Remember when alcohol was officially illegal? Los Angeles does.
It was kind of a dark time. How are you supposed to make it from a World War to The Great Depression without booze? Needless to say, people were pissed. People were killed. There was a boom in organized crime as mobsters made profits from underground smuggling, the federal government poisoned industrial alcohols to try and kill off the bootleggers, and of course people took to making homemade hootch in their bathtubs while jazz music filled the speakeasies.
Los Angeles loves to remember the Prohibition Era. It makes sense, seeing as how Downtown was the landscape for lots of bootlegging mobster Prohibition history. 11 miles of underground tunnels facilitated alcohol trafficking, often conducted by corrupt city officials. The tunnels led to inconspicuous drinking dens, like King Eddy’s Saloon, a piano store where one could get their fix in the basement. Nowadays, you don’t have to know a password to grab a drink at the 5th and Main bar. These tunnels are mostly closed off now, I know that because before the tunnel entrances between two historic sister-buildings were sealed, I lived in one of the buildings and heard a firsthand rumor from the maintenance crew that they found a collection of Model T cars packed with bricks of Prohibition Era narcotics, plus a lot of skeletons, as the cops were said to use the tunnels to transport and hide bodies. Whether or not you believe this, there are still some tunnels you can access, supposedly, but I doubt there will be any 1920s heroin left. Regardless, I don’t want you celebrating Repeal Day underground. Celebrate at any of these local Prohibition-themed bars instead, and keep your ear to the ground about special deals, secret passwords, alley entrances, and dress codes.
118 E. 6th St.
Find the hidden entrance in the back of Cole’s, allegedly the originator of the French Dip. Look for an unmarked door. Live jazz on certain nights of the week.
10797 Washington Blvd.
You have to walk through an actual barber shop to enter Culver City’s favorite speakeasy. It shares a wall with Best Buy. Try the grilled cheese!
108 West 2nd St.
An “Industrial Cathedral” built from architectural artifacts from LA’s first private power plant, hence the name. You are unlikely to drop in without having to wait in line or pay at least a $10 cover, but the entertainment is usually top-notch and very on-era.
1356 Palmetto St.
Part apothecary, part cathedral, and with lots of mason jars and curly mustaches, you can sometimes enjoy live circus music from a velvet tufted settee or on their outdoor patio.
2939 W. Sunset Blvd.
I never really thought of The Thirsty Crow as a speakeasy until their 50 cent cocktail Repeal Day celebration. Nonetheless, this was my longtime neighborhood haunt and I drank many an Old Fashioneds perched alone at the bar, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Lock & Key
239 S. Vermont Ave.
If you can find the door, you’ll have to find the door knob, and there are, like, a hundred of them. Your next mission to order the deep fried PB&J sandwich topped with powdered sugar.
3843 Main St.
Alley entrance, chandeliers, crushed velvet wallpaper, this place has all the makings of a Roaring 20s speakeasy. What’s unique about this place is the multiple varieties of Absinthe, served traditionally from fountains not unlike those used during Belle Epoque cafes in Paris.
515 W. 7th St.
Find Jackalope Bar in the back of the famous Seven Grand just before you reach the bathrooms. You’ll find a closed door with a small sign, and once you enter, you leave behind the noise, music, and chatter of Seven Grand and enter a quiet, intimate, and exclusive whiskey tasting experience. The service is so personal and intimate in fact, that one reviewer called it borderline intrusive.
1727 N. Hudson Ave.
Rumor has it this house (yes, house) was once owned by Charlie Chaplin and then was later a brothel. The downside is this bar has all the worst things about Hollywood including, but not limited to, long lines, “club people,” and expensive cocktails. But if you can look past it, this speakeasy packs the theatrics on a Disneyland level. Live burlesque, jazz band, and an entrance that is too remarkable to give away to someone who hasn’t experienced it.