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Hidden/Trick Doors-- love or hate? Clever or Pretentious? Never seen it?

What have you seen?

Did it add to the experience/ambiance of the restaurant?

Was it a trend that I missed?

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  1. I have only encountered two places that had intentionally hidden entrances.

    At the first, the door slid open to your front left ["10 o'clock" position] when someone passed closely enough to the mouth of a stone Chinese Dragon next to the walkway.

    At the 2nd, you descended a flight of fairly steep stairs and were met with three rock walls. There were two tinted windows which showed the interior of the restaurant. Three pillars, each topped with a light, stood close to the wall you faced when you reached the bottom of the stairwell. Waving your hand over the lights caused the Entire Wall to the right to slide open. We went there multiple times, but never found an exact combination of hand waving.

    1. You missed it, but they're still around. At least in Manhattan.

      PDT opened in 2007:

      Little Branch

      More recent:
      Hudson Clearwater
      Lantern's Keep

      1 Reply
      1. re: thegforceny

        What about Chumley's? Didn't that reopen?

      2. I've only witnessed them at bars, and even then they were part of the schtick.

        In Kansas City there is a prohibition-era styled cocktail bar named Manifesto that is in he basement and you can only enter it by either going to an unmarked door in the alley or through a narrow hallway through the back entrance of a restaurant on the first floor. When it first opened and word of mouth started generating about the place I thought it was rather pretentious. However, with time it bothered me less.

        In Milwaukee I went to place called the International Spy Bar. To enter you had to go into a front entry room and then either provide a secret password or else perform some sort of amusing act (do a jig, etc). Upon appeasing the doorman a button was pushed and a secret door slid open and you entered. Inside the actual bar is a closed circuit TV that shows what is going on in the holding room where people who have already entered can laugh at you. I was in town for a conference and found the whole thing quite amusing the first evening. I took some other friends back a second night and found the whole thing incredibly lame.

        I guess in general it's kind of a novelty, but nothing that really keeps me intrigued.

        2 Replies
        1. re: pollymerase

          The one in Milwaukee might actually be called the Safe House...?


          It's been there since the 1970s but I haven't so I've no idea how it is these days.


        2. There's BBQ joint in Mesa, Arizona with hidden doors to the restrooms. The men have to open the door to a Pepsi vending machine and the women have to open a door in a telephone booth. The kids' response is "what's a telephone booth?" I told them that years ago people had to find a telephone and put coins into it to make a telephone call. Frequently the telephones were in a little booth to provide privacy for the person making the call and so they would not annoy the people that were around them. The response was "why would they need to do that?" (I still have not successfully explained long-distance calls.)

          1. I don't recall ever going to one though I have read about a few restaurants that have them. Honestly, I just don't see the point. It seems like a gimmick and not that clever of one.

            Now if it is a dinner theater that is participatory, then that would be different all together.

            1. Our SIL had a birthday party a few years ago for our daughter at Distrito in Philadelphia. Behind the hostess station is a wall of shallow shelves with bottles of pop on them. What a surprise it was when the wall was opened up, and a private party room appeared behind the cabinet. It was a pretty cool little room, too.

              1. Since the "speakeasies" from the 1920's, I have to admit that I have not encountered such, but maybe I was never allowed the "password," or "secret handshake?"


                2 Replies
                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  "Oh,no. You can't come in unless you say 'Swordfish'."

                2. We have several speakeasies here in Seattle that have difficult or "hidden" main entrances. I'm amused by them and appreciate that they tend to lead to bars with great ambiance and decent to great cocktails. My favorite of the lot is a downstairs bar with an upstairs, reservations-only room that is accessed by picking up a phone on a downstairs wall, then entering through a bank vault door which leads to the staircase. I think I would call this kind of experience playful, rather than clever or pretentious. But that can depend on the clientele, too, I suppose.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: fracklefoodie

                    I've never seen anything like that here in Boston, but I doubt I'd be hip enough to get in anyway. Sounds more fun than pretentious to me, but then again, my husband and I once had an architect draw some plans for a secret door in our house, so maybe we're just childish.

                  2. Not a hidden door but pretty funny anyhow.
                    Years ago I was in a place where the bathrooms were just past the bar. Between the men's and ladie's room was a fountain with a little cherub uhhhhhhh, whizzing into the pool below. The wall was covered with plasic ivy but the piece covering the cherub's naughty bits was hooked to a switch. If you so much as touched it, a red flashing light would go off over the bar so everyone could turn and see who the pervert was.
                    Can't for the life of me remember where it was.... a sure sign of traveling too much.

                    1 Reply
                    1. Never seen a restaurant that had a hidden door, but there's a clothing shop here in Boston where when you walk in, all you see is a tiny hole-in-the-wall convenience store (more of a kiosk, really) with dusty packages on the shelves and a bored-looking clerk. You have to know to go through an unmarked door at the back of that to get to the actual shop.

                      1. Sometime in the late 70s, in Chelsea (Manhattan) there was a hidden restaurant.

                        To access it, you first entered a storefront of a second hand store. Only one person behind an old glass display counter, duct tape serving as a bandage. Everything run down and dusty.

                        On one wall was an armoire. You first opened the armoire and went through.

                        The first place you entered was a bar. Dark.. You then went into the kitchen, walked through the kitchen, and exited the building through an exterior door.

                        In the alley, wedged between two buildings, was the glass-enclosed restaurant. It was a nice, airy space with plants, tablecloths, etc.

                        I think the place was called the Chelsea Inn and may have served a somewhat Italian menu.

                        At least that was my recollection.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Steve

                          I know where you're talking about, Steve. Or at least, I ate there a couple of times in 1976 or so. It was on 7th or 8th Ave. Chelsea was a "bad" neighborhood then.

                          1. re: Jay F

                            Yes, the run down secondhand store fit in well with the rest of the block. The person behind the counter didn't even acknowledge us.

                            1. re: Steve

                              It was called Chelsea Place.



                              Do you also remember, Steve, a place in the far West Village (11th Street, I think) called the Black something? It opened in 1978, just as I was moving away from NY.

                              1. re: Jay F

                                Thanks so much for those links. I had no idea it was so remembered!

                                Never heard of Black, so I can't help you there. I'm originally from Long Island, and I was back visiting family that took me to Chelsea Place.

                        2. I don't know if it qualifies but, there is/was a place in Beverly Hills on Burton Way that was covered in ivy and had an address only; no name.

                          1. My most interesting experience was Corinne Dunbar's in New Orleans. An antebellum house, in the Garden District, with a simple brass plate on the door. Originally, all patrons/guests all arrived at the same time for dinner. Later, patrons were greeted at the doors as guests-for-dinner, a courteous before dinner drink was offered in the 'sitting room' then you were ushered in to the dining room as if visiting Mizz Dunbar's home. Elegant, delicious, and memorable.

                            1. I worked in one restaurant that simply did not have a sign, was in an odd location plus did not appear a large enough space for one. However if you asked while making the mandatory reservation she would explain in a huff.
                              Another was in a large house with a small plaque next to the doorbell. Again neither secret just difficult to find.
                              A third had a small private room that had a seperate entrance. Basically the party would meet at the bar then be led out to enter a private entrance.

                              1. The Pink Door, on Post Alley in Pike Place Market in Seattle, has no windows on the street side, and no sign--just an unmarked, bright Pepto Bismol-pink door.

                                A friend used to work at an architect's office down the block. They would have confused tourists wandering in all the time, asking "Where is the Pink Door?" They used to laugh that the garish pink door wasn't plain enough, but clearly it wasn't, for some people!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: MsMaryMc

                                  I have eaten there! Food was decent although we were eating to get seats to the burlesque show which was great! I would eat somewhere else next time but it was something fun an different.

                                  1. re: MsMaryMc

                                    Funny, I've been there a few times but didn't think of it as being a hidden door kind of place. Probably because it has a pink door which to me is like posting a sign since it is called "The Pink Door."

                                    1. re: jlhinwa

                                      Just ask the neighboring businesses--they'll tell you how many people don't seem to find that enough of a sign!

                                  2. Jekyll and Hydes in Manhattan has hidden bathroom doors. Not very entertaining after a few brews.

                                    1. I've never been, but my BIL used to work at Club 33, the "secret restaurant" at Disneyland. (I'm kinda surprised nobody has mentioned it.)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: ricepad

                                        I guess with a lot of 'secret' restaurants, anyone can get in once they know it exists. For a long time in DC there was a secret Ghanaian restaurant, and the only way you knew something might be going on was because of the cabs parked nearby. Other than that, it looked like an abandoned building. You didn't know anything was going on until you opened the door.

                                        I don't know much bout Club 33, but I am guessing it is not open to everyone visiting Disneyland, though I'd like to hear more.

                                      2. Then of course, there were the bars and clubs like The Gateways in London. The Gateways was the longest-lived lesbian bar in the world, operating from the early 1930's through 1985. You entered it through an unmarked green door just off Kings Road in Chelsea, and went down the stairs to a smoky, windowless cellar room. It was a private club that admitted women only, but the lack of any visible sign only further protected the patrons from curious tourists, slumming hipsters, and people with less friendly intent.

                                        I was twenty the first time I got up the courage to go to The Gateways. I followed the directions in my Gaia's Guide, and sure enough, there was the green door. I don't know how I ever managed to walk through it, I was so terrified, but somehow I did. Right away, I received a few reassuring smiles from some women with short hair and tweed jackets who all looked like Gertrude Stein. Then I struck up a conversation with a very sweet computer programmer from Aberdeen, and suddenly, I was very happy that I'd found that green door and opened it.