There’s always a nostalgic feeling you get as you duck through the hidden door or carefully manage the rickety basement steps in order to enter that famous local speakeasy. With a fancy cocktail in your hand and live music filling the dimly lit room, it feels as if you’ve suddenly been transported back in time to the prohibition, a time where you actually had to speak easy (speak softly) for fear of the coppers coming round and raiding the illegal booze.
Fortunately, for San Diego locals, these days you don’t need to know the secret password or have to bribe the doorman to let you in (although there’s little doubt it would be appreciated). All you need is this roadmap to the best secret (but not so secret) speakeasy bars in San Diego. With it, you can change up your standard date night and add an element of surprise, antiquity, and class to the evening.
Read on to start the tour and discover our four favorites!
Photo Credit: Zack Benson
Many of the critics of the failed Prohibition mockingly called it the “Noble Experiment,” which is how we get the name of our first special underground bar. Located at 777 G Street, this swanky bar is hidden behind a secret door—a wall of beer kegs—within the Neighborhood Restaurant.
As you enter the clandestine scene, you’re greeted with a red neon sign and a wall festooned by brass skulls. In keeping with the times and place, the small lounge, streaked with golds, reds and rich browns, is tastefully lit by gas lamps and occasionally hosts live music.
Noble Experiment keeps with the times, refusing to provide alcohol that wasn’t available during the prohibition, so don’t go expecting beer, vodka, or rosé. Do you enjoy whiskey and gin? Well, they got a lot of it. Also, because this downtown location is small and popular, you’re advised to make reservations no larger than 5 patrons.
- The drink to get: “The Dealer’s Choice” – When you order this, the experienced mixologist asks a few questions as to what you like and then surprises you with a custom made cocktail. Be careful! Drinks may be on the pricy side, but they pack a serious wallop.
Photo Credit: Prohibition
Although it’s slightly easier to find than the previous location, Prohibition, located at 548 Fifth Avenue, is hidden behind a door with a sign that says, “Law Offices of Eddie O’Hare, Esq.” If you wonder who that is, in short, he’s the man who served as Al Capone’s lawyer and who fathered the first flying ace of World War II, Butch O’Hare—the pilot whom the Chicago O’Hare airport was named after.
Upon knocking on this door, you will be greeted by a doorman who provides Prohibition’s Five Rules:
- No cell phones at the bar.
- No parties larger than six.
- Drink with an open mind.
- No unsolicited advances on female patrons.
- Dress code strictly enforced: Collared shirts for men, no sandals or athletic shoes, no shorts, and no ball caps.
This spot used to be restricted to guest or invite only, however, recently it’s been opened up to the public at large and operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Stylish and bedecked in reds, this haunt heavily evokes the era of its namesake. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday from 7 in the evening until 2 in the morning and regularly hosts live music events. Although they serve an array of specialty cocktails, they’re most well known for their collection of premium scotches.
- The drink to get: “The Top Shelf Booker’s Old Fashioned” – Made with Booker’s bourbon, Grand Marnier, an orange peel, and R&D House Bitters. Throw a couple of these back and you may actually think you’ve gone back in time.
Realm of the 52 Remedies
Photo credit: Realm of 52 remedies Instagram account
Draped in low golden light, with a surrealist’s touch to the interior design, this speakeasy is a spectacle to see. Realm of the 52 Remedies is located on 4805 Convoy Street within Common Theory, a delightful gastropub known for its Asian twist on the menu.
All that tells of this secret bar is a mysterious opaque door glowing in the corner. Once past this mystery door, your senses are immediately greeted by bright white walls lined with ancient Chinese herbal medicines. Beyond this room, you’ll find yourself walking amidst a decorative hallway, instantly alerting you to the magical and truly one-of-a-kind place you’re about to enter.
Because there is often a waitlist for this speakeasy, it’s comforting to know their sister restaurant is right there to grab a drink while you wait. Once given the key to access—a text on your phone—prepare yourself for cocktails that delight your taste buds as much as the décor does your eyes.
- The drink to get: “Farewell My Concubine” – This vodka inspired drink will have you transported to another land. Mixed with a Nostrum shrub of ginger, Asian pear, and malty oolong tea.
Photo Credit: Room 56
This intimate speakeasy located at 831 Sixth Avenue of the Gaslamp Quarter can play host to approximately 25 patrons, making for a memorable drinking and dining experience. This secret speakeasy requires that you make a reservation by sending a secret code to the given number. To make the reservation you have to send a secret code to the right number, and then once the reservation is made, your instructions are sent to you. Mysterious, right?
Decorated to the 9’s, this sophisticated spot looks like it lies in the basement of a billionaire’s mansion. Upon arrival, the hostess greets you with a miniature cocktail based on a recipe from the era of George Washington. But that’s just the beginning! This locale offers some of the most dangerously delicious cocktails in all of San Diego.
Want to unplug? This is the place. Room 56 doesn’t allow photographs or videos to be taken. So, keep your phone in your pocket and simply enjoy the atmosphere, conversation, and specialty cocktails.
- The drink to get: “The Public Spectacle” – Made with gin, lemon, honey, St. Germaine, Violette, and champagne, this lovely concoction has quite the kick.
Photo Credit: There San Diego, Photo taken by James Tran
Located at 675 W Beech Street in Little Italy, False Idol makes for a phenomenal date spot due to its unique vibe and killer cocktails. Tucked away in the back of Craft and Commerce, this joint looks more like a zany Tiki Bar than it does your traditional speakeasy.
But don’t let that stop you! The carnival-like atmosphere, the lighting, and the artificial sounds of thunder and lightning all make for the perfect recipe for your island getaway.
Keeping with the theme of the décor, False Idol places a special emphasis on beach-inspired drinks, leaning heavily on the rums and fruits to do the brunt of the work. Even if that’s not your usual drink of choice, few places in San Diego can give you a thirst-quencher that does a better job of making you feel as if you’re on a beach in Hawaii.
- The Drink to get: “Alkala the Fierce” – This shareable drink uses a chai-infused-bourbon, aged dark rum, vanilla, pimento dram, and oranges and is served in a volcano that catches on fire. Per the menu, “Beware the anger of our idol, Alkala! For he is merciless when enraged!”
Speaking Easy in San Diego
If you want a memorable drinking experience at secret bars in the Downtown San Diego area, then look no further than these four spots. Whether you want a sophisticated cocktail or a rollicking time at the beach, these haunts will be sure to satisfy.
But don’t just take our word for it. Check out all four and see for yourself which one best suits your style!
Now you know where to snag a delicious nightcap, but do you know where you are dining before? Set the mood for the night and start off at one of these top-rated fine dining restaurants. But wait! The fun doesn’t have to come to an end once you’ve cleared your plate and finished your last sip. You may need some coffee to get you up the next day, so good thing we’ve got you covered on where to grab the best cup of coffee in Hillcrest, San Diego.
The Mob Museum. Speakeasies Were Prohibition’s Worst-Kept Secrets. http://prohibition.themobmuseum.org/the-history/the-prohibition-underworld/the-speakeasies-of-the-1920s/
Wikipedia. Edward J. O’Hare. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_J._O%27Hare