Inspired by the illegal watering holes that sprung up across New York during America’s strict Prohibition era, speakeasy-style bars have burst back onto the scene around the world. Today the drinks are less about high-proof moonshine and more about innovative cocktails, but these hard-to-spot basement bars work hard to recreate a charming 1920s aesthetic. We round up the best places to step back in time for a tipple or two.
With the tagline ‘legitimate importers of bracing tonics and fortifying liquors’, this CBD bar has 1920s charm covered. Located on Abercrombie Lane opposite Mr Wong, – a sprawling split-level restaurant serving Cantonese-style food with a cool colonial China feel – Palmer & Co is a great place to kick off the evening. Grab a table under the exposed brick ceiling, check out the old-school hats in the ‘cordials and tinctures’ cabinet and order up a Fire and Brimstone made with Reposado Mezcal, Earl Grey-infused Cointreau, lemon juice, agave, homemade chilli and orange bitters. If you can’t wait for dinner, there’s a charcuterie counter too. More recently, Canberra has added to Australia’s speakeasy scene with Molly, a bar without an address, just map coordinates. [Thought this might be a good opportunity to link to our Canberra post]
This intimate space on 60 Rue Charlot, just a short stroll from Place de la République in the third arrondissement, is a firm favourite on the Parisian cocktail scene. Behind the eponymous little red door – which is too small to actually fit through, but adds a delightful Alice in Wonderland sense of magic to the place – you’ll find a brace of bartenders busy mixing some of the city’s most innovative cocktails. Get your evening off to a strong start with the Do Not Violette, a heady blend of tequila, the Italian digestif Amaro Mandragola, vermouth, violet liqueur and Peychaud bitters.
Talk about an evocative setting – this Doyers Street bar was once a Chinatown opium den and today the cocktails pay homage to the mind-altering goods offered by their predecessors. Concoctions include the Euphoric Enhancer, yes absinthe is involved, and is thought to increase serotonin levels. There’s a health and wellbeing slant to all nine categories of the 250-plus list of cocktails – including Aphrodisiacs and Pain Killers – so if you do stumble upon the barely marked door of this drinking den, you can be sure of a truly therapeutic experience. On ‘Prohibition Wednesdays’ the house jazz band keeps drinkers entertained. Keen to check it out? Be warned – you will need a password to gain entry, which is tweeted each week to thirsty followers.
As you wander along the cobbled streets of Shoreditch looking for this well-hidden drinking den you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve travelled even further back in time than the 1920s. Part New York underground speakeasy, part decadent Victorian gin palace, this atmospheric cellar bar offers a short but experimental list of cocktails enhanced with ‘enzymes, acids, proteins and hydrocolloids’. The team are so dedicated to serving the best-quality spirits they even make their own barrel-aged rum, whiskey and sherry, alongside house-crafted syrups, liqueurs and bitters. Expect to find eccentric-looking lab equipment and one table situated in an old-school bath.
The whole point of a speakeasy is that it flies under the radar, and this Malaysian haunt is notoriously hard to find. Situated in a restored building that was fittingly built in 1928 on Jalan Sin Chew Kee (just off Jalan Pudu), the bar’s exterior is green and leafy while the interior is surprisingly simple. Whitewashed walls, battered street signs, exposed pipes and picnic benches aren’t the usual Prohibition look, but this place pulls it off. Delicious cocktails are made with local ingredients such as lemongrass and zesty calamansi. Look for the quirky stone sculpture above the gates to gain access.
Mingle with Argentina’s A-list at this exclusive Malabia Street hang out. Entrance is only granted to a select 2000 members and guests of the fantastically fresh Nicky New York Sushi restaurant next door, where you can pick up the password when you pay your bill. Expect a bit of side of theatre with your drink – an Old Cinnamon Fashion is made with the smoke from burning French oak sourced from Mendoza, Maker’s Mark, Peychaud’s Bitters and orange peel. Kept perfectly cool by one giant square ice cube, organic flowers and cinnamon sticks provide the decorative touches. And for the kids in all of us, the Union Pacific is delivered in a toy train.