New England speakeasies are the perfect place for inventive craft cocktails behind hidden doors. Be sure you know the password.
When the 21st Amendment was ratified, repealing prohibition, the speakeasy became obsolete. A resurgence of this phenomenon is occurring, and with it, reviving craft cocktails in ways unimagined. To be considered a modern speakeasy, an establishment must retain many of its predecessors’ qualities. The entrance must be hidden, nondescript, or plain enough that only the intrepid and curious would venture through. Cocktails must be served, with a knowledge of the traditional, classic recipes.
New England is home to many speakeasies. The following is a sampling that meets the above criteria for the modern-day speakeasy. Venture out, find others in your community. Don’t forget the password.
Rhode Island Speakeasies
The Dean Hotel
122 Fountain Street
Walk past the bright neon pink “FINE” sign, casting a glow like an electrified Pink Panther, inside the Dean Hotel. Continue into a hallway. Now, stop.
The door is nondescript. White. Simple black letters adorn its surface: “Magdalanae Room.” Nothing indicates bar. Open the door. Push through the velvet curtains. Be intrepid. See what’s inside.
Step back into 1920. The low lit room is artfully decorated with Kyla Coburn murals. A horseshoe bar is the focus of the room. The space, intimate. Votive candles illuminate a glow of hushed secrets. The drinks, crafted only the way a skilled hand of a professional bartender can. Every cocktail is a sensuous experience. My favorite of the night, A Final Ward.
Noble & Co.
43 LaSalle Road
West Hartford, Connecticut has a reputation as being trendy, hip, cool. Noble & Co. can be found here, hidden in plain sight.
The entrance is made to confuse. A subway access. HVAC mechanical room. Fallout shelter. Graffiti scrawls across white tiled walls. A steel door, dinged and dented. All create deception.
Inside, an open elegant space. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The long bar is topped with black marble, swirling smoke set against smooth squid ink stone. A cornucopia of liquors stretch to the ceiling at the back of the bar. Their specialty, whisky. A list of classic cocktails makes for a difficult decision. The Aviation is a delight; a refreshing combination of gin, creme de violette, Maraschino Liqueur, and lime juice. It’s the soft color of violet, the last lingering notes of twilight on a warm summer night.
Blyth and Burrows
26 Exchange Street
Blyth and Burrows’ windows open onto the trendy Exchange Street of Portland. The restaurant pays homage to captains Samuel Blyth and William Burrows, casualties of the War of 1812, interred in the Portland’s famous Eastern Cemetery. This restaurant has a secret though, hidden from prying eyes.
Behind a false wall inside the restaurant, is a speakeasy in the lower levels, offering a list of cocktails named for tragic lovers—order both halves of the couple and the drinks are discounted. Kurt and Courtney. Henry and Anais. Elvis and Priscilla. The list rotates and changes. Nautical themed, nets hang from the ceiling, the brick walls white washed. Another level, behind an “employees only” door, hides a parlor in the sub-level of the restaurant. Consensus of the night, the Whitney and Bobby win our palates over.
255 Elm Street
Scrolling cursive on a lit glass globe marks the spot. Find this lamp on Elm Street and you’ve discovered Saloon. The stairway down feels unending. Dark wood encases the establishment in a warmth of comfort the way low lighting can when imbibing. There is a beauty to this establishment. The bar, gorgeous in its intricate carved surface. A room off the side feels like a spot where lovers drink and softly speak poetry in the subdued light. This is where I want to live.
With an impressive menu of whisky, craft cocktails, and craft beers, Saloon is sure to please anyone with an appreciation of spirits. The Sailor’s Sidecar is delightful. Vanilla cognac, Montenegro, Apricot Brandy, and lemon mix together to create an almost religious experience.
New Hampshire Speakeasies
815 Elm Street
The secret is hidden behind a wall, and you must speak the words to enter. At street level, there is a standard utilitarian glass door, with the street address painted on—815. Go up the stairs. Find the entrance. Speak the words, and you shall enter. Just be sure to check their Facebook page first so you know the password of the week.
There are craft cocktails. A hip vibe. Paintings and murals. Low lighting. Eclectic seating and tables. This speakeasy does it right. Sink into a comfortable chair with a cocktail and an order of their artisanal pickles. Old Ironside comes in a coupe. Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, rye, cardamaro, nocino, angostura, and Aztec chocolate bitters leaves a bit of spice and bite lingering on the tongue.