These days, the term speakeasy has been rendered almost meaningless. Forget the elusiveness — any bar with a marketing budget wants to be considered a speakeasy, implementing silly secret codes (which one can find on Facebook), curtains and even fridge doors that reveal secret spaces serving mediocre drinks.
The real speakeasy bars originated during a time of need and became rampant in Chicago and New York long before it became a glamorous design gimmick. In the 1920s, these two cities were the breeding grounds for speakeasies when alcohol was outlawed. These places catered to sly patrons with a penchant for finding the right doors. The heart of speakeasy culture was born of community — a physical extension of a coterie of boozy chums, if you will.
Needless to say, the idea of a speakeasy in today’s culture has been appropriated to death, feeding on the desire for novelty while disregarding history. If you ask us, it’s high time we pay homage to the cities home to this stories past.
Here is our list of the best speakeasy-style bars to visit in Chicago.
This may not be the oldest, most authentic speakeasy, but it is certainly the classiest. The Violet Hour opened its doors in 2007 with Great Gatsby-esque interior. Together with innovative cocktails like Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Penguin’s Suit, this is one secret hideout you do not want to miss. Fancy a visit? Feel your way along the steam-punk clockwork mural on Damen Avenue to find the handle to this mysterious location.
Sketchy entrance? Check. Password-protected? Check. Exclusive to members? Check. Membership to this bar can be applied at the Old Chicago Inn, which houses this speakeasy. Guests who book a room at the hotel are also entitled to entry. Soaked in old-world neon lighting and the buzzing sounds of jazz bands, sip classic, ’20s-era cocktails like Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and French 75s.
One might be taken aback after visiting the Blind Barber. The shop may look like any other grooming getaway for men on the outside Yet, one is just a blink away from a 70’s styled recreation room with a full bar. Walk past the barber chairs and a nondescript doorway to experience the bar’s communal vibe. Fancy a boogie or two? Blind Barber also has space for a mini dance floor, catering to those who want to dance through the night.
If you are looking for Janitor’s Closet, do not fret if you see the “Authorised Personnel Only” downstairs of FieldHouse Jones. Once inside, curiosity patrons are rewarded with captivating cocktails and a setting so intimate, it only has 15 seats. The building was once Borden Dairy Depot, and the bar is presently situated in, you guessed it, the janitor’s closet. Decked out in antiques from flea markets and thrift shops, be prepared to immerse yourself in an old-school intimate vibe.