Not all swanky bars are speakeasies, and not all true historic speakeasies are swanky. Detroit is lucky enough to have a wide range of hidden, historic and otherwise memorable Prohibition-era bars. That only makes sense, as Detroit was a hotbed of activity during Prohibition a century ago, supplying up to 75 percent of the country’s booze from 1920 to 1933. Cozy up to the bar at any one of these magical places and find inspiration behind clever cocktails, hidden entrances and historic bars.Read More
Where to Find Hidden Bars and Speakeasies in Detroit
Back alley bars, Prohibition-era watering holes, and classic cocktails
West side suburbanites rejoiced in 2020 when The Ebenezer opened in the basement of a former bank in downtown Plymouth. The large space of the vault is a great place to relax on leather couches and pretend you’re a roaring 20s banker or gangster. Classic cocktails like the Widow’s Kiss and Boulevardier are featured alongside new twists like the refreshing gin-based Cryptic Message and the complex and spicy Blood Ritual, which pairs mezcal and cinnamon with grenadine, lime, and Ancho Reyes chili liqueur.
Getting into Johnny’s requires a little extra effort. Reservations are required for this basement bar, so call or text ahead to get the secret code. Once there, guests enjoy a full farm-to-table dinner menu with Thai and Indian inspired cuisine, alongside craft cocktails and more than 100 whiskies.
The Oakland Art Novelty Company
Back when speakeasy-style bars were a novelty, the Oakland Art Novelty Company was a pioneer in craft cocktails. The swanky Ferndale spot is lush and dimly lit, with overstuffed chairs and couches scattered to encourage small groups. The Oakland regularly hosts pop-up concepts, including the over-the-top Christmas-themed Miracle at the Oakland, with kitschy drinks and an explosion of winter decor.
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Owned and operated by the same family for more than a hundred years, this neighborhood bar is a trip back in time. From the terrazzo floor, recently refinished to its former glory, to the polished walnut bar to the gleaming 19th-century cash register, Abick’s remains beloved by southwest Detroit residents and visitors. Expect friendly, casual service, simple drinks and a large bottled beer list — and please note, Abick’s is still proudly cash only!
The Sugar House
The Sugar House was the cocktail bar that launched an empire of bars for the Detroit Optimist Society. After more than 10 years, The Sugar House continues to set the bar for meticulously crafted drinks, and its rigorous bar training program ensures that a vast library of historical cocktails are available at any given time.
Downtown’s Detroit Club operates as a private, member-only hotel, but its Library Bar is fortunately open to the public. Serving texture-oriented cocktails, wine and beer, the Library evokes Parisian salon vibes with airy ceilings, heavy curtains and glittery chandeliers. Sip a “Oui, Oui” with gin, champagne, apple and lemon and ponder the array of bottles.
Finding Shelby is a challenge for first-timers: no signage marks the entrance to the bar. Instead, guests should head for Coffee Down Under and ask for Shelby (reservations recommended). Hosts will usher guests into the stunning 1920s-era bank vault, complete with separate vault room in royal blue and gilt. The bar boasts a full food menu and a collection of daring cocktails, from frothy and light to deeply nuanced.
Bad Luck Bar
Head down the back alley behind the Albert to find the snake-adorned entrance to Bad Luck. Inside, the rich gold tones and hexagon motif invite intimate conversations over experimental cocktails. Bad Luck is the spot to impress a date with theatrical, intricate, and innovative cocktails.
Located in the basement of the Shinola Hotel and accessed via a door in Parker’s Alley, this upscale, secluded lounge serves classic cocktails as well as a solid list of well-balanced nonalcoholic cocktails. There are also in-between options with lower alcohol intensity to keep the evening going without suffering the next day.
Cafe D'Mongos Speakeasy
Owner Larry Mongo is a Detroit treasure. He has hosted the sometimes chaotic but always fascinating collection of people and objects in his not-so-hidden spot for decades and has the stories to show for it. The bar is an eclectic and energizing spot for great conversation and classic drinks like the Detroit Brown, with Crown Royal, Vernor’s and bitters.
Downstairs from Times Square restaurant Savannah Bleu, Willow is the most recent Black-owned speakeasy in town. The cozy space is dominated by a massive faux willow tree, with enchanting fairy lights nestled in its branches. The bar is an ode to Black history and culture in Michigan and prominently features historic spirits and cocktails influenced by 19th-century bartender Tom Bullock.
Cliff Bell’s is a true Detroit revitalization success story; after the building lay vacant and damaged for 20 years, it was painstakingly restored to its original glory in 2005, right down to the very last detail in the wall murals. Serial Prohibition speakeasy owner Cliff himself would be proud of that his tradition of hospitality and libation continues, with world-class jazz artists performing regularly.
Castalia at Sfumato
One of the cleverest concepts to appear in Detroit in recent years, Castalia is housed in the basement of a Victorian mansion on Alexandrine (the same building that houses Stadt Garten). By day, the space is a perfumery; at night, the shelves and display cases transform into Castalia, a sensory delight that pairs taste, texture and scent for an immersive experience.
Flemish bar Cadieux Cafe once operated as a prohibition-era speakeasy, and remains a go-to destination for Belgian ales and feather bowling. Book a lane ahead of a visit and bring a group to roll some wheels while sipping beers and eating bowls of steamed mussels.
Nestled underneath Eater Award-winning Milwaukee Junction restaurant Oak & Reel, the Upright is a cozy, classy bar ideal for an after-dinner night cap, featuring banquette seating, a few intimate tables, and a bar stocked with classic cocktails and an extensive wine list. Snacks such as bolognese arancini, and cacio e pepe pasta fritti are also on hand for a midnight snack.
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Two Way Inn
Two Way Inn is the real deal. The saloon opened their doors in 1876 as a stagecoach stop and tavern, and little has changed since. Ring the doorbell to enter Detroit’s oldest watering hole and enjoy a large selection of craft beers while you admire the original American Chestnut bar, placed there back when the place was an official Stroh’s-sponsored bar.
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