Note: Due to ever-changing Covid policies and the smaller spaces of many speakeasies, several speakeasies that would’ve joined this list are taking a pause until they can safely reopen. For all of the below, please check for hours, safety protocols and whether reservations are required.
The Roaring Twenties blared as a post-pandemic party. Those decadent parties of yore with flowing champagne, jazz bands and well-dressed hedonism were all completely illegal due to Prohibition. Speakeasies, also known colorfully as gin joints and blind pigs, were often tucked downstairs, entered through an unmarked entrance and protected with secret passwords — or you had to be invited by someone who knew someone.
A century later, we again find ourselves looking for a place to lift our glasses with friends. And while pub and lounge doors are now adorned with signs about mask and vax policies, modern-era speakeasies can still be found upstairs or downstairs, hidden behind mirrors or bookcases, serving up classic cocktails and contemporary hip-hop across the District.
“It’s ideal you don’t know what to expect until you get inside,” Malhotra explains. “And once you know, you want to share the secret or keep it to yourself.” Descend into our list of must-try D.C. area speakeasies below.
Classy AF: The Gibson
One of the earlier craft cocktail bars in D.C., the Gibson opened in 2009. Manager Jewel Murray shares, “Throughout the years, we have stayed true to our commitment to bringing pre-Prohibition era cocktails to enthusiasts and dabblers alike.” Closed for most of 2020 and 2021, the sophisticated speakeasy is once again pouring giggle water. Murray recommends reservations, especially on the weekends, and ordering either the signature Old Fashioned or the Gibson original the Hay Fever, made with vodka, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit, lemon and grenadine. She also notes the bartenders want to speak about the build of a drink to craft the perfect concoction for your tastes. 2009 14th St. NW, DC; thegibsondc.com // @thegibsondc
…And What Alice Found There: Allegory
Follow the White Rabbit to this high-concept speakeasy that blends art, literature, social justice, craft cocktails and hospitality. The cocktail menu allegorically salutes civil rights pioneer Ruby Bridges through the story of “Alice in Wonderland.” Accessible through the radical book library at the Eaton DC hotel, the drinks are experimental. Try the Jabberwocky, a take on a classic mai tai with a darker, moodier spice profile that features a traditional Middle Eastern mix and a brine from fermenting hot peppers. You might also grow taller or shorter with the Seeds of Destruction, a martini turned into “caviar” spheres and served with a stack of Pringles. Allegory will launch a new electrifying menu in February by Master Mixologist Deke Dunne. 1201 K St. NW, DC; allegory-dc.com // @allegory_dc
Turn on the Pink Light: doi moi downstairs
The team at doi moi downstairs describe the vibe as “modern day opium den…but no drugs. It’s a little naughty, a lot sexy and definitely has an air of escapism.” Once the pink light is on at the popular 14th Street Vietnamese restaurant, head downstairs to sip the Elephant in the Room — featuring mezcal, Aperol, honey, passion fruit, coconut and lime — and served in a unique elephant-shaped glass. During their happy hour (including small plates), enjoy a mix of upbeat soul music from the ’50s and ’60s. Disco and electropop close out the bar later in the evening. 1800 14th St. NW, DC; doimoidc.com // @doimoidc
Beyond the Fauci Pouchy: The BackRoom at Capo Deli
The home of the nationally recognized pandemic drink-to-go, the Fauci Pouchy is behind a freezer door at the old school Italian Capo Deli in Shaw. Inside the darkened nightclub, there hangs a crystal chandelier with DJs spinning contemporary beats in one corner and bartenders shaking up drinks behind the bar. In this energetic dance club, don’t expect a chill atmosphere and hushed tones. “It’s not a classic speakeasy,” shares creative director Natalie Flynn. “You don’t need a waxed moustache. Come as you are.” And for those who still prefer their cocktails at home, The BackRoom offers other drinks to go, including the booze du jour, a bottled espresso martini serving 10 2.5-ounce drinks. 715 Florida Ave. NW, DC; capodeli.com // @capoitaliandeli
A ‘90s Spin on the Speakeasy: Never Looked Better
Another unconventional take on the speakeasy, Never Looked Better is the sister bar of Mirror on K Street. Look for the sticker-covered door in the mural-filled Blagden Alley and head downstairs to a club that embraces the drinks and decor of the ’90s. Enjoy that appletini or cosmopolitan like you are hanging out with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and, of course, Samantha. Relive fantasies of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail.” Emblazoned with neon lights and retro colors of teal, pink and purple, the subterranean Never Looked Better recalls the vibe of a word-of-mouth rave. 130 Blagden Alley, NW, DC; neverlookedbetterdc.com // @neverlookedbetterdc
Truth in Advertising: Chicken + Whiskey
Good, fast, cheap and fun, Chicken + Whiskey on 14th Street is beloved for its tasty Peruvian chicken. Behind a fridge door at the back, there is an impressive whiskey bar with DJs spinning vinyl — often reggaeton, old-school funk and Latin pop. There are 99 whiskeys on the menu available for 2-ounce pours. (The name of the place is pretty upfront about its two specialties.) The current favorite cocktail is Becky’s Only Fans, made with Tito’s vodka, passion fruit, vanilla and lime. 1738 14th St. NW, DC; chickenandwhiskey.com/whiskeybar // @chickenandwhiskey
A Laidback Speakeasy in Alexandria: Captain Gregory’s
The laidback, welcoming Captain Gregory’s opened in Alexandria six years ago and features an evolving themed menu that changes every six to eight weeks, inviting patrons to visit again and again for the newest libations. Currently, they are rolling into an Appalachian-inspired cocktail menu (think bourbon, apple brandy, rye, pine notes) and will follow with Winter in Tokyo (Japanese gin, whiskeys, yuzu and sake). For those awaiting booster number four, Captain Gregory’s has concocted a penicillin riff with Islay scotch, Bénédictine, dandelion-ginger root syrup, lemon and marigolds as well as a stirred Old Fashioned-style cocktail with rye, apple brandy, Bavarian hop-infused honey, allspice dram, lavender and honey bitters. Unpretentious, friendly and delicious. 804 North Henry St. Alexandria, VA; captaingregorys.com // @captaingregorys
That ‘70s Show: The Side Door at Pub & the People
The Eckington/Bloomingdale pub with tasty tavern fare is already cozy and welcoming, with an intimate indoor space, large patio and friendly staff. But they have recently expanded by turning their basement space into a 1970s style rec room for grown-ups. The Side Door still features delectable cocktails (recently a series of snowstorm-inspired drinks for the wintry weather) but in a wood-paneled lower space, with green vinyl furniture and a to-die-for record collection lining one of the walls. 1648 N Capitol St. NW, DC; thepubandthepeople.com // @pubandthepeople
Art Deco Decadence: Denson Liquor Bar
Around the corner from Shakespeare Theatre Company in Penn Quarter, head downstairs and get transported back to the 1920s. In this dimly lit art deco bar, you won’t come across Billie Holiday or F. Scott Fitzgerald imbibing, but you could easily imagine. Denson’s curved leather banquettes pull your party in close for conspiratorial conversations, while you enjoy caviar, deviled eggs and old-fashioned cocktails. I recommend the aromatic Rosemary’s Rye to warm you up: Rye whiskey, rosemary-cinnamon syrup and angostura bitters. 600 F St. NW, DC; densondc.com // @densondc
A Speakeasy in Your Backyard: Cocktail Club at Hook Hall
Hook Hall in Park View is one of several, large beer gardens along Georgia Avenue. Laidback, lively and friendly for those with kids and dogs, Hook Hall always feels like a chill backyard party with friends and neighbors, complete with games and a relaxing garden. But even our most trusted neighbors can keep secrets: Every few weeks, master mixologist Mick Perrigo devises a new themed drink menu (recent themes included Prohibition, Eye of the Tiger and Holiday Mythical Creatures) for 90-minute reserved sessions of three tempting cocktails and “unexpected surprises.” 3400 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; hookhall.com/cocktailclub // @hookhall_dc
Speakeasy-Esque: Copycat Co.
Copycat Co. on H Street checks off a few of the speakeasy boxes: You might walk past it if you aren’t paying attention, it’s intimate and dark inside and it serves up spirited mixed drinks. But it’s a bit more rock ‘n’ roll, offers incredibly tasty Chinese street food in shareable portions and doesn’t bill itself as a speakeasy. Located upstairs, sweet, sour and savory pot stickers, wontons and meat dishes accompany a bevy of both classic and rotating featured cocktail selections. On my last outing, I warmed up with the Clyde Barrow, a boozy, grownup take on a spiced cider with allspice, cinnamon, Montenegro, bourbon and cream on top. 1110 H St. NE, DC; copycatcompany.com // @copycatco
Through the Looking Glass: Mirror
Self-described as “secret bar, classic cocktails,” this may be D.C.’s most hidden speakeasy. On K Street NW, find the most nondescript business facade, go inside, head downstairs and enter through the mirrored panel. Once you’ve gone through the looking glass, you are transported to a classic cocktail bar with leather furniture, sable-painted walls and drinks of the past, such as Aviation, Corpse Reviver #2 and Tom Collins. 1413 K St. NW, DC; themirrordc.com // @themirrordc
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