Unlike America, the UK never much went in for prohibition. Still, there’s something about hidden, luxury drinking spots that Britons simply can’t resist.
There’s a burgeoning trend for speakeasy bars in the UK, and while they might be difficult to find, these ones are worth the effort of looking!
What are speakeasy bars?
For those unfamiliar with the term, speakeasy bars are essentially the drinking equivalent of hidden restaurants. They’re bars hidden out of sight who don’t usually promote themselves. Instead, they rely on word-of-mouth and the element of surprise to lure customers in.
From the outside, speakeasy bars might not necessarily even look like bars. However, for those brave enough to enter, they can yield some serious treats. We’ve done some extensive research to track down some of the best of the lot from around the UK. Safe to say, for those who enjoy a luxury alcohol experience without the crowds, these might be the perfect drinking holes.
1. The Washhouse – Manchester
Doing your washing has never been so much fun as this is no everyday laundrette. Follow your intrigue and step through the washing machine in the corner to a sultry, stylish and dimly lit bar #washhousemanchester serving up suitably refined cocktails and a house playlist to Manchester's in-the-know crowd. Photo by Clei Venues Made Different. #GinMadeDifferent #HALFHITCHGinLoading ...
Located in Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter, it’d be easy to walk past The Washhouse. From the outside, it looks like an unassuming (and actually quite unpleasant) launderette. In fact, the place recently got into a row with Trading Standards after turning away someone who wanted to use their machines.
However, if you ‘book a machine’ in advance, you’ll be invited into the hidden backroom and that’s where the fun starts.
In the back, guests will be treated to a range of exquisite cocktails crafted by the genius bartenders. The lighting is low and the magic is real. A first rate experience for all who can find it!
2. Dusk ‘Til Pawn – Manchester
Considering it’s surrounded by some of the best bars Manchester has to offer including Lost In Tokyo and Guilty By Association, it’s probably not surprising this little pawn shop has a secret. In the windows you’ll see broken televisions and old guitars, but step through the doors and you’ll find yourself in a drinking wonderland.
They’ve got every cocktail one could possibly image, and more besides. There’s even new cocktails weekly so there’s always something new to enjoy.
3. Smultronställe – Birmingham
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Hidden in the City Arcade, you’d be well within your rights to walk past this one without ever noticing it. Still, it’s well-worth investigating if you can. Bookings take place months in advance, and you’ll only be texted the exact location on the morning of your visit.
And it’s pretty difficult to get a seat too! The bar only fits nine people at a time. Still, those people enjoy a two hour cocktail experience with a ‘tasting menu’ of drinks.
4. Speakeasy Bar – Birmingham
This one is so secretive it doesn’t even have a name. Visitors must call 0121 236 2400 to make reservations in advance.
They’ll then be provided with the secret password and instructions to access the mystery location. The exclusive bar is said to have the feel of a members club within.
5. The Maven – Leeds
Located on Leeds’ beloved Call Lane, The Maven is one of the city’s worst-kept secrets. Guests have to look for a doorway without a sign emblazoned above it. Inside, they must follow the steps up to the doors with a big ‘M’ on them.
Inside, they’ll find the prohibition style American bar with a sleek, sophisticated look and an arrange of dedicated mixologists who can all kinds of weird and wonderful cocktails.
6. 7 Greek Street Social – Leeds
Outside the popular Liquorist on Greek Street there’s a decidedly out-of-place phone. Pick up the phone and dial a secret number and you’ll be invited downstairs to 7 Greek Street Social. The place is dark and atmospheric, with DJ sets every night and cocktails aplenty.
Unfortunately, this one is only open Friday-Sunday from 9pm, so it’s even more exclusive!
7. The Berkley Suite – Glasgow
A vintage Victorian style ballroom hidden behind a pawn shop on the side of a motorway.
Safe to say, no one will just stumble into The Berkley Suite unless they intended to find it. The bar on North Street always features killer DJ sets and amazing club nights. Definitely worth taking a look!
8. Ex-Directory – Liverpool
Another one which can only be found by calling from a local phone box. Created by the minds behind the Washhouse in Manchester, this Northern gem is a real classic. Guests have to book in advance then call the bar from a local red telephone box to be granted access to the bar.
However, once inside, this is a seriously classy establishment. Table service is the order of the day here and guests are treated like VIPs all night.
9. Berry And Rye – Liverpool
So secretive it doesn’t even have a website. Tucked away on Barry Street, there’s no indication that Berry And Rye even exists.
Inside guests will find big wooden tables and thick velvet curtains, all lit by candles. The cocktails are absolutely divine and definitely worth trying!
10. The Latchkey – Portsmouth
A speakeasy straight out of the jazz age, The Latchkey sits in the former Birdseye Lounge at the Vaughan Mall. The windows are covered by thick black curtains and there are twinkling lights to transport guests back in time to the 1920s.
However, aside from a big key etched on the door, there’s no indication as to what The Latchkey is from the outside. There are signature cocktails on offer, as well as old favourites.
11. The Poison Cabinet – Newcastle Upon Tyne
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Hidden beneath popular smokehouse restaurant and beer wonderland, Bierrex, The Poison Cabinet offers something altogether different.
While Bierrex is a veritable paradise for beer drinkers, The Poison Cabinet does the same for those who like cocktails.
12. The Boilermaker – Nottingham
On their website The Boilermaker explains “Drinking is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” That should tell you everything you need to know.
The bar is located in what looks like an old boiler repair shop, but, as you might have guessed from this list, the back room is home to the fancy bar where table service is a must. Among all the bars in Nottingham, few have such knowledgeable and helpful staff.
The bartenders at The Boilermaker seem to actually enjoy their job and want to help find the right cocktail for every customer. Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself on Carlton Street.
13. The Dead Canary – Cardiff
As you might expect with a name like that, this one is dedicated to all things to do with Welsh mining. Well, that plus cocktails. Located at a mystery address on Barrack Lane in Cardiff City Centre visitors will have to find the address themselves after booking.
The bar staff were all hand-picked for their talent, so guests will definitely get an incredible experience every single time.
14. The Blind Tiger – Cardiff
Until you book you won’t find any information about this one out. Accessible to only those who sign up to their mailing list and book through there, The Blind Tiger takes secret to a whole other level.
15. Panda And Sons – Edinburgh
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In the spirit of the roaring twenties, the drink of choice at this speakeasy is gin. The bar is disguised as a ‘dodgy Chicago barbershop’ on Queen Street. However, once guests pop inside they’ll head down a flight of stairs only to find a bookcase with several books askew.
Like a real life James Bond movie, pulling the correct book acts like a handle to open the door to this bar. The drinks are simple but perfectly served! One of the most unique experiences you’ll find in Edinburgh!
16. Bramble – Edinburgh
The first ever Scottish bar to feature in Bartender Magazine’s Top 20, guests are in for a real treat here. This bar serves cocktails, champagne, wines and spirits.
Once again, you’ll find Bramble on Queen Street (so you could do this one plus Panda And Sons all in one night, if you really wanted to!) Another basement bar hidden away from prying eyes, this one is all alcoves and nooks inside.
Still, the specially selected premium spirits are really something special and delicious!
17. Haycock And Tailbar Associates – Leicester
This one might not actually count because it has two venues (the other is in Northampton) so it’s not quite such a one-off experience. Still, the newer one in Leicester is definitely worth a look. A locked black door with a gold bell is the only way to access this unassuming speakeasy.
Aside from just drinks, this one also offers a delicious food menu across its three floors. It’s both modern and classic in decor, perfect for the discerning customer.
18. BYOC – Brighton/London
With four bars in Brighton and London, BYOC is a certifiable speakeasy brand. Still, that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their exclusive and special credentials. The gimmick here is that guests bring their own spirits and book a two hour slot at the table.
Bartenders will then offer a table service and make a minimum of five rounds of cocktails for guests. The theme of these bars is 1920s prohibition, so expect fedoras and feather boas!
19. Cosy Kettle – London
We’re not sure if it really counts as a speakeasy if it’s hidden beneath another drinking establishment. Still, despite that quibble, the Cosy Kettle is just wonderful. Located beneath The Somers Town Coffee House (a pub, not a coffee house) between Euston and King’s Cross stations, the Cosy Kettle is brilliant and always a popular spot.
The bartenders make a range of classic cocktail favourites plus some specialty drinks of their own making. They also have impromptu DJ sets and bands playing, so you’ll never know what you’re going to get! Open every night of the week except Mondays and Sundays, it’s definitely worth checking out while you wait for your train!
20. Blind Pig – London
The upper floor of Soho’s popular Social Eating House is home to the Bling Pig. It’s not actually super easy to find your way into this one though.
The trick is to look under the vintage ‘Optician’ sign for the blindfolded hog doorknocker. This one has some brilliantly modern cocktails set in a glamorously classic-looking location.
21. CellarDoor – London
Cellar Door #London (This is where I sing. There is a small bar down there full of the most wonderful people. And they continue to embrace me every time I visit. I don't need huge audiences when I'm here. The familiar faces and lack of judgement is artistic perfection. #Love exists here.) #CellarDoorLondon
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a classic 1920s look for your speakeasy bar. As the other entries on this list prove, that approach has its charms. On the other hand, it is just a little bit clichéd.
Converted from a Victorian toilet this one is different: modern, with purple neon lights everywhere, giving it a seriously unique look. All the classic drinks are here, but the entertainment is really the interesting part of CellarDoor.
Cabaret, drag shows, comedy, and more are the order of the day here, with something different on almost every night. You never know what you’re going to get and that’s part of the fun.
22. Evans And Peele Detective Agency – London
Okay, this one is pretty special. In order to make a booking to this secretive club, guests must submit a ‘case’ on the website. Once they arrive at the venue, a detective will spend about 20 minutes quizzing them on the details of this case before inviting them into the secret Earls Court venue.
They even do a membership where guests can get their own key to a secret locker behind the bar filled with exclusive offers and treats every time they visit!
Of course, with more and more of these speakeasy bars popping up, there are tonnes more to discover.
Unfortunately, for the purposes of this article, those ones may be just a little too well hidden…