If you’ve ever itched to do something slightly illegal, but lacked the courage to actually go through with it, modern-day speakeasies might give you the thrill you’re looking for — without running afoul of the law.
These secret bars with inconspicuous entrances operated during the Prohibition era when there was a nationwide ban on the production and sale of liquor. During that dry season, people visited speakeasies to enjoy drinks in underground bars where law enforcement could not easily find them.
Nearly 100 years later, speakeasies are still as popular as ever in Washington, D.C., a city that knows a little something about laws and those who oppose them. Be part of the resistance — sort of — by checking out these five hidden bars:
Located in Georgetown, this hideaway bar is a gem.
It’s tucked away behind a gray door that looks like it’s protecting a secret vault or maybe just a supply closet. You’ll make your way down a few steps until you reach a quaint bar that’s reminiscent of something out of a classic mob movie.
Bartenders at The Alex are friendly, and the drinks are great. You can even get a gin and tonic served in a tiny bathtub — a nod to the troughs bootleggers once used to concoct their elixirs. If none of the cocktails on the menu tickles your fancy, the mixologists are more than happy to make a custom drink to your liking.
Oh, and the menu is printed as a newspaper. Super creative.
Guaranteed, you’ll walk past this bar at least twice before realizing you missed it.
The Gibson is tucked away behind a random door that you’d never consider opening unless you knew exactly what you were going to find. Nestled right between the popular 14th Street staple, Marvin, and Bestway Liquors — right on the legendary U Street corridor — the door granting entry into The Gibson is only marked by numbers indicating its address: 2009.
Once you’re in, the bar embodies the epitome of a speakeasy: It’s dimly lit and intimate. The menu is seasonal, and there’s always a variety of cocktails to choose from.
Chicken + Whiskey
You think you’re stepping into a casual chicken restaurant, but wait; there’s more!
Walk past the soft drink machine to what looks like a stainless steel deep freezer door, and behind it is a whiskey bar styled similarly to the restaurant.
The bar menu boasts 99 types of whiskey. We don’t recommend you try them all at once, but there are traditional whiskey-based cocktails like Sazerac and Penicillin that you can try with a different whiskey each time you go.
Although it’s considered a whiskey bar, Chicken + Whiskey, located on 14th Street Northwest not far from Logan Circle, also serves cocktails made with other liquors.
This hidden venue on D.C.’s busy K Street Northwest is as authentic as a speakeasy can be. Its previous incarnation, The Speak, was shut down twice because it was operating illegally. Now under new management, it’s called The Mirror.
The entrance sits at the bottom of a flight of stairs. You’ll be met with a full-length mirror and a “For Rent” sign taped to the wall next to it. It looks like a vacant space, but the bar is hidden behind the mirror.
The dimly lit area shields patrons from drinking in public view of law enforcement — should this be the 1920s. There’s even a wall that looks like it’s boarded up to give the illusion of a bar no longer in operation.
The cocktail menu, printed on a piece of old cardboard, is simple, with classic favorites like an Old Fashioned or a Sidecar.
This U Street establishment gets an A+ for keeping its speakeasy under wraps as it draws all the attention to its upstairs dance floor and lounge area, which is a popular hangout on Friday and Saturday nights.
The speakeasy, aptly called The Library, is hidden behind a bookcase on the first floor of Cloak & Dagger. It’s the first thing people entering will see, but most make a quick right to head to the second floor to dance.
The bar is designed with a Victorian-era theme, and the drinks have cool names like Tequila Mockingbird and Truth Serum.