America’s Gift to the World: Speakeasy Bars

The speakeasy was invented in America, but over the last few years a modern, hip version has taken the world by storm. Seven international spots to visit this summer.

In The Hour, writer and historian Bernard DeVoto said bourbon, rye, and the martini were America’s greatest gift to the world.

If DeVoto were still around today, he might be tempted to add the speakeasy to his list.

Thanks to the country’s 13-year experiment with temperance, American drinkers were, of course, forced to seek out clandestine watering holes, which popped up with unprecedented frequency. (In New York alone, according to the New-York Historical Society, as many as 100,000 speakeasies opened during the dry period.)

While these secret spots disappeared once drinking became legal again, over the last few years a new (legal) version of the speakeasy has become quite trendy and is one of the hallmarks of the craft cocktail movement. These cloak-and-dagger establishments, which usually serve classic tipples with a chaser of intrigue, have opened up across the country, from New York to Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Austin to San Francisco.

And what’s even more amazing is that these so-called modern speakeasies have become so popular that they’re now opening in foreign countries. That’s a pretty incredible twist, given that these countries didn’t suffer through a sustained prohibition.

So while you’re on your summer travels, check out these new secretive international spots. If you go, just remember to speak easy...

Jerry Thomas Project, Rome:

Jerry Thomas was the first celebrity bartender and his seminal 1862 book, How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion, is still revered by mixologists around the world. So it’s no wonder this acclaimed Roman watering hole decided to pay homage to Thomas by taking his name. While the Italian capital might not boast many craft cocktail establishments, this one makes up for it.

Lavomatic, Paris:

Doing the laundry has never been this fun. While your clothes are in the dryer, head through what looks like a laundry machine and up a flight of stairs into this mod and airy bar. It looks like a set right out of the last season of Mad Men. In addition to tasty cocktails, you can also order small plates.

Moonshiner, Paris:

When you call yourself Moonshiner, you’re setting the bar pretty high for a speakeasy, and fortunately this joint delivers. For one, the entrance is hiding in plain sight. To enter you have to go through a pizza place and, like something out of a movie, the establishment’s door looks like the door of a giant freezer. Inside you’ll find an impressive selection of whiskey.

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Door 74, Amsterdam:

Door 74 has brought speakeasy culture to the Netherlands. On the joint’s website it promises patrons that it offers “the requisite hidden door, antique barware, tin ceiling and sophisticated atmosphere.” And in keeping with tradition, you’ll only get the bar’s location if you make a reservation.

Nightjar, London:

No one would blame you for walking right past Nightjar. It’s on a run-of-the-mill London street with just a very small sign but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for. The cavernous bar offers a large selection of classic drinks as well as signature tipples, which generally are served with dramatic garnishes and unusual glasses. There’s also a list of vintage spirits that date back to the late 1800s.

The Worship Street Whistling Shop, London:

Drinkers in London can wet their whistle at, you guessed it, The Worship Street Whistling Shop. Behind a nondescript wooden door is one of the city’s best watering holes. It even won Time Out London’s Best New Bar Award when it opened several years ago. In addition to serving drinks, the Whistling Shop offers classes, including one on bottled cocktails that makes use of a vacuum still.

Turba, Lugano, Switzerland:

Tucked away in a charming maze of streets in the historic waterside town of Lugano is a speakeasy that not only serves drinks but also offers events, discussions, and live music. The venue is appropriately artsy and it feels like you’re having drinks at your cool European friend’s house. You just may want to brush up on the latest arthouse movies and indie rock bands before you go.