Prohibition in the United States ended in 1933, but the speakeasy has lived on. We’ve scoured the streets of some of Qantas’ most popular destinations in search of the best hidden bars in the world.
Mama Diam, Singapore1/15
The mama shop – Singapore’s answer to the bodega or milk bar – was a familiar sight on the streets of the Lion City in the ‘80s and ‘90s. So, the uncanny degree to which this retro speakeasy has conjured a fully-stocked mama shopfront has been a major drawcard for both locals charmed by the nostalgia and tourists in search of an authentic Singaporean experience. Push open a hidden door disguised as produce-stacked shelves and you’ll find a stylish bar serving up cocktails packed with Asian flavours like pandan and sour plum.
38 Prinsep St, Singapore
The Baxter Inn, Sydney2/15
Tucked away behind a scruffy door in the corner of a loading dock in Sydney’s CBD, lies a whisky wonk’s dream speakeasy. Shelves stacked from skirting board to ceiling, crowded with every scotch, bourbon, single malt and rye you can imagine, deck the walls of this basement bar. But don’t worry if an amber dram isn’t your tipple of choice. At the Baxter, some of Sydney’s finest barkeeps will mix up any classic you desire, as well as a generous list of sophisticated signature cocktails.
152/156 Clarence St, Sydney
Eau De Vie, Melbourne3/15
There’s an innate theatricality to every hidden-door bar, but this beloved stalwart of Melbourne’s late-night scene takes this showmanship to new heights. Chances are the drinks you order will either be on fire, billowing smoke or served in a glass shoe, but these flamboyant quirks don’t come at the expense of flavour. The waistcoat-clad bar team is one of the most talented in the city. Come for the Prohibition-era drama, low-lit booths and dark-wood panelling, but stay for the sky-high calibre of the cocktails.
1 Malthouse Ln, Melbourne
Please Don't Tell (PTD), Hong Kong4/15
A sister venue to New York’s OG PTD, you’ll find this achingly cool cocktail lounge masquerading as a phone booth. Once you’ve passed the decoy payphone, subtly located at the back of the Mandarin Oriental’s MO bar, you’ll find yourself in a cosy, golden-hued room that puts a distinctly Hong Kong spin on the classic speak-easy style. The menu pays homage to the cocktail offering you can find in the Big Apple while also featuring new creations that hero the produce and flavours of Asia.
15 Queen's Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
The Blind Pig, London5/15
During America’s Prohibition era, the term “blind pig” was underworld slang for a secret den of iniquity (or, less colourfully, illegal drinking place), so the name of this Soho speakeasy perfectly sets the scene for its 1920s aesthetic. Like any incognito bar worth its salt, entrance to said Pig is hidden in plain sight. Look for a vintage “Optician” sign, locate the blindfolded hog doorknocker beneath it and step into yesteryear experience that Al Capone himself would feel quite at home in.
58 Poland St, London
SG Low, Tokyo6/15
Tokyo is a city of contradictions, where an interplay of tradition and innovation permeates almost every aspect of daily life. The same is true at SG Low, one of the city’s finest izakayas. Hiding behind a nondescript door on the second floor of an unremarkable office block in Shibuya, guests still receive the traditional izakaya staple of an otooshi – a welcome appetiser. However, here it comes in the form of a signature Martini. SG Low is famous for its endless riffs on lemon sour cocktails, which range from the tried and true classic to more experimental variants for only the most adventurous of drinkers.
〒150-0041 Tokyo, Shibuya City
Image credit: Emily Baltz
Employees Only, New York7/15
As the motherland of the speakeasy, New York has more than its fair share of hidden drinking dens, but Employees Only is counted among the vanguard of venues that powered the 21st-century renaissance of the secret bar. Originally conceived as a late-night knock-off watering hole for hospitality professionals, back in 2004, it now caters to anyone who can find it, and while its frontage is admittedly a little more obvious these days (look for the green awning with “E O” emblazoned on it) the vibe inside is still speak-easy through and through.
510 Hudson St, New York
Adults Only, Los Angeles8/15
A video rental store in the year 2023? Nope, that’s just the entrance to a secret bar pretending to be the x-rated section of a ‘90s VHS shop. The decoy store is tucked inside a nondescript Hollywood strip mall; get past the bouncer (disguised as the video shop “owner”) and keep walking until you reach the black curtain, behind which lies a surprisingly sophisticated Art Deco-style bar.
7065 1/2 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
The Jerry Thomas Project, Rome9/15
It’s not enough to merely find the entrance to this Roman spin on the speakeasy. To gain entry you’ll need to know the password, which changes daily (don’t worry, it’s listed on the bar's website, although you’ll have to subscribe to the monthly newsletter to get it). If that seems like a lot of work just to get a drink, it pales in comparison to the hard yards the bar team puts into crafting their staggeringly original cocktail menu. Housemade cordials, obscure small batch distillations and elaborate presentations are the status quo, as are the whimsical days-of-yore fashions worn by the bar staff.
30 Vicolo Cellini, Rome
Little Red Door, Paris10/15
Little Red Door isn’t just one of the best hidden bars in the world; it’s one of the best bars in the world, full stop. Classic cocktails rule the menu at this candlelit Parisian night spot, which takes its name from the little red door at its address (the actual entrance is next door).
60 Rue Charlot, Paris
The Pawn Shop, San Francisco11/15
No prizes for guessing what this SoMa speakeasy hides behind. What’s far more surprising is what you’ll find once you pass the shelves of hocked wares, overseen by the ‘pawn master’ (your host-cum-bouncer) – a colourful tapas and wine bar with soaring ceilings and a tropical-meets-Deco vibe. Pro tip: patrons are encouraged to bring something to pawn to gain entrance.
993 Mission St, San Francisco
Legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain is notorious for its ruthless exclusivity, and this equally uber-cool speakeasy, across town in Mitte, aims to follow suit. Through an unmarked iron door under a train overpass, you’ll find a mirrored, tubular bar populated with Berlin’s beautiful people – that is, if you make it past the bouncer. The stringent door policy is something of a mystery, but know that should you make it inside, you’ll be in with the “in” crowd.
Schiffbauerdamm 11, Berlin
Charles H, Seoul13/15
Officially ranked as Korea’s best bar and the seventh best bar in Asia (so says the coveted 50 Best Bars in the World Awards), you’ll find this opulently appointed cocktail lounge discreetly located on the lower levels of Seoul’s Four Seasons Hotel. Melding design cues from Prohibition-era speak-easies and Imperial Korean traditions, the plush space is undeniably luxe. A similar mix of East and West percolates through the cocktail menu, where you’ll find clever takes on the classics such as the Kowloon Old Fashioned and the Bing Cha Spritz.
97 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu
Sometimes the sleight of hand of the speakeasy is about standing out rather than blending in. Which is why the utterly incongruous sight of a red London phone booth in the centre of Shanghai should tip off those bar-seekers in search of a secret. To up the ante, Barules even has a second hidden entrance inside, on a wall of picture frames, to gain access to another intimate space on the second floor.
51 Fenyang Rd, Shanghai