Hidden doors and secret passwords all add to the mystique and allure of a time gone by: the shadowy and clandestine glamour of the 1920s Prohibition Era. It was a time when gin was made in bathtubs and spirits were imbibed in secret, plain rooms and basements. It was a time when mob molls and good-time girls were the prettiest adornments in those hidden rooms. Today we can drink in the open, but the appeal of the roaring 20s remains strong. In a city where exclusivity is all the rage, how could it not? We scoured Los Angeles to bring you the best hidden bars, new and old.
Lock & Key
239 S. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Situated in Koreatown, you may just drive by this spot if you don’t know where you’re going. The signage is nearly nonexistent except for a small neon key. And, once you’re in, this secretive bar throws challenges guests even further. After you enter the front door, you’ll be faced with a wall holding a number of door knobs covering a compact wall that actually will let you into this secretive spot. Your challenge is to figure out which one will turn and let you in. Once you’ve figured it out, a signature cocktail menu and craft concoctions await you. Enjoy the ornate decor as you sip on drinks like their Razzle-Dazzle, Torpedo or Secret Coalition.
118 E 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014
While the Varnish itself and its widely-raved-about specialty cocktails hasn’t been much of a secret for years now, you do need to be in the know to get there. The only entrance is secreted away in the back of Downtown LA’s legendary Cole’s restaurant. Amid stained wood cluttered with sepia-tone pictures is an oak door unmarked with the exception of a cocktail glass photo. Once inside the dark, intimate 50 seat venue, you will enjoy a cocktail list that rotates daily.
The Crocker Club
453 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
How about grabbing a drink in a bar/lounge that sits in a former bank? Well, at Downtown LA’s Crocker Club, you can do just that. The bar, which is in the basement of the Spring Arts Tower, is a former bank and offers up a huge 1960’s era bank vault door. Patrons can enjoy signature cocktails in booths where customers used to check out their safe deposit boxes and drink in a place that feels all things secretive.
3331 W 8th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Psst! While it may be easy enough to miss one of Koreatown’s favorite dive bars from the street, its entrance isn’t really unmarked. Look for the large “R” topping the Korean writing over the entrance and you’ll find yourself in the right place. Getting in, however, will require a password, which changes monthly. The effort is well worth it though, as the drinks are cheap, strong and the menu has a little something to hit the spot for everyone.
7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
Half nightclub, half circus and all intrigue, Beacher’s Madhouse is one of a handful of delightfully unique venues located within the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The twist is in the entry, which is hidden behind, of course, a bookcase and means crossing a tunnel into the club. The fun doesn’t stop there. Inside the venue, prepare for speakeasy entertainment straight from the days of the Untouchables, in the form of live comedy and, yes, vaudeville routines.
Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
1611 N. El Centro Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
The Houston Brothers have struck gold again. At Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, visitors enter the bar via a refrigerator door which will make you feel as if you are entering a speakeasy. The bar, which is basically a 70’s speakeasy, offers up stiff drinks and large crowds (get there before 9 on weekends if you’re not a fan of lines). Whether you find a spot at one of the bar’s many thrift store couches or enjoy a snow cone out in the “backyard,” Good Times at Davey Wayne’s will certainly live up to its name.
Del Monte Speakeasy
52 Windward Ave.
Venice, CA 90291
LA’s original basement-operated Speakeasy dates all the way back to the Prohibition, when it was established beneath a Venice beach grocery store in 1915. In those days, the booze was wheeled in from the shore via a network of secret, underground tunnels. Today, the grocers is gone and our historic gin-joint is housed beneath another, equally historic landmark, the Townhouse Saloon. Revel in the authentic 1920s roar with Del Monte’s varied entertainment – everything from burlesque to indie rock – and Boardwalk Empire libations. Del Monte is open most days and rarely charges a cover, but you should always check the website before heading out for the most up-to-date information.
10797 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
This secret bar might’ve only opened its doors late in April of 2012, but it traces its roots back to the NYC establishment of the same name. In front is a spiffy, vintage-inspired barber shop (no quartet), where you can, yes, get your hair trimmed daily from noon to 9pm. Head to the back of the shop after 6pm, however, and a rather nondescript and unassuming door will transport you through the looking glass to what has quickly become the city’s most buzzed-about covert haunt. The dance floor is armed with DJs spinning masterful beats while the menu is armed with short order bites and delightfully named concoctions that will get you spinning (in a grand way).
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Kristen Lowman spends her days writing and her nights at concerts. She lives on the Miracle Mile in the City of Angels. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.