The word “speakeasy” originates from no later than 1837 when Australian newspaper, the Sydney Herald, referenced to “sly grog shops,” an Australian term for unlicensed hotels and liquor-stores, in slang terms as "speakeasy's." With the hopes of concealing the historically illicit sale of alcohol that occurred within speakeasies, they were so called for the practice of speaking quietly inside.
Now, the term implies a long list of restaurants and bars that label themselves as “speakeasies” to sound more intriguing, taking away the mystery and pursuit that accompanies finding truly hidden locations for eating and drinking.
The fewer, more authentic hidden bars and restaurants that exist today lend themselves to foodies and bar-goers who enjoy less traditional settings, such as behind the secret entrance of a laundromat or situated next to numbered vintage and modern Porsche cars.
This list of 13 hidden bars and restaurants around the world reveals their concealed locations and the off-the-record ways of getting into them.
Located in Tokyo’s Shinbashi business area, one must walk down a long, dark hallway in the basement of an office building to reach this restaurant. With Forbes naming Aragawa as 2006’s most expensive restaurant in the world, this underground eatery is most famous for its marbled, grade A+ quality Kobe beef.
Bar Gyu, Niseko, Japan
An indiscreet red freezer door atop a snowbank marks the entrance to this “botanical garden” bar. In Hirafu’s lower village, Bar Gyu is informally known as the “Fridge Door Bar.” After passing through its wintry entrance, you will be welcomed by a warm and cozy setting easily enjoyed with their rare selection of Japanese whiskeys.
La Bodega Negra, London
Hidden in a sex shop? Yes indeed. On Old Compton Street in London you will see a sex shop advertised in neon signage. Then, through a cellar tucked inside of the shop, you’ll abruptly find yourself immersed in a world of delicious Mexican cuisine and cocktails at La Bodega Negra.
Backdoor 43, Milan
Claiming to be the smallest bar in the world with only four stools and a minuscule bar, Backdoor 43 on Ripa di Porta Ticinese in Milan is reserved for only 90-minute segments. A bartender wearing a Guy Fawkes mask provides you and your party with a sense of privacy at the expense of his or her identity. Famed also is this bar for its concept of “take-away” drinks, where the hand of your still-masked server will hand you cocktails through a small window to drink on the go. Note: Bookings for this bar should be made at least two weeks in advance.
This hidden gem is located behind a washing machine in a Parisian laundromat. On 30 Rue René Boulanger, Lavomatic does not take reservations or large parties but is home to delicious dishes and specialty cocktails quite impossible to dislike.
Fox Glove, Hong Kong
If you’re shopping for luxury umbrellas, you may be fortunate enough to stumble upon this hidden bar. After pushing down on the handle of an ornate silver umbrella handle, the key to the entrance will reveal itself. Located inside is a Kingsmen-esque styled bar with maroon leather seats and a high-end cocktail menu.
Jean Frigo, Seoul
Situated minutes away from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Jean Frigo is disguised as a fruit store, its one entrance posing as a set of refrigerator doors. Each table is marked by the placement of different fruits in order for servers to identify their parties. Fruit platters and cocktails are served to customers in this sophisticated, two-floored boutique.
Florería Atlántico, Argentina
Of the more unusually disguised locations on this list, Florería Atlántico sits inside of a wine-selling flower shop. And in the Retiro neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the scent of flowers should allure you there. Once arrived, swinging refrigerator doors will draw you into the underground bar. Shared plates and inventive cocktails will tempt you to stay in this adorned underground setting for as long as possible.
The Jerry Thomas Project, Rome
In 2010, a small group of bartenders decided to give life to their idea for one of Rome’s first secret bars. This speakeasy can only be booked by calling ahead (+39 370 1146 287) from Tuesday to Saturday, 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. And even with a reservation, one must provide the answer to a question hidden on their website in order to witness the out-of-century styled bar, its servers clad in Prohibition-era garb. The experience can best be described as stepping into, say, the height of the roaring twenties.
UES, New York City
Located on, you guessed it, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, this speakeasy is situated in the rear of a boutique ice cream shop. Indicated by a large ice cream cone dressed in light bulbs above the shop’s entrance, one must ask the ice cream scooper to “volunteer for storage” before being asked to find a hidden lever. Once found, a wall plastered in ice cream cartons will reveal itself as the entrance to this golden-brown speakeasy. Rainbow sprinkles dress the tables, chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and New York City-inspired cocktails are served up that are nothing short of utterly over-the-top—one joined with a bubblegum cigarette and a flavored condom, another with a burning corn husk.
Restaurant 917, Carson, California
24 Hours of Le Mans is the world's oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, France. Restaurant 917, named after famous “nine-seventeen” Le Mans-winning car from the Porsche lineup, struts atop the sports car manufacturer’s Experience Center, otherwise known as their driving school and showroom.
The restaurant is filled with iconic Porsche relics, and its entrance hidden behind locked doors within the facility. With a customer majority consisting of Porsche affiliates and those using the Experience Center, anyone can still dine here—so don’t feel insecure if you aren’t pulling up in the latest Porsche convertible.
Midnight Cowboy, Austin
At 313 E. Sixth St, make sure to push the button labeled “Harry Craddock,” one of the most famous English bartenders to live between the 20’s and 30’s. A red light indicates that they’re open and a luminescent vacancy sign indicates that tables are available. In any manner, ring the buzzer and inquire. But don’t forget that the house rules, as indicated by their website, encourage civility, hushed voices, and a respect for the establishment. And although their drinks may “encourage licentiousness,” Midnight Cowboy oddly and specifically asks “that you refrain from excessive displays of public affection and unwelcome advances towards members of other parties.”
Adults Only, Los Angeles
In a Hollywood strip mall on Sunset and La Brea, there is a disguised video store. Through the “adults only” section, behind a lurking, yet curiously alluring black curtain awaits the surprise: a spacious venue, loud music, and unique libations. Ornate stained-glass cathedral windows divide the walls, a movie projector sustains the Hollywood-themed entrance, while cozy couches and a Billiards table provide a cozy ambiance.