Lucy Britner: The World's Best Speakeasy Bars

08 August, 2013

Opium, 15-16 Gerrard Street, London

London’s Gerrard Street – or China town – is awash with tourists snapping pictures of the rows of crispy ducks hanging in the windows of the numerous Chinese restaurants. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night you’re there, it’s always bustling. But there’s a mysterious green door – they call it a Jade door on the website – at 15-16 Gerrard Street and most tourists will walk straight past it. Next to the door, there’s a small plaque that reads Opium. Up you go into an old townhouse for dim sum and cocktails. There’s also an academy and Opium-style den at the top. Try a Flying Firecracker – Bombay Sapphire, Maraschino, Absinthe, grapefruit juice, gunpowder tea, liquorice bitters and juniper syrup with a pinch of salt. You also get a handful of those little firecrackers to throw around the place. 

Little Red Door, 60 Rue Charlot, Paris

This place counts Jill Saunders among its staff and, if you have met her, expect the bar to be as friendly and fabulous as she is. The cocktail menu boasts some seriously boozy libations and the descriptions are amusing. Try a Do Not Violette: Illegal Mezcal reposado, tequila Ocho Blanco, Amaro Mandragola, Cocchie Americano vermouth, violet liqueur, Peychaud bitters. The bar describes it as: “When violet meets a smoky plant. Boom!”

Eau de Vie, 229 Darlinghurst Road, Sydney, Australia

We’re well within speakeasy territory here. For a start, it’s tucked away at the back of the Kirketon hotel. Secondly, it describes itself as an “intimate, dimly-lit, jazz-infused speakeasy created for the discerning bon vivant.” It continues: “Let our amicable host and expert team of bartenders transport you back to a much forgotten era when great service, cocktails, Tommy Guns and good times were king.”

Dry Martini, Carrer Aribau 162-166, Barcelona

OK, so the bar itself is no speakeasy – it’s huge and clearly visible from the street – but hidden behind the kitchens is Speakeasy (below), the restaurant concept where you can get a different Martini with every course. The place has still got that speakeasy vibe of yesteryear – you’re effectively sitting in the liquor storeroom. The tasting menu is a particular treat and if you have a few hours to while away and room for four or five different Martinis (including wasabi when I was there), this is the joint for you. Dry Martini boss Javier de las Muelas is a pioneer of the drinks industry and Speakeasy is just one feather in his cap. 

The Varnish, 18 East 6th Street, Los Angeles, US

The Varnish

New York tends to get the attention when it comes to clandestine hangouts but the West Coast has got its fair share. The Varnish is tucked behind a back door at Cole’s and bar legend Sasha Petraske played a part in its set-up. In 2012, the bar was named 14th best in the world and also scooped the Tales of the Cocktail award for Best American Bar. 

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Nick Strangeway

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