When it comes to bars, dark and hidden away will never go out of style. Thrill of discovery and in-the-know exclusivity aside, drinking spaces that brand themselves as “speakeasies” tend to create a more let loose/feel good energy that’s noticeably shared by all who enter. Bad vibes are rare. 

Of course, the term “speakeasy” literally refers to the era during Prohibition, when imbibers had to hide to purchase and enjoy alcoholic beverages together. While everything that goes down in speakeasy style bars these days is legal, the atmosphere can conjure a subtle naughtiness nonetheless. It’s not enough to simply “look for the back room,” anymore, either. Modern speakeasies have a certain bygone elegance and an unmatched attention to detail, decor and the drink menu. We’d dare to declare that Los Angeles has some of the best in this regard. 

As the author of a book called Los Angeles’ Best Dive Bars, we love a hard-to-find mini-mall hole in the wall, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Instead, we are celebrating the L.A. bars with thematic environments, immersive vintage touches and boozy surprises – spots that live up to the mystery of their exteriors. 

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(Courtesy SLS/Wasp in a Wig)

The SLS Hotel Beverly Hills is one of the most luxurious places to stay in Los Angeles, but its art and design is anything but stuffy or traditionally fancy. Whimsical pieces and comfort zones greet guests from the moment they exit their cars in the valet outside – and it just gets curiouser and curiouser as you enter the front lobby.

For several years, José Andrés’ Bazaar made for a complementary tenant, especially with its upscale yet whimsically-minded dishes and design. But sadly, the restaurant did not survive past the pandemic in the B.H. locale and vacated in 2020. The SLS’s rooftop restaurant and bar, which is currently in the midst of a renovation, remains a relaxing place for drinks and bites, and it’s particularly gorgeous at sunset when its infinity pool starts to reflect the light from modern gas fire pits and funky outdoor lamps.


(Courtesy SLS/Wasp in a Wig)

Wasp in a Wig

But the hotel’s newest destination is something altogether more fantastical and it tops our list of speakeasies worth investigating. Wasp in a Wig is inspired by the lost chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and its intention is to transport visitors down the rabbit hole in more ways than one. Crystal chandeliers, baroque furnishings adorned with cheeky animal faces, vintage photographs and books, white velvet upholstery, and colorful knickknacks referencing Wonderland and its beloved characters are everywhere, and many are hidden or subtle.

“The best way I would describe the speakeasy, and the SLS Hotel in general, is eclectic elegance,” says Jordan Peterkofsky, food and beverage manager at the SLS. “Stepping through the looking glass and into the world of Wasp in a Wig brings you to a whimsical fantasyland filled with easter eggs throughout. From the Mad Hatter rabbit that greets you at the portal into the speakeasy to the ancient literature displayed in vitrines throughout, it’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience.”



The cocktails alone are enough to make a hatter go mad. The “Drink Me” portion of the menu features indulgent sips that’ll make you marvel, from Hendrick’s gin-driven The White Rabbit to Absinthe and vodka elixir The Fairy to our favorite, The Key Li-Me Softly, a scrumptious mix of tangy and tart that rivals any dessert out there.

The “Eat Me” section is no less wondrous. There’s an oysters dish infused with Korean spices and an oxtail chicharron. There’s also special attention to mushrooms here – as apparently they “make you grow taller.” Also, Carroll happened to be a big fan of fungi. Try the mushroom carpaccio or flatbread pizza.

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Wondrous Bites (Lina Lecaro)

Find it: This speakeasy entrance is revealed when the clock strikes 5 p.m., and a funhouse-style mirrored entry opens up to the right of the SLS check-in desk. Walk-ins are welcome but reservations are recommended. (465 La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills. Marriott.com/en-us/hotels/laxls)


The Blind Barber

This hybrid biz aims to capture the community connections that are often found at the local barbershop – and more. With a bar in the back of a working haircut hub, they provide a place to bond and barfly after a snip or buzz – or anytime.


With locations in New York and Los Angeles, the concept takes the welcoming environs of a man cave to new heights. There are two spots in town: in the original Culver city space, a dimly lit room has leather booths and relaxed upscale dive ambiance; and in Highland Park, with a sleek mod living room feel. Both bars serve a small food menu including grilled cheese, seasoned chips and truffle popcorn, but the focus is definitely the drinks. Try the fruit-flared Strawberry Fields, High +Tight and the Hot Heather.

Find it: Walk to the back of the shop to find the secret lounge and listen for DJs spinning an inviting multi-genre music mix. (5715 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park, and 10797 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Blindbarber.com)


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Adults Only sleazy entry (Lina Lecaro)

Adults Only

There are plenty of cool bars in mini-malls around L.A. but only Adults Only recreates a retro video porn shop to enter. The “store” isn’t real, but it provides a sleazy fun welcome as you walk to the back and discover a surprisingly upscale and quite large looking drinking establishment.



Campy films (not XXX ones, though) are projected on the walls and DJs spin a mix of rock, pop on hip-hop most nights. Spacious booths, a pool table and strong drinks make this bar the kind of place you stay for a while, i.e, it’s worth more than a quickie.

Find it: Look for the red lit walkway and neon bar name. (7065 ½ Sunset Blvd. Adultsonlybar.la)



The Exhibition Room

If you’re looking for a speakeasy with a bit of saucy allure and quirky spirits, head over to Long Beach for The Exhibition Room, one of the few drinking joints that truly lives up to its name in terms of capturing what it might have really been like in the Prohibition era. Candlelight, old movies (silent films), music (often live), and mixologists who know how to elevate old-fashioned alcoholic beverages with a modern twist await.

Find it: Walk through Roxanne’s restaurant to the old phone booth and ring ‘em up. Make your reservation beforehand to get the password. (1117 E. Wardlow Road, Long Beach. Theexhibitionroom.com)


(Courtesy The Varnish)

The Varnish

“We don’t refer to our hidden bars as speakeasies, as they existed only at a specific time when bars were illegal for imbibing hooch,”  says nightlife impresario Cedd Moses, whose company Pouring with Heart (PWH) has helped Downtown remain the ultimate destination for old school bar culture. “We really like bars, hidden within other bars, as they create a multi-layered experience for the guest. A sense of discovery and the unexpected.”

PWH has several bars boasting either a somewhat hidden entry and/or a vintage feel, and while Moses doesn’t use the word, we’ll deem one of his bars the most speakeasy-esque, and maybe best overall. The Varnish, tucked non-descriptively behind the historic Cole’s restaurant, is a hidden gem that often sees people crowding to get in. Tucked inside of the landmark restaurant known as the home of the classic French Dip beef sandwich, the history here (it opened in 1908) is palpable, and it makes for a multi-faceted and flashbacky night out.



The Varnish, established in 2009, is an intimate, dark and woody with ‘20s touches both classy and sassy, making it a great place for a discreet date night or simply a post-dinner nightcap. Exposed brick, lowlight and spiffy bar staff make it feel like an escape from the modern world. The bartenders here know their business and there’s an array of classics and inventive signature sips like The Poet’s Dream, the Bitter Bee and the Sazerac. There’s jazz music most nights, too. Get there early because it fills up quick.

Find it: Walk to the back of Cole’s dining room and look for the door with a framed picture of a cocktail. (118 E. Sixth St., Downtown Los Angeles. Thevarnishbar.com)


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Fire eater at La Descarga (Lina Lecaro)

(Hidden) Honorable Mentions:

The undisputed kings of the hidden entry must be lauded here – the Houston Brothers. Houston Hospitality (the nightlife company from twin bros and L.A. natives Jonnie and Mark Houston) has perfected it to the point of experiential art.

From the secretive Havana-themed hedonism found behind a vintage armoire (move the hanger over to walk inside) at La Descarga, to the garage fridge walkway of the ‘70s domicile known as Good Times at Davey Waynes to the austere wreckroom journey (enter behind a vending machine) at Breakroom 86, which also features hidden karaoke rooms, the duo’s attention to detail and guest discovery is unmatched. In fact, the Houston’s bars often make our surveys of the best bars in L.A. each year– for this publication and others.

The Houston’s bars always offer themed drinks, perfectly curated music (deejayed and live depending on the night) and decor that complements the nightlife narrative as presented by its secret entry. While they might be a bit less hidden, some of the brothers’ other bars are fittingly retro enough for this list too, 20s touched Black Rabbit Rose and No Vacancy, for example.

We can’t wait to see what they unveil at the new Moxy/AC hotel in Downtown, where they’ve taken over an entire floor. With Level 8,  they are promising a brand new speakeasy that according to press materials, will feature another concealed entrance that “transports guests into a new world through an old cathedral.”  (More info on all of these and more at Houstonhospitalityla.com). 













































































































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