Did you know that the term “speakeasy” is believed to have originated from patrons having to whisper because they were in an illegal bar?
These establishments came into prominence in the U.S. during the Prohibition era starting in 1920. The government mandated that liquor was illegal, but creative people always seem to find a workaround. As a result, speakeasies popped up in places all across the U.S. And good luck finding their secret, hidden locations — in restaurants, hotels, and basements with unassuming doors where you need a special password or unique knock to enter these dimly-lit secret hideaways.
The revival of the speakeasy began about two decades ago as an alternative to the noisy, boisterous, hyped-up nightclub scene. There was also a huge retro fascination with the 1920s era and its classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, and Gin Fizz.
Thankfully, we have more than a few speakeasies right here in San Diego. Let’s talk about those we find the most unique and fascinating. After all, we want your speakeasy experience to be fun, entertaining, and memorable.
You may find when clicking on some of these websites, they lead you to book a reservation on Open Table or don’t give very much additional information at all. But then, finding a speakeasy is not easy. That’s the point.
And to experience each of these intriguing venues, you’ll likely need a reservation.
YOUNGBLOOD & NOBLE EXPERIMENT
Address: 777 G. Street, San Diego, CA 92101
One of the newest to join the San Diego scene, Youngblood, a small Hemingway-like bar in East Village/Gaslamp opened in April 2022. This speakeasy is located within another speakeasy, Noble Experiment.
But this drinking den has a secret “door” to into a casual but elegant establishment with mahogany wood finishes and velvet seating where you can enjoy some incredible craft cocktails. Unlike other speakeasies with set menus, bartenders here work with patrons to create the libations of their liking.
To arrive at Youngblood through Noble Experiment, you must first enter The Neighborhood restaurant on G. Street. Now you’re in for a fun and fascinating experience!
Youngblood is so amazing that it was named Esquire magazine’s list of “2022’s 25 Best Bars in America.”
Mothership is a space-themed speakeasy run by the folks from Kindred. You’ll get a funky atmosphere, delicious vegan treats, and tropical concoctions that are simply out of this world.
Once you step into the Mothership, you are absorbed in the speakeasy’s story of an astronaut crew of the A.A.S.C. Mothership getting stranded on a mysterious planet with no intelligent lifeforms, but ample natural resources. The crew discovers that all naturally occurring liquid turns out to be not only tasty but also intoxicating – in a good way. Instead of trying to make their way back “home”, the crew decides to live out their lives in a permanent vacation on this wonderous planet.
This brand-new speakeasy just opened in June 2023 and is located behind a secret door at Beeside Balcony in La Jolla. The decor is a mix of floral romantic meets roaring 20s.
Aside from delicious hand-crafted cocktails and delectable dishes, you can enjoy live music and performances by local artists.
Reservations are highly recommended and don’t forget to head to their Instagram account to get the secret password!!!
FALSE IDOL TIKI
Address: 675 Beech Street, San Diego, CA 92101
Hidden in plain sight in an unassuming hidden entrance within the restaurant Craft & Commerce, this Little Italy tiki bar requires you to walk through a restaurant chiller containing a wall of skulls to get into the speakeasy. It’s a little creepy but fun!
The drink menu in this exotic bar is pretty extensive, and of no surprise, features such island-y concoctions as Navy Grog, Painkiller, Singapore Sling, and Doctor Bombay. There’s even an “exceptionally strong cocktail” menu should you dare to go there. If you’re into sharing, you’ll love the larger drinks served in a souvenir glass or tiki mug.
REALM OF THE 52 REMEDIES
Address: 4805 Convoy Street, San Diego, CA 92111
We promised to bring you unique, and this one definitely delivers! “The Realm” as the locals call it transports visitors into a world of ancient Chinese medicinal treatments and Far East wellness methodologies that treated the sick in this swanky, eclectic atmosphere.
Located inside Common Theory Public House, this speakeasy isn’t really so secret, but rather lures patrons to enter a conspicuous entrance leading to a futuristic apothecary. Guests then meander their way through a series of elaborate hidden entrances to the Realm, a 1920s apothecary with ancient Far East elements, elevated booths, a Jade bar, and lots of flickering candles.
Here in this mystical setting, you can order Asian small plates along with seasonal cocktails and spirits to cure whatever ails you!
RAISED BY WOLVES
Address: 4301 La Jolla Village Drive #2030 San Diego, CA 92122
The name alone is totally fascinating.
This speakeasy is another ‘hidden in plain sight’ among the shops of UTC in La Jolla. The small venue is actually disguised as an ornately dark-blue colored liquor-stocked storefront. You’ll need to let the clerk know you have a reservation and they’ll take care of the rest. Walk-ins are allowed, but you take the risk of not getting in, especially on a weekend.
A rotating fireplace in the liquor shop opens to a hidden bar in an elegant 19th-century European-styled room that is utterly gorgeous. The speakeasy’s name is inspired by the legend of Romulus and Remus, two brothers raised by a she-wolf before founding the ancient city of Rome.
The menu here consists of House Favorites, Rich and Creamy Blends, Reserve Cocktails, Boozy-Forwards, and they also have beer and wine.
Address: 2424 San Diego Avenue, San Diego, CA 82110
This speakeasy definitely has a theme alright, and a unique one at that. It claims to be the first cemetery-adjacent speakeasy. This hidden bar is located inside Tahona, one of San Diego’s oldest restaurants. It pays homage to those buried in Old Town’s El Campo Santo Cemetery in Old Town where 477 lights mark the graves. Access to this speakeasy comes only after you’ve admitted to your committed sin behind the curtain. That sin becomes your password.
Oculto’s “temple of cocktails” includes a continuous varying menu celebrating the world of spirits. These include Old Fashions, Island Libations, Daisy Cocktails (designed for the ladies), Fizzies, and Bartender Choices for those who want to experience something un-worldly.
The Forbidden Cove
Address: 7576 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111
Phone: (858) 715-3998
Find your way behind the wall where the Forbidden Cove lies. Located on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, this tiki speakeasy is hidden away in Kilowatt Brewing Kearny Mesa. Boasting island-style decor, a large bar with tiki-influenced drinks, and intimate lighting, the Forbidden Cove is well worth searching for.
The bar has a highly skilled team of mixologists who know their stuff when it comes to cocktails. Whatever you want, you can have. Who said you have to drink Mai Tai all night? Have your first Zombie or Singapore Sing.
Reserve a table before arriving at the Forbidden Cove, as it tends to fill up fast. Depending on how busy it is, they may even introduce a 90 minute limit which is something to factor in before booking.
Address: 831 6th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
The mystery surrounding Room 56 starts before you even book a table, for you need to find the secret code on their website and then play their game in order to get a reservation. The bar is located in the Gaslamp’s Moxy Hotel, where guests enter through a hidden door in the library and are guided by your ‘librarian’ up a spiral staircase, dimly lit with flickering candles. The intimate and elegant venue can only host 25 customers at a time.
The speakeasy is named after our founding fathers, the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. There’s a limited bar food menu, but, what drink to order? Cocktails are so darn good, you’ll have to exercise self-control and sip, sip, sip. You’ll love their classics and other delights, shaken or stirred.
BAR THREE PIECE
Address: 3054 University Avenue, San Diego 92104
Friendships are fostered through whiskey. That’s the theme of this extremely popular North Park secret bar. Featuring over 250 bottles from familiar favorites to high-end labels, patrons can enjoy a variety of whiskey choices from straight shots to classic mixed old-fashioned throwbacks, accompanied with a side of smooth jazz. Comfortable cushioned booths make it easy to relax and sip.
The whiskey bar is located in the back lounge of Seven Grand Whiskey, home to the Whiskey Society; a unique membership program for serious whiskey aficionados.
THE GRASS SKIRT
Address: 910 Grand Avenue, San Diego, CA 92109
This delightful tucked-away Pacific Beach venue featuring colorful Polynesian décor offers small plates, pupus, and cocktails all celebrating the iconic tiki culture. Their impressive island-themed drinks include classic tropical cocktails served in parrot glasses or tiki glassware adorned with flowers, fruit, flamingos, or other fun toppers.
But the real show-stoppers are the libations that arrive aflame, in smoke, or trigger a restaurant-wide thunderstorm when ordered.
The dim lighting along with the adorable South Seas Island touches make this an ideal place to enjoy time with friends. Patrons enter through the parking lot at Good Time Poke and then pass through a freezer door leading to the tiki lounge.
PROHIBITION SAN DIEGO
Address: 548 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
We think this is the perfect name for a speakeasy. After all, it’s exactly how they all came to be. And Prohibition provides guests the opportunity to experience San Diego’s original speakeasy bar.
Could it be any more relevant than you must enter this secret location via the door of the Gaslamp district law office of Eddie O’Hare? Ring the buzzer and someone will respond and let you enter if the bar isn’t full.
The dress code here is fairly strict, and on weekends they highly recommend patrons deck out in 1920s attire. Do it, and you’ll feel like guests at a Great Gatsby party during the flippant and uninhibited Roaring Twenties.
Prohibition features masterfully-crafted cocktails accompanied by live music in a chic, eccentric, dimly-lit, throwback lounge. Drinks here are known as “Prohibition Standards,” which feature a myriad of luscious liquor concoctions and top-shelf amalgamations.
Garibaldi is one of the few rooftop speakeasies in San Diego and offers you fantastic views over Portside Pier and the Star of India. Located inside the Intercontinental Hotel, this speakeasy offers fun cocktails as well as a full menu, including shareable plates, small bites, and entrées. You can even enjoy brunch here on the weekends. This spot is perfect to start your night, watch the sunset, grab a bite, and enjoy.
Mark Twain once said that “Too much of anything is bad. But too much whiskey is barely enough.” How true.
And we all love secrets, especially finding those secret places that somehow make us delight in the fact that it’s a place not everyone else knows about. Perhaps it’s the inner bootlegger in all of us, not so certain that we always want to play by society’s rules!
Best San Diego Speakeasies – Pin for Later:
Last Updated on June 21, 2023 by Maria Haase