Exclusive and elusive: 8 Speakeasies in Los angeles and New York City
"...You’ve got the speakeasy ambience and 1920’s decor, accompanied by hiphop culture and fresh fashion.” - Brett Guidry a.k.a. MC Imprint, Long Beach based hip hop artist and Previous Lock & Key Promoter Coordinator
You’ve hit all the best clubs and quite frankly, you consider yourself a nightlife connoisseur. But here’s something you might have missed: Speakeasies. With their mysterious locations, stiff drinks, and guests who prefer a more private and obscure setting, these dark and elusive locales are definite crowd pleasers and prime date night hangs. Not to mention, bringing your squad to a speakeasy, makes you look like a total gangster– rolling up with the secret password or leading your friends up to what looks like a coffee shop, and boom, you’re in the middle of a club. To be clear, ACTUAL speakeasies don’t exist anymore, since drinking alcohol is legal in the United States (thank God). Luckily, the cities of Los Angeles and New York City offer a variety of speakeasy-style bars, living out the retro vibes and excitement of these former underground joints.
We can’t tell you too much because we are sworn to secrecy and we’re not in the business of spoilers, but we can tell you that upon entering No Vacancy in Los Angeles, you are in for a sexy surprise. In fact, Los Angeles based photographer, Jeffrey Fountain said, “I thought my girlfriend had secretly arranged a sex party and was leading me there…”
Inside, it’s not an orgy (okay, maybe one spoiler) but you will find burlesque acts, tightrope walkers, and live music including DJs and late night bands. A restored Victorian home, this bar is decked out in beautiful wood paneling and sexy red velvet banquets. Get fancy in your best dress or suit and take a seat by the fireplace in the garden-style courtyard with a Fernie’s Gin in hand.
No Vacancy, 1727 Hudson Ave, Los Angeles, 90028
Hanging out in Koreatown for the night? Stop by Lock & Key for the best DJs and cocktails. While this Koreatown lounge maintains the vintage speakeasy atmosphere with its white marble tables and green-leather banquettes, it also brings modern hip vibes. Long Beach based hip-hop artist Brett Guidry, a.k.a MC Imprint, previously worked at Lock & Key running the door, managing guest lists and coordinating promoter says,
the party scene is, “very dope. You’ve got the speakeasy ambience and 1920’s decor, accompanied by hip hop culture and fresh fashion.”
“The best part about being an MC in the LA area is there are so many dope artists, brands and culture enthusiasts, which makes it fun to pursue this career and I’m proud to be plugged in,” says Guidry.
Many of the DJs at Lock & Key spin Guidry’s records, while other nights include parties such as Ice Cream Sundays and Recess LA, held on Thursdays bi-weekly. “Ice Cream Sundays” is curated by Julien Edwards, DJ Sean G and a few others. Julien hosts many high profile artists and brand owners at this event. DJ Sean G is also very well connected in the industry. Aside from bringing in high profile people as well, he books all the different DJs that will DJ for each event.
“It is always good vibes there, and there is always a line out front for the duration of the event,” says Guidry.
Recess LA was created by Alfred Bell (Undefeated.com), JonisLike (Up And Under clothing), DJ Noodles Kehlani’s tour DJ (@noodz)), and DJ Episode. Guidry says they “killed it.” This night ended up being really popular and “attracted all the streetwear and sneak head kids. They would book the dopest DJs such as Andre Power (@AndrePower), DJ Spicoli, LadySetGo (@LadySetGo) etc… This night is on the 1st & 3rd Thursday of the month and is always poppin’,” says Guidry.
Lock & Key, 239 S Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90004
La Descarga is reminiscent of a 1940s nightclub in Cuba. You’ll find this gem in the heart of Hollywood with salsa music blasting, saxophonists jamming. It even has its very own cigar lounge. The bar area maintains an old time feel with weathered ceilings covered in chandeliers as the bathroom is dressed up in reprints of old Cuban newspapers. The atmosphere here is lively and sophisticated, upscale attire only.
La Descarga dancer and performer Isabella Grosso says, “You get a feeling that you are being transported back in time. From the moment you’re greeted by the host and walk through the secret entrance, you’re surrounded with Cuban nostalgia. Your eyes and ears feast on the 5-piece band playing classic Latin music. You smell the fresh cigars being hand rolled in our newly remodeled cigar lounge. Your tongue delights in our vast selection of rum. At over 160 bottles you’re sure to find something you love, and let’s not forget the Burlesque dancers.”
La Descarga offers dance lessons for beginners every Tuesday at 8pm. Dance the night away while sipping on a Cuban old fashioned or fresh mojito, with professionals who have danced for artists such as Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, and Prince Royce.
La Descarga, 1159 N Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039
These mixologist are trained experts. If you take your cocktails seriously, like having the perfect ice and vermouth ratio, then The Varnish is your bar. Located in the back of Cole’s, The Varnish is cozy with a speakeasy ambiance attracting many young professionals and business travelers. What makes this place truly unique is the vigorous training bartenders must go through, which is clearly noticed in the precision of each cocktail.
Photos by Peter Stanislaus
“Over 90% of our drinks are made and served on nothing but hand cut ice cubes keeping the integrity of the drink and the temperature as long as we can,” says The Varnish General Manager Bryan Tetorakis.
“Our Martini is probably our most celebrated cocktail. It takes roughly ten minutes to make and we serve it at -12* C.”
To experience a more intimate atmosphere, Tetorakis suggests arriving between Sunday-Wednesday for smooth jazz, and for the lively party goers, Thursday-Saturday but make sure you get there to grab a table before they all fill up!
The Varnish, 118 E 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
More subterranean and harder to find than the previously mentioned spots, Angel’s Share in the East Village occupies the upstairs of a Japanese restaurant. Walk through an unmarked doorway to find a dimly lit ambiance, captivated by decorous wallpaper and a mural featuring an Asian angel with a mischievous smile.
Cocktail connoisseur bloggers Anthony Poncier and Mel Harvey (@lecocktailconnoiseur) based in Paris, highly praise the bar’s “impeccable Japanese service.” This Australian-French couple has visited hundreds of bars in different countries and interviewed over 200 bartenders. The couple said, “Whatever the style of the bar, what makes us choose a bar is the feeling we have in it and the holy trinity: the overall experience, the hospitality and the creativity.”
Angel’s Share nails all three in a cosy old fashioned style venue. Often speakeasies are dark places without windows. Here you have big windows with an amazing view on Stuyvesant Place.”
The couple’s favorite drink which “blew their minds” is known as the Flirti Bird, a concoction of distilled Sochu, citrus notes from a Yuzu plant, agave nectar and a rim covered in plum salt. “In a sip, we were back in Asia and that’s normal because many of its ingredients are from Japan. It’s a complex cocktail in the mouth, refreshing and balanced and something we have not tasted the like of for a long time,” say the connoisseurs. Although Angel’s Share is well-hidden, it tends to get pretty crowded on the weekends, so don’t be surprised if there is a wait when you arrive.
Angel’s Share 8 Stuyvesant St, New York, NY 10003
Want to really go back in time? The Back Room is one of the few speakeasy-style bars in the city that operated during Prohibition and is still in business today. This historic speakeasy used to host many famous actors and gangsters during its era, such as Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. When locating the secret space, look for a sign that says ‘Lower East Side Toy Company’ and enter through the gate and down the alley – the same hidden entrance that was used over 100 years ago. Dope feature: beer bottles are still served in paper bags and other drinks are poured into teacups to fully implement a prohibition-like atmosphere.
“The vintage 1920’s décor, period pieces and secret room behind the bookcase, provide the perfect setting for a date, birthday party, film shoot, event, or a casual night with friends,” says The Back Room Event Coordinator Megan Bones.
She also suggests trying the drink called The Bee’s Knees, made from vodka, honey and ginger.
Gin lovers, check out Bathtub Gin on 9th Avenue. Its philosophy is based on serving the real thing, classic gin cocktails from prohibition days. Hidden behind a Stone Street Coffee Company, this elusive venue truly maintains the aesthetics of old school speakeasies, with tasseled lampshades and vintage print booths, oh, and a giant copper bathtub (spoiler/splash alert: you might want to wear something that can get wet). Bathtub Gin managing owner, David Oz, says that his bar is a place that welcomes everyone.
“We want all people to experience Bathtub Gin and leave here feeling they just went back in time and partied like it was the 1920s & 30s. Whether it be enjoying live jazz, burlesque or just dancing to the DJ, there is a night for everyone. And make sure to get your picture in the Tub,” says Oz.
Live jazz performances are held on Mondays while magic and burlesque shows are on Sundays.
Bathtub Gin, 132 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Le Boudoir, located in Brooklyn Heights, is a Rococo themed gem with an interior inspired by Marie Antoinette’s private chambers of Versailles. Owned by acclaimed restaurant Chez Moi and located downstairs, Le Boudoir carries a sexy appeal, with marble tables, red velvet banquettes, and gold ornate mirrors. The drink menu is crafted by a talented bar team featuring cocktails like the “pamplemousse” and the “vieux carre.”
One of Le Boudoir’s owners, Patricia Ageheim, says that what makes her bar unique besides the decor is “the combination of Brooklyn history meets Versailles with cocktails and good music…The idea of opening a speakeasy under Chez Moi restaurant came about when we put a sledge hammer through the wall and discovered two vaulted rooms that were part of the Atlantic tunnel, the oldest subway system in the world, it was built in 1844. “
Jazz nights are also held here every Monday, and if you’re lucky you can get a mix of swing performances.
Le Boudoir, 135 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201