13 US Speakeasy Bars That Actually Feel Scandalous

Speakeasies or gin joints are trendy cocktail spots with a not-so-secret, seedy past. Born out of the Prohibition Era, the period from January 1920 to December 1933 when the sale of alcohol was banned in the U.S., these cloaked social clubs were often referred to as blind pigs and, for better or worse, are etched into American history. No longer places to enjoy an illegal drink away from prying eyes, these liquor lounges across the globe lean heavily into eccentric themes, hand-crafted libations, and avant-garde food dishes. That said, no two speakeasies are alike, especially not in the U.S. 

Advertisement

Ranging from hush-hush to trendy and downright infamous, these modern blind pigs offer a true experience you will likely never forget. Still, not every clandestine cocktail canteen has an air of mystery and excitement about it. Stateside, only a handful fall under the category of best speakeasy bars or fit the bill for authentic-style gin joints with equal parts shock and intrigue — being able to serve up some seriously tasty food and dazzling drinks while embodying a bygone era with flair is not an easy thing to do. However, a few places definitely seemed to have figured out the recipe — here are 13 U.S. speakeasy bars that actually feel scandalous and are very much on brand.

Melinda's Alley, Phoenix, Arizona

Tucked away in downtown Phoenix, Arizona,  Melinda's Alley is a tucked-away bar that has scandalousness down to an art form. Upon arrival, patrons should not expect to be greeted by signage or a clear entrance. Melinda's is not out in the open and involves a little seeking out in order to find where the party is. After a few minutes, you will likely find your way into the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel. Just beyond an elaborate mural, through the alleyway, and down the stairs, a lounge dimly lit in a cascading red hue welcomes cocktail-cravers.

Advertisement

A fluctuating menu of mixed drinks is available in this cozy spot in downtown Phoenix. Crafted sips like a Midnight Martini, a Heart of Gold Old Fashioned, and a Lies in the Rye are just a few of the libations that sometimes grace the wall menu at Melinda's. Such adult beverages can be enjoyed while seated on an assortment of vintage furniture, listening to music, and chatting with friends.

The Drifter, Chicago, Illinois

Nestled in the lively streets of Chicago, Illinois, The Drifter is a speakeasy that knows how to add a little flair to a classic. Every night, the staff selects from over 100 mixology creations, each with their own signature tarot card, to know what's on deck for the evening, and this definitely adds a bit of mystery to what exactly is on the rocks. In addition to a nightly rotating menu, The Drifter has vintage decor and live performances, often by burlesque dancers.

Advertisement

A rather intimate setting with creative drinks, top-shelf 2-ounce pours, and scantily clad performers only adds to the overall atmosphere at this particular gin joint. In addition to secret adult beverages, The Drifter also has a regular wine and beer list as well as a snack menu. Venison Sloppy Joe Slides and Devils on Horseback (bacon-wrapped dates with chorizo and tomato fondue) are some of the eats available here. Plus, it doesn't hurt that this sultry cocktail lounge is stashed away in the exact location where a 1920s real-life speakeasy once stood.

Dirty Laundry, St Petersburg, Florida

A laundromat café by day becomes Havana nights with just a spin of the wash cycle, making this establishment a scandalous treat for anyone with the password. Dirty Laundry in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a great concept that appears just to be a laundromat that serves coffee and midday snacks. But just off to the side of the washers and dryers in this low-key café is a neon Talk Dirty to Me sign with a payphone below it. Speakeasy patrons must make a call via the phone to utter the password and gain access to this underground affair.

Advertisement

As you make your way through Dirty Laundry's thrilling entrance, more neon signs and debauchery await you. Further inside, you will find a full bar, a stage, and posh seating. But that's not all — there is ample room in this spot for live music, a DJ, special events like fire burlesque, and some good old-fashioned dirty dancing. Dirty Laundry also offers a wide range of small plates, including Cuban sandwiches and Charcuterías, all under the cover of darkness and the sweet smells of fabric softener.

Truth and Alibi, Dallas, Texas

Located in Dallas, Texas, in the entertainment hotspot that is Deep Ellum, Truth & Alibi is another famed speakeasy that exudes salaciousness. Under the guise of a candy shop, Truth & Alibi is definitely serving up a good time, especially for those with a sweet tooth. Just beyond a hidden entryway, a weekly password allows patrons access to see first-hand what's behind the truth of the matter. A hush-hush and dimly lit bar with LED-lit menus, a variety of vibrant candy-inspired cocktails, and an elegant 1920s-style decor makes Truth & Alibi both visually stunning and filled with sweet surprises.

Advertisement

What's more, with candy shop burlesque shows, bottle service, and a DJ playing a mix of tunes, Truth & Alibi offers a thrilling atmosphere and a unique concept. Here, speakeasy patrons can dance the night away and enjoy a sugary rush of fun or lounge about sipping frothy cocktails and colorful adult beverages like the Absinthe Sour, a drink that heightens the rule-breaking atmosphere thanks to a long ban on absinthe that was based on a longstanding myth about the anise (not to be confused with licorice) flavored spirit. The ban was lifted in the U.S. in 2007, but drinking absinthe — especially in a speakeasy — still has a bit of a forbidden feel to it. The Truth & Alibi is definitely more of a modern twist on the classic blind pig, but this secret lounge has all the necessary ingredients for a scandalous vibe and also has a jam-packed events schedule that only adds to its overall allure.

Advertisement

Room 901, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Another concealed cocktail gem can be found at the Hyatt Centric Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Room 901. Reservations are a must at Room 901, and the lucky patrons who are able to snag a table at this scandalous speakeasy must obtain an unmarked keycard and give the password to enter. Though Room 901 has garnered a lot of press, making it less of an underground hideaway and more of a trendy spot about town, this place stays true, in almost every other aspect, to the 1920s speakeasies.

Advertisement

With fanciful drinks, vintage vibes, decadent decor, and a robust food menu, Room 901 feels sensational and immersive. A genuinely intimate affair with only six patrons allowed in at any given time, you will definitely feel like you have stepped back in time and are up to no good. Drinks such as Stormy Passion, Late Check Out, and Penicillin are just a few libations to try while dining on Wagyu beef, lobster mac & cheese, and Kailua Caviar in this illicit establishment.

Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco, California

Yet another juke joint that doesn't need to cosplay this theme, Bourbon and Branch was an actual speakeasy from 1921 to 1933, so this establishment definitely knows a thing or two about bucking Prohibition. That said, Bourbon and Branch can be found at the Anti-Saloon League on Jones Street in downtown San Francisco, California. Upon arriving, pleasantries and passwords are exchanged as you come face to face with a hideaway that feels like it never got the memo that Prohibition is over.

Advertisement

With vintage furnishings and covert house rules, Bourbon and Branch is one more watering hole that feels like you are up to something sordid. Known for its era-appropriate cocktails and drink categories like Lighter Fare, Spirit Driven, and Fresh and Fancy, this gin joint is an authentic taste of what the 1920s were like. Plus, there is more than one spot to sip cocktails in this establishment besides the main bar, including in the Library, and with a nice cigar in the attached JJ Russell Cigar Shop.

Prohibition, Murray, Utah

Located in Murray, Utah, behind a seemingly ordinary bookcase in the eatery aptly named Prohibition is the next scandalous speakeasy on this must-visit list. Fully embracing the 1920s look and feel, Prohibition is a great way to pass the time while visiting Salt Lake Valley. Serving brunch and dinner in the main area of this venue, patrons can indulge in some Bourbon Caramel French Toast, Moonshine Cherry Wagyu Steak, and Bootlegger Nachos along with a host of other shareables and small plates.

Advertisement

In the actual bar area of Prohibition, live music, burlesque, and tasty crafted libations are all the rage. When it comes to their mixed drinks, Prohibition is all about making as much of the ingredients in-house as possible, all while offering the perfect rendition of a bygone era. From the staff and overall ambiance to the F. Scotch Fitzgerald, Mob Ties, Bourbon & the Beast cocktail options, this gin joint is a lively little slice of heaven that pairs well with any cocktail. And in terms of scandalousness, well, the devil is definitely in the details here.

Jack's Hideaway, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Situated in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Jack's Hideaway is the one and only hidden gem in the downtown area, which makes for some mysterious vibes. Rustic trappings adorn Jack's Hideaway, and a modern take on classic 1920s cocktails is just the tip of the iceberg here. With a full wine and beer list, Jack's Hideaway is a quaint and cozy gin joint (with a capacity of around 23 people) that is more subtle in its ode to the roaring '20s and Prohibition.

Advertisement

Patrons may be shocked to find that the strong stuff or all the whiskies, in mass quantity, is what this particular beverage establishment is all about, and sometimes a good whiskey is all you need — Ina Garten is known to order whiskey sours to test the worthiness of cocktail bars. However, every week, a newly crafted libation is thought up to dazzle patrons and highlight the bartenders' creative genius. So, if you aren't a big whiskey fan (or you prefer sweeter sips like Fireball whiskey (which doesn't count as whiskey, despite its name), then try your luck with the specialty drinks or something special from the wine and beer list. In addition to flowing alcohol, Jack's Hideaway is rumored to serve some delicious bar bites. Even so, this speakeasy is serious about their cocktails, so much so it is almost scandalous, making it a perfect go-to for after-dinner drinks.

Advertisement

Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Over in the city of Brotherly Love, Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., known also as The Franklin, is an upscale speakeasy located in the revered Rittenhouse Hotel. Named after a once-infamous Philadelphia gangster, this Pennsylvania cocktail lounge has a sleek and sexy ambiance that makes it the perfect late-night hotspot. Behind an unmarked door, the promise of come-hither-style drinks and a relaxed atmosphere beckons thirsty folks.

Advertisement

Un-shy about its love for bootlegging and organized crime (in a historical sense, of course), The Franklin offers next-level libations like the Shaky Alibi and the Drinking Before Dawn cocktails. Plus, there is a slew of other cocktails that range from their style of "Stiff" to "Reserve," as well as seasonal cocktail-tasting menus for patrons who like to sample several inspirational creations at once. Patrons can also nibble on some small bites while soaking up the spirit of the roaring '20s. With all this plus top-shelf spirits, this speakeasy makes one feel as though they broke into a bank vault for an illegal — yet quality — drink.

Hell or High Water, Louisville, Kentucky

Tucked away in Louisville, Kentucky, Hell or High Water is a spectacular speakeasy with just the right amount of scandalousness. Touted as a thrilling and historical experience with first-rate drinks, Hell or High Water adds a bit of character to Louisville's Central Business District. With authentic speakeasy decor and delightful libations like a Hibiscus Devil Punch and a Hippie Hollow Rita, this gin joint is definitely on to something.

Advertisement

Hell or High Water is the place to be for anyone looking to try an array of fun cocktails or delve deep into a comprehensive bourbon selection. But that's not all — this hidden gem is also a nice little spot in Louisville to kick back and appreciate weathered books, vintage leather chairs, plush red furniture, and live jazz every Thursday. Of course, this lounge also serves up some delicious snacks that pair well with a stiff drink or two. Reservations are highly recommended at this salacious watering hole, but the good news is the drinks are reasonably priced as far as speakeasies go. And while enjoying all that Hell or High Water has to offer, make sure you follow the framed list of house rules, or there might just be hell to pay.

Advertisement

Midnight Cowboy, Austin, Texas

A former brothel, Midnight Cowboy in Austin, Texas, surpasses most other of the gin joints on the scandalous scale. Now an inviting establishment for hipsters and libations lovers alike, Midnight Cowboy not only pays homage to the 1920s but also tips its hat to the previous establishment doing business in these not-so-hallowed halls. Popular drinks like Spare Change, Southern Gent, Bee's Knees, and Pink Lady are just a few of the cocktails that showcase what once was and will likely have you coming back from more.

Advertisement

Midnight Cowboy is also rumored to have a few ghostly patrons, so if thrills and chills were on your to-do list, you can see what spirits are lingering about for yourself over a cocktail or two. Unfortunately, outside of the vast selection of provocative drinks, this speakeasy is all about the liquor business and doesn't offer snacks or food on the menu. But that doesn't mean you still can't grab a few drinks here before or after dinner. This scandalous sip-and-see is nestled away in Austin's famous 6th Street entertainment district, so hungry patrons don't have to go too far in search of grub when including Midnight Cowboy in their evening plans.

Please Don't Tell, New York City, New York

Tucked away behind an old phone booth in the East Village, Please Don't Tell (PDT) is one of New York City's best-kept secrets, and honestly, the name alone makes this gin joint feel scandalous. A simply delightful speakeasy in the famous Crif Dogs, PDT also requires reservations and a password for patrons to have themselves a grand old time with a delicious Crif Dog on the side. This gin joint is a popular one, thanks to its extremely well-crafted drinks, like the PDT Old Fashioned and their smoky rendition of the Mezcal Mule.

Advertisement

Once inside PDT, patrons will find cozy booths with leather trimmings, classic artwork, and overall vintage vibes. While jazz and classic music play overhead in this dimly lit time capsule, friends can sip top-notch cocktails, bold wines, and hipster-approved beers. And, the best part is when hunger strikes at PDT, you can order up a delicious, one-of-a-kind Crif Dog or a New York-style hot dog right from your posh Prohibition-style seat.

Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency, San Francisco, California

Last but definitely not least, the Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency in San Francisco, California, is also a real-life former speakeasy. This secret bar was built around 1867 and has been serving up the good stuff ever since. Modern-day Wilson & Wilson still stays true to its roots while offering a more elevated cocktail experience. Located within Bourbon & Branch, the Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency is a speakeasy inside another speakeasy. So, you can expect top-secret information, first-class eats, and only top-shelf drinks here.

Advertisement

Crafted cocktails like The Phantom, Revolver, and Truth Serum pair well with this joint's old-timey and seedy vibes — plus, with a mystery to solve, you ladies and gents are in for a thrilling and scandalously good time. Ultimately, Wilson & Wilson and the other speakeasies mentioned above are worth a look-see. With unique libations, creative themes, some nibbles here and there, and nightly entertainment open to interpretation, speakeasies, especially those of the scandalous variety, are undoubtedly here to stay.

Recommended

Advertisement