Sure, liquor’s been legal since Prohibition’s end, and there’s no practical use for smuggling hooch in basement bars post-1933, but there’s still something sleek about a speakeasy—especially in an age where everything is on full display across social media, removing all the mystery. Fortunately, L.A. keeps a bit of the playful, adventurous, seek-and-ye-shall-find spirit going thanks to the city’s oldest bars and modern-day spots tucked into corners as video stores, hotels, barber shops and anything else you need to explore to find the door.
What defines a speakeasy? Some of L.A.’s top examples are shifting and adapting—even K-town’s beloved pirate-themed speakeasy, R Bar, ditched its passwords this year, and now it’s just a bar; nothing wrong with that, though, let’s be clear—so for the purposes of this list, we whittled the criteria. Evey bar on this list has an entrance that’s physically hidden or unmarked, whether it’s a door within a Scottish restaurant or in a basement, or the door is actually a bed that flips around to reveal a secret staircase. You’ve got to be in the know to find these top-notch cocktail dens.
Once you’ve unlocked these great bars, you’ll usually find burlesque, live jazz, vinyl nights and other secrets waiting to be discovered. Hit the town like it’s 1922 for our city’s top new, old and everything-in-between speakeasies.
The weekday-only Old Lightning has less of a “What’s the password?” greeting and more of a “Do you have a reservation?” protocol at the door, but that’s only due to its intimacy issues: Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix’s quintessential hidden bar behind Scopa Italian Roots only boasts around 25 seats, and they’re usually filled by Angelenos here to learn and savor. Stocked with more than 1,000 spirits—many of them rare and vintage—Old Lightning is the bar for anyone who can appreciate some of the city’s most unique pours, though they come at a price (around $100 for flights). Those pours are hard to locate even within the restaurant, so you’ll need to leave it up to the Scopa host stand: Once you’ve made your Old Lightning reservation via Resy or email (firstname.lastname@example.org), enter Scopa and let the host know you’re here for the speakeasy; to prevent photos, they’ll take your cell phone (don’t worry, you’ll get it back at the end), then you’ll be led to the unmarked door, and from there, it’s all tasteful Mid-Century Modern decor and smooth sailing sans menu—that’s right, you’re in the more-than-capable hands of Livigni and Moix.
Whether or not you believe Cole’s invented the French dip sandwich, we can all agree that it’s got a leg up on Philippe’s when it comes to drinks. That probably has something to do with a big Cole’s revamp by Pouring with Heart (formerly 213 Hospitality), and it’s got a lot to do with the speakeasy that the hospitality group built in the back: The Varnish isn’t just a cornerstone of L.A.’s secret bars, it ushered in their era (though Cole's also served food and drink during another era, Prohibition). One of the first modern speakeasies in the city, the Varnish trained some of the top bartenders in town and kept crowds streaming to the entrance at the back of the restaurant. The historic building still sports tile flooring and warm wood booths, and in the hidden bar, live jazz and classic cocktails to match the vintage vibes. Of course you can’t go wrong with a bartender’s-choice drink, or getting there early—the place always fills up as the evening wears on.
Mark and Jonnie Houston are the undisputed power duo of hidden bars with dark, brooding atmosphere. In fact, the twins nearly corner the market on it: Between Harvard & Stone, La Descarga, Black Rabbit Rose and Pour Vous, they’ve become the champions of themed bars, dress codes, burlesque shows and colorful classic cocktails. But when it comes to the best of their best, you’ll need to check in. The scene: an Old Hollywood hotel, and you’re looking for room 1902—once you find it, speak to the girl on the bed, then descend into No Vacancy’s refined, charming bar that’s lush with dark wood and old-timey signs espousing lines like “ALL YOUR PLEASURES.” The real gem is the back patio, though, which is where you’ll usually find burlesque acts and live music under the string lights on Friday and Saturday nights.
One of the country’s first contemporary speakeasies made its way west—to West Hollywood, in fact. Much like NYC, L.A.’s got its own Employees Only complete with a fake storefront that leads to a drinking den. Enter through the psychic’s business at the front (there’s often one on hand, in case you do want a reading) and find yourself in this Deco-inspired, wood-paneled dining room with a gently curving bar. This is where you can find moody cocktails filled with-house-made syrups, hand-squeezed juices, freshly-puréed seasonal fruits and full pours of rare liquors—not to mention a dinner menu that’s inspired by early-20th-century cuisine. In the also-hidden Henry’s Room—think of it as a speakeasy within a speakeasy—you’ll sip New Orleans-inspired drinks with tableside service, because why settle for one surprise bar when you can have two?
And for their next trick, the Houston Brothers make magic in the heart of Hollywood. Sure, we’ve already got the Magic Castle, but if you don’t want to book months out and your taste in dining skews more Thai—Luv2Eat Thai Bistro is behind the delicious Crying Tiger menu here—then you’re going to need a trip to Black Rabbit Rose. The Houstons’ magic-themed bar features tableside sleight of hand and surprises at every turn, as well as an additional magic-leaning variety show in the bar’s own theatre. Think: Victorian splendor (leather booths, red courtains, fancy dress) and Houdini-esque theatrics, even when it comes to the cocktails. Unlike the duo’s other spot on this list, there’s no rotating bed to lead you in; just look for the sign of a rabbit at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Hudson Avenue, walk beneath the nondescript awning and you’re there.
No, you’re not here for pizza—OK, maybe you are, because Lupetti Pizzeria makes some great slices and killer chicken parm—but what you’re really here for is one of the best hi-fi bars in the whole city. Instead of turning left toward the pizza counter, turn right and walk through the unmarked door: Modeled after Japanese kissaten—audio-focused lounges and coffee shops—Lupetti’s hidden gem In Sheep’s Clothing is part listening lounge, part cocktail bar and part coffee concept. During the daytime, stop by for local pastries, single-origin pour overs and light, ambient records on rotation; in the evening, the all-vinyl playlist incorporates more active-listening albums to liven the space—and all music is curated by Zach Cowie, the music supervisor behind Master of None. The cocktails are surprising, thoughtful reinventions of classics, where sakes, mescals and Japanese whiskeys do the heavy lifting as you sit back and listen.
Unless your parents are, uh, cool like that, this isn’t the place to take visiting family. As the name suggests, along with the seedy surroundings, this hidden bar boasts adult content: You’re entering through the facade of a throwback video store, and more specifically, through the X-rated section. Head to the pink neon “ADULTS ONLY” sign—you know, the one near the smutty VHS tapes—then make your way through the curtain to find the real goods: a full bar sporting DJ sets, a pool table and a distinctly non-X–rated vibe that feels both chill and elegant early in the night, and clubby and raucous later in the evening.
We told you that the Houston Brothers dominated the L.A. speakeasy scene, and we weren’t kidding. One of their first concepts set the blueprint for the rest of their immersive, whimsical hidden bars: La Descarga, the twins’ second venture, has all the bells and whistles of a Jonnie and Mark production. You enter via a humdrum apartment building, ascend the stairs, wander through an armoire and suddenly—you’re in old Havana? One of their more transportive properties drops you into a club in 1940s Cuba, where bottles of liquor line the amber-glowing walls and you’re more than likely to catch burlesque dancers strutting their stuff on tha balconies. Naturally, given the theme, there’s also a cigar lounge, not to mention a lengthy rum selection. And, given all those bells and whistles, there’s usually a line; make sure to book a reservation ahead of your visit to breeze through.
There’s not one but two Blind Barbers here in Los Angeles, both worth making your way past the barbershops to get to. Joshua Boyd, Adam Kirsch and Jeff Laub brought their Prohibition-era–inspired speakeasies to New York City, where vest-bedecked bartenders whip up classics in classy settings behind a fully functioning barber shop. On the West Coast, they first landed in Culver City with a close replica to NYC’s outpost, but for their next trick, they headed east to Highland Park with a midcentury-inspired cocktail den slinging drinks and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches until 2am in a setting that’s more ’70s chic. It’s sleek, it’s low-lit and it’s wood-panneled, adding even more style to the already cool neighborhood.
One day a month, the tartans go red. So do the plates, the guns, the maps, the axes on the wall and that lone bagpipe stuck to the ceiling, because the third Friday of each month, L.A.’s most storied Scottish-themed restaurant and bar flips on the crimson lightbulbs to signal the arrival of one thing: The Great Scot speakeasy. Tam O’Shanter is always a destination for massive prime rib plates, pints of beer and some of the most fun digs in L.A. bar history, but during its monthly speakeasy, you’ll arrive at a separate entrance just off the parking lot (follow the red light bulb by the fence) and check in with a hostess to be led down a hallway into a separate room devoted to barrel-aged, tableside cocktails poured and sipped to the tune of live jazz. You’re going to need a reservation, so watch the Tam’s social media for announcements and the email address you’ll need to contact to snag your spot. Want more info before you go? We’ve got you covered.
Townhouse is undeniably one of the most packed bars in beachy Venice, and while the crowds and the energy might convince you that this is where the party is, what you’re looking for is downstairs. Housed in the basement, the Del Monte is a modern speakeasy that really was an actual speakeasy roughly 100 years ago—how’s that for authenticity? These days, it’s home to classic-leaning cocktails and most of the live entertainment in the building, eschewing DJ sets for burlesque, jazz and other shows that might just keep the Del Monte going for another 100 years to come.
As if Bar Clacson weren’t enough—and honestly, how can French and Italian aperitif cocktails not be enough?—the stylish, comfortable and popular DTLA bar gave us an annex that’s all about neon and fun. Follow the lit-up arrow sign that screams “HIGHBALLS” at the back of Bar Clacson, hang a right and find yourself in the Slipper Clutch, where—you guessed it—highballs are the name of the game. The bubbly drinks can be made with your choice of spirit, or you can opt for one of the few faves up on the board. After you’ve ordered, take some time with the vintage arcade games and the pool table. You’ve got all night.
Look for the red door and the red neon sign shaped like a lock with a key, and you’ve reached your destination: K-town’s door-themed secret entrance that leads to part club, part patio. We say “door-themed” because there’s not just one door: Enter the first one, then you’ll find yourself at a wall of doorknobs and yes, you’ve got to find the right one. From there, it’s a moody, standing-room bar (unless you want to spring for a table), which is where you’ll find fruity, fresh cocktails with seasonal spins and some that bellow fog thanks to some liquid-nitrogen mixology tricks. Outdoors, the enclosed patio still keeps the secrecy of a speakeasy from the outside world, though the DJ sets, live bands and general crowd noise is obviously enough to alert the rest of K-town to the great time you’re having.