Thanks to the influence of television and American sitcoms, the image in my mind of the all-American father and family man was stoic, stern, and always accompanied by a strong drink. Not to say Fathers everywhere partake in the tradition of fireside metaphors and two-fingers of whiskey on the rocks. However, for those who do, and with Father’s Day  just around the corner, I wanted to pay tribute to this visage of the American dad with an exploration of another American classic: the speakeasy. During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s, the speakasy was an establishment that illegally sold alcoholic beverages. Not to be confused with your downtrodden blind pig (or tiger), these classier, upscaled, and secret watering holes had innovative bartenders attempting to mix cocktails with a slew of flavors to overpower the repulsive taste of rotgut hooch that  replaced your standard bar shelf of liquors. Not to mention, you literally had to “speak easy,” i.e. quietly, so as not to alert police or neighbors. Thankfully, America made it through those darker (albeit not completely dry) days—and the speakeasies faded into the history books of America…or did they?

Today, a well-informed gentleman can still lead his friends down a dark alleyway and pass through the nondescript doors of a happily thriving American speakeasy—but without the fear of arrest. Here are some of California’s best kept secret speakeasies:

 

sanfrancisco_speakeasys

San Francisco is a city that has always taken its drinking seriously—even when it wasn’t legal. Here are five (not quite so) hush-hush speakeasies you may want check out the next time you’re suited up and looking for a stiff drink in the Bay.

Bourbon & Branch (501 Jones St. in the Tenderloin)
Arguably the city’s most popular speakeasy, Bourbon & Branch is a true original. Dating back to Prohibition, the secretive Tenderloin parlor opened in 1921 and has been serving thirsty guests ever since. With a secret entrance, hidden library room, and mixologists aplenty, drinking at Bourbon & Branch is like taking a step back in time.

Photo courtesy of thetender.us

Photo courtesy of thetender.us

Wilson & Wilson (Inside Bourbon & Branch)
A speakeasy within a speakeasy, The Wilson is a reservation-only, password-protected bar hidden inside the already-elusive Bourbon & Branch. With a 1930s gumshoe theme, it’s located upstairs under the guise of “Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency.” Bartenders brew, infuse, stew and concoct drinks that are just as much art as alcohol.

Hancock Room (1350 Powell St. in North Beach)
Another bar-within-a-bar, the Hancock Room is tucked inside Sip Bar & Lounge in North Beach. Open for just a year, the upscale, reservation-only private cocktail lounge brings together the spirit of early American history and artisan cocktails for an experience that even our founding fathers may have enjoyed.

Local Edition (691 Market St. in the Financial District)
Another one of the newest speakeasy-type bars in the City, Local Edition is located in an underground space below the Hearst Building on Market Street. (The room was historically the printing room for William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner and The Call back in the day). With a 1950s retro theme, tables are topped with marble from Hearst Castle and cocktails are hand-crafted.

Photo courtesy of thebigdrinksf

Photo courtesy of thebigdrinksf

The Hideout (3121 16th St. in the Mission)
Following the trend of San Francisco’s speakeasies, The Hideout is a classy bar hidden inside another bar, Dalva, in The Mission. Walk past the projection screen showing silent films and through a small door in back, and you’ll find a cocktailer’s tiny paradise. The half-dozen seats at the bar and handful of cozy round tables fill up fast as drink enthusiasts enjoy bourbon flights and pre-dinner snacks.

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Though nightlife in Los Angeles has changed dramatically from the 1920s and early 1930s, several speakeasies can still be found if you know where to look. While their patron guests can range from your average socialite to modern day actors and actresses, you may be hard-pressed to find a mobster in the corner booths.

The Del Monte Speakeasy at Townhouse (52 Windward Ave, Venice, CA.)
While Townhouse is already a known bar, only the most in-the-know locals know about a speakeasy tucked away in the basement. The Del Monte Speakeasy is the oldest bar and speakeasy in Venice. Established in 1915, The Del Monte Speakeasy was a true speakeasy and night-life nucleus. Did you know it was masked by Menotti’s grocery store originally? How devious.

Photo courtesy of theperfectspotsf.

Photo courtesy of theperfectspotsf

The Varnish (118 E 6th St, Los Angeles, CA.)
Walk through Cole’s in Downtown Los Angeles, all the way towards the back of the room and look for that signature door and logo. Behind that guarded door, you will find a very small and dark space called Varnish. It is probably one of the most well-known and popular speakeasy bars in LA. Their Prohibition-type cocktails are on point and strong.

The Sayers Club (1645 Wilcox Ave, Los Angeles, CA.)
Don’t be fooled by the incognito disguise of this Hollywood speakeasy. Beyond the facade of the Papaya King Hot Dogs is The Sayers Club. Modeled after the popular speakeasies in New York such as PDT (Please Don’t Tell), weekends will be difficult to get into but try going during the week. If you aren’t successful, you can at least leave with a tasty snack.

Next Door Lounge (1154 N Highland Ave, Hollywood, CA. )
Meet the gatekeeper; a well-dressed gentleman in formal attire and an interesting moustache outside the door. Do you have the secret password? If not, you may not be allowed to enter. (Hint: visit the website to obtain.) Next Door Lounge features waitresses dressed in red flapper dresses, plush velvety couches, black and white movies and amazing cocktails. This sophisticated and stylish speakeasy is perfect if you want to catch up with good friends or find a quiet corner for public privacy with your significant other.

Photo courtesy of La Descarga

Photo courtesy of La Descarga

La Descarga (1159 N Western Ave)
Love rum? Love cigars? Want to feel like you stepped into Havana, Cuba? If you answered yes to any of these questions, La Descarga is the perfect speakeasy for you. If you can manage to get past the doorman, you will walk up a flight of stairs into a tiny room with a desk and closet. The hostess there will then open the closet doors to show you the secret world of La Descarga, filled with a wide selection of rums, cigars, sexy dancers, and a live band.

The Edison (108 W 2nd St)
What used to be an old power plant is now a hip and popular speakeasy called The Edison. The décor is dark, eccentric and transports you to a time of flappers and long, thin, classy-looking cigars. Keep an eye out for their themed nights, where you can really get into character and dress like you are in the Roaring 20s or Mad Men.

sandiego_speakeasies

 

It shouldn’t be surprising that there are speakeasies in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter—it is, after all, the center of downtown night life in San Diego and home to some of the city’s most historic buildings.

Prohibition (548 5th Ave)
The first thing you need to know is that Prohibition doesn’t come without a price. First, you have to navigate through the Gaslamp District and find the almost completely hidden entrance. A ring of a doorbell and a long wait will get you in (if you are dressed correctly) and lead downstairs. As long as your cell phones are put away, and you adhere to their list of house rules (like absolutely no unsolicited contact with female patrons), you will enjoy a night of old cocktails and live music. Prohibition now has a new bar further downstairs called Scotch Counter featuring around 40 single malts, as well as beer and wine, a great alternative than waiting for the carefully crafted cocktails.

noble

Photo Courtesy of mykidsister

Noble Experiment (777 G St)
With a name giving a figurative tip of the hat to Prohibition (a noble experiment, get it?), Noble Experiment is probably one of the most exclusive speakeasies in California. With a website that contains only an email address and phone number for reservations, Noble Experiment could very well be an experiment in gaining entrance to the establishment—your name must be on a list. Similar to Prohibition, the location of Noble Experiment is hidden by a fake door. The speakeasy is small, but the decor will keep the conversation going regardless of company. Wall of skulls, need I say more?

Gaslamp Speakeasy (708 4th Ave)
Tucked behind a door labelled “Eddie O’Hare, Esq.”, is the elusive Gaslamp Speakeasy. Unless you have a ticket to get in, or are on the guest list, the burly gentleman who answers the door will be the most you will see of the speakeasy. Past red carpeted stairs and walls, patrons will rediscover a multitude of old cocktails in  a similar fashion to Prohibition. Like Prohibition, expect to get thrown out if you make an advance on any female in the house. Other than that, you will be left to indulge in style.

This list is, by no means, intended to be a comprehensive list of hidden bars in California. Garnered in your best blazer, and with the addition of great company, these Californian speakeasies will be the start to some memorable adventures. Should you find yourself visiting any of these locations, or if you have discovered some that we left off this list, please let me know!

 

Additional photo credits to Southern Foodways Alliance and Kirti Poddar