list, it is the dedication to theme and presentation that makes Wilson & Wilson unique. “The attention to detail in this bar will appeal to film noir fans, as the drinks are named after famous detectives,” says Black Platinum Gold.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Alan Corona

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StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

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  1. Eric says:

    Check out Orkney Springs speakeasy in Springfield VA.

  2. TexInWaco says:

    No Employees Only?
    No Please Don’t Tell?
    Hard to believe not a single NYC speak easy bar didn’t make the top 5…Unless you couldn’t find them!