These Bars Were Actual Speakeasies

A century after the launch of Prohibition, these once-clandestine bars are still operating.

WORDS Boyd Farrow
January 2020

Courtesy of McGillin’s Olde Ale House

Speakeasy bars today are just concepts, but a century after the launch of Prohibition (January 17, 1920) there are still a few of the real-deal clandestine bars operating—legally, of course. Some weathered the booze ban by using secret entrances, others by surreptitiously serving teacups of booze. One of them­—McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Philadelphia—celebrates its 160th birthday this year. “We’re very proud of our history, particularly during those dark days,” says Chris Mullins, who represents the third generation to own the establishment. This month, they launch a special cocktail containing Philadelphia’s Bluecoat Gin to mark the centenary of the alcohol ban.

Bourbon & Branch
San Francisco

Operating at the same location since 1867 (during Prohibition it was called “JJ Russell’s Cigar Shop”) this wood-paneled drinking den serves small-batch bourbons by candlelight. Still in use are five secret exit tunnels.

The Back Room
New York

Originally known as “The Back of Ratner’s,” the illegal bar served cocktails in teacups while gangsters such as Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky passed through the same hidden entrance used today.

Townhouse & the Del Monte Speakeasy
Venice, California

A century ago, the Del Monte occupied the basement of the Menotti grocery store. Underneath a row of produce was a trap door and dumbwaiter that lowered patrons into the bar two at a time.


Located underneath the lobby of the Omni William Penn Hotel, the basement bar was restored in 2012. Drinkers can now enjoy Rob Roys and Rusty Nails flanked by antique whiskey bottles and “Prohibition prescription” pharmacy signs.


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