Prohibition in the United States may have ended long ago, but the appeal of the speakeasy – a secret drinking den characterized by unmarked entrances and strong alcohol – is alive and well within the Philadelphia drinking scene.
latest effort comes from Philadelphia
Distilling, the producers of Bluecoat
American Dry Gin, Penn 1681 Rye Vodka
and Vieux Carre Absinthe Superieure,
which released a modern-day moonshine, XXX
SHINE White Whiskey, in late May. Made from Pennsylvania corn, XXX SHINE
White Whiskey pays tribute to the state’s history of high-quality moonshine
production and represents the first distilled moonshine in southeastern Pennsylvania
since before Prohibition was repealed.
distilleries to drinking establishments, Philadelphia’s contemporary speakeasies
celebrate an era of disguised deviance, where the lights were dim, the crowd was
sexy and a stiff drink reigned supreme. Recapture the character and spirit of Prohibition
by sneaking into a few of the city’s most popular sotto voce spots.
the mystery shrouding the Rainstead Room – no advertising, no website – one
might be surprised to learn that it belongs to Philadelphia restaurateur Steven Starr. But Philadelphia’s
purest adaptation of a vintage speakeasy is a gem hidden in an alley near
Rittenhouse Square (at the corner of 20th and Rainstead Streets). A
small red “R” on an otherwise unmarked door indicates that you have arrived.
Inside the faintly lit establishment, patrons occupy a long bar and cosy up in red leather booths while
hard-working bartenders prepare pre-Prohibition inspired cocktails. The walls
are adorned with vintage nudes, an Art Deco chandelier hangs from a tarnished,
mirrored ceiling and bowls of fresh lemons, limes, oranges, mint and candied ginger
line the antique bar.
menu features 10 seasonal drinks and changes throughout the year. A summer menu
standout is the pina colada (rum, pineapple, coconut), but we recommend you try
the year-round staple “bartender’s choice” and let a well-versed mixologist
concoct a modern adaptation of a classic beverage, such as the East Side Gimlet
(gin) or Final Word (rye whiskey). The refined cocktails incorporate
traditional spirits, fresh-squeezed juices and aromatics, such as rose water,
to stimulate your sense of smell.
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derives its name from south Philadelphian Max “Boo Boo” Hoff’s Prohibition-era
alcohol ring, the largest in the country during the late 1920s. It was among
the first in the city to honour speakeasy culture when it opened a seating-room
only, craft cocktail lounge in June 2009. It remains the most well known of the
Philadelphia speakeasies and due to its popularity, the most difficult to get
into. Upon arrival, a sharply dressed man will approach your party and let you
know if you can be accommodated. If so, you are lead into a long, narrow, subterranean
drinking space, where the décor is simple – softly lit but relatively modern –
and ends in an old-fashioned marble bar.
drink list is extensive and divided into categories: Cool it Down, Easy Going, The
Flowing Bowl, Rebellious Spirits, and I Asked her for Water, She Gave me
Gasoline. Like the Rainstead Room, the menu rotates throughout the year. Juices
are freshly squeezed and combined with unusual, yet exciting bitters,
tinctures, syrups and spirits. For summer, try the Red Medicine (scotch, Pimm’s
#1, house grapefruit and cinnamon syrups, demerara, fresh lime juice, angostura
and grapefruit bitters) or the Long Tall Shorty (reposado tequila, Cocchi Americano,
house watermelon syrup, fresh lemon juice, Jamaican jerk bitters and soda).
The Farmer’s Cabinet opened in May and
is a lively restaurant and bar where a dapper pianist plays ragtime and sings
into an old time microphone. It is lit by candles and decorated with wooden
casks, old farming tools, vintage photographs and long communal tables. A
friendly wait staff looks the part of 1920s parlour servers. The ambiance evokes
a simpler time, with an old fashioned emphasis on good food and good drink.
between two bars – one beer, one cocktail – where the beverage options are
plentiful. The Book of Libations is a long list of classic and modern
concoctions, punchbowls and beer-inspired cocktails. The Mystic Circle
(tequila, celery syrup, fresh lemon juice, soda) and the Cockaigne (cognac, a strawberry shrub, orange bitters, sugar
and sparkling wine) are excellent. Beer-drinkers will delight at the 20
rotating drafts and more than 100 domestic and international bottles. Farmer’s
Cabinet will soon add five of their own beers to the tap.
to open this autumn, the buzz surrounding this Chinatown cocktail lounge has kept it
anything but low profile, albeit to the owner’s – the singularly-named
Lêe – dismay. While he may still have some tricks up his
sleeve, here is what we know so far: the main entrance will lead customers
through a shoeshine stand (free for patrons), open daily from 5 pm to 8 pm; the
main space will feature a 40-ft-long bar and house the largest collection of liquor
bottles in the city.; décor will include
fold-down theatre seats, antique candelabras, Danish light fixtures, an old
wooden door and a penny-covered foyer floor.
modern day speakeasy channels Prohibition in name, feel and setting. The Prohibition Taproom is
tucked away among the warehouses on 13th Street, discovered largely
by word of mouth and marked by a neon red “Bar” sign. Owners confirmed
suspicions that their establishment occupies a former real-life speakeasy,
known as “Zip’s”, when the original Zip walked in just a few months ago.
establishment has eight rotating beers on tap and has ploughed through 800 kegs
since opening in 2008. “Hoppy li’l Hudson” (named after the owner’s daughter)
is a hand-pumped IPA made by Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company and is exclusively
available at the Prohibition Taproom. On Sundays, patrons are invited to listen
to tunes from the past – Prohibition era and otherwise – during BYOV (bring
your own vinyl).
Philadelphia, Fiume (45th Street and Locust Street) is a
Philadelphia secret so well kept that even most neighbours are unaware of its
existence. On the far edge of town, occupying the second floor of an Ethiopian
restaurant, in a converted townhouse, is small dive with an unmarked entrance. While
its décor is more traditional, its air of exclusivity is vintage speakeasy. Come
for the beer selection or a stiff drink -- you will not find elaborate
cocktails here. On Thursdays, they
remove all of the tables and feature live bluegrass, an ode to America’s
country heritage, in the bay window.