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Speakeasys in the city or North Shore?

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I know this discussion has been done before, sort of, because I've read the boards looking for an answer. Please forgive me if I just haven't stumbled on the right thread yet.

I'd love to have my birthday (end of June) at a speakeasy. I'm not looking for the kind of place where the cocktails are exquisitely executed and drinks cost $19 apiece-- I want a place with the cosy, secretive atmosphere of a traditional speakeasy. Good drinks and good food are necessary, of course, but I'm more interested in the atmosphere.

Ideally, the place I find would have a "joe-sent-me" type feel, complete with little or no signage, a password, art deco interiors.

I've looked at Drink, Alibi, Lucky's, Saloon, Bostonia Public House, JM Curley, Russell House Tavern, Trina's Starlite Lounge, basically every place I came across on here, on Google, at the Globe, etc., and nothing really seems to fit what I'm looking for. I know these exist (think NYC: Bathtub Gin, Apotheke, Raines!) but I haven't learned of any here.

Any suggestions would be a great help. I'm totally willing to have my friends come to Boston or Cambridge, but anything on the North Shore is great too, if any exist. Thanks!

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  1. Back Bar, Saloon and Brick n Mortar come to mind. There is also a new place in the North End Parla, which I haven't been to, but seems to fit the description.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Matt H

      Parla's atmosphere sounds and looks great, I'll have to keep my eye out for menus and reviews. Thanks!

    2. It's funny, maybe i have a diff vision of a speakeasy, but the ONE place that comes immediately to mind for me--is Cuchi Cuchi in Central Square. Designed to look like a Victorian bordello and all the 'girls' wear costumes and jewelry from that period. They seem to have a blast, like family, and the customers seem to have alot of fun. I haven't eaten there in awhile but the menu is all small plates and very eclectic, and some of the dishes are particularly good. Not expensive. I liked their bar creations too.

      Otherwise, there is a Salem sister of the Boston Mex restnt - Lolita Cocina- that was moving spots in Salem, and , if settled, is likely to have the feel you are seeking,and some very good SW/Mex riffed food.But google is very confusing about them,sorry.

      Happy Bday in advance. Hope you have a great night!

      1 Reply
      1. re: opinionatedchef

        Thanks! Cuchi Cuchi definitely sounds great and I think I'll have to scope it out. Plus the prices look reasonable compared to a lot of the places I've looked at.

        The restaurant you're thinking of in Salem is Red Lulu-- while the food was alright (not great), the prices were outrageous and the vibe was definitely vampire's-den rather than speakeasy, lol. Either way, though, their new location isn't slated to open until the fall. :)

      2. That does not exist here.

        4 Replies
        1. re: CportJ

          To be more specific, there are no password places. Lucky's doesn't have a sign. Does Drink? You can see people in there from the sidewalk, so pretty obvious what's going on there. Saloon is less obvious, under Foundry. Brick and Mortar would be less obvious if it didn't often have a line. I like Green Street, on a side street in Central. JM Curley is a great place, as is Bogie's Place steakhouse within it, but not sure that's what you are going for.

          1. re: CportJ

            If you want cozy and quiet, just go to any of these places on a Tuesday.

            1. re: CportJ

              I did think about an early/midweek gathering but I think it would be very small, since we'd all be coming after work from the north shore and cape ann-- I'd probably end up canceling on my own party! JM Curley is actually pretty high on my list right now but I've never been before. I've never heard of Green Street, I'll have to check it out. Thanks.

              1. re: archiegirl0625

                Just a heads up - JM Curley is generally packed. Even getting there at 5:30 on a Thursday it's pretty crowded. They definitely have good food and drink, but it's the opposite of cozy.

                On the other hand, the steakhouse inside JMC (Bogie's Place) truly does have that vibe. Great drinks, great food, and an ambience wholly apart from what's going on on the other side of the curtain.

        2. Bogie's Place?

          1. Are you looking for places similar to what we have in NYC - Please Don't Tell, Angel's Share. Fig 19, Attaboy, etc?

            1 Reply
            1. re: willscarlett

              Ugh I miss Angel's Share. I really don't think there is any hidden gem like that around Boston. Bogie's Place is sort of like that but it's a steakhouse.

            2. lucky's?

              1. I'm more of the side that what you want doesn't really exist--the internet (and the 21st amendment) has done away with it. Alibi is in a huge hotel, Russel House has a big sign and glass windows smack in Harvard Square, Saloon usually has a bouncer right outside, Trina's and JM Curley are are wildly popular spots....

                I can't imagine Backbar is much of a secret, but the sign is very discrete and it's not obvious you are entering a bar when you get inside the building. It's modern and industrial though, not art deco cozy.

                6 Replies
                1. re: LeoLioness

                  I'm not looking for something actually secret, I'm looking for something that feels secret, quiet, and reminiscent of the Prohibition days. And that's why I posted here-- because I'm aware that Alibi is in the Liberty, that Drink and Backbar and Lucky's are ridiculously well-known and crowded, that Russell House isn't remotely hidden. But since NYC had kept many speakeasys popular, open, and still speakeasys, surely there is still the possibility that such a place could exist in the smaller city of Boston.

                  1. re: archiegirl0625

                    Stanza Dei Sigari in the North End has a speakeasy feel. No food though, just drinks and cigars.

                    1. re: phatchris

                      Stanza resides in a Prohibition-era speakeasy location, so historically accurate! I'm not sure that a basement space once hidden away from the police was the best idea for a smokey cigar bar though (my eyes and clothes really suffer when I have gone there)...

                      http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com

                    2. re: archiegirl0625

                      Have you checked out Wink and Nod? Again, not really a secret, but maybe will work for you.

                      1. re: Alcachofa

                        I went to Wink and Nod on its first weekend, and while I try not to judge harshly that soon after opening, I would... hesitate to recommend it? Let's go with that.

                      2. re: archiegirl0625

                        I really like the speakeasy scene in NYC and as I went to grad school at Emerson, I still make it up to Boston every so often. A while back, I looked around on Chowhound to find if there are any speakeasy-ish joints up in Boston. I haven't looked into all the places listed here - some of them I am familiar with, but the consensus I've found on Chowhound is that the speakeasy scene doesn't really exist in Boston. However, there are places that really have the cocktail/mixology scene down, like Eastern Standard Kitchen, but it doesn't sound like that's the kind of place you want to go.

                        I'll investigate some of these other suggestions, but if you can't find exactly what you want in terms of the scene, perhaps focus on 'bespoke cocktails,' which is another key component of a speakeasy.

                        Even in NYC, all the speakeasies are quite well known and you have to go early, otherwise they get packed, just like any other place. Milk & Honey used to be great because of it's reservation policy. Above all, there was no standing and the place was pretty quite, compared to most other places. But ever since it became Attaboy, the reservation policy is gone and now you can hear the noise generated by the place when you're halfway down the block. The drinks are still excellent tho, being that the place is now owned by those who tended Milk & Honey's bar.

                    3. sounds like Bogie's Place in JM Curley's is what you're looking for

                      1. You might look into the Hawthorne. They usually do a good job of keeping things relatively intimate, even at busy times, and the atmosphere is relatively low-key and relaxed, particularly in certain of the seating arrangements.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: CportJ

                          Hawthorne has a unique ability to seat groups in cozy spaces, perfect for relaxed conversation, any night I've walked in (including pre/post-Sox games and Friday nights). The drinks are fantastic, as good if not better than any I've had at a speakeasy-style bar; the staff is friendly, accommodating, and knowledgable; and the atmosphere is like stumbling upon a low key cocktail party in a drawing room.

                        2. Your friends basement is the only place around that fits your criteria.

                          1. In Boston, Backbar and Brick & Mortar. Saloon can pour whiskey into a glass well, but that is where my faith stops with them (it is a gorgeous space).

                            North Shore, the Baldwin Bar in Woburn. Tucked inside Sichuan Garden II, a Chinese restaurant in an old mansion. The Barrel House in Beverly isn't a speakeasy given the windows and the signage, but it has a solid program run by some Eastern Standard alums.

                            http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: yarm

                              Funny, I recently spoke with someone who staged at Foundry and was told by the bar manager (same as Saloon) to never, under any circumstances, shake brown liquors. Stirred whiskey sour anyone?

                            2. Funny how the term means completely different things to different people. We definitely have nothing like Bathtub Gin, which I describe as "Epcot Center Speakeasy", a touristy pastiche of a certain set of speakeasy cliches that verges on parody worthy of Portlandia. The closest you'll get to Apothéke is probably the bar at Clio while Todd Maul is there (hurry, he's leaving soon to open his own place in Cambridge); he's got a similar mad-druggist thing going there, even if the atmosphere isn't remotely similar. I haven't been to Raines Law Room yet.

                              From those reference points, I think you want the secret entrance / password / exclusivity thing, 1920s decor or similar, and good food and drinks. We've got nothing like that here.

                              Myself, I tend to apply the term (in Boston, anyway) to any place that serves great craft cocktails but doesn't have a sign, so involves a slight effort to find it if you haven't been before: Drink, backbar, Brick & Mortar, The Hawthorne. The fact that these places serve some of the best cocktails in town is all I really care about; I can do without passwords and secret entrances. (PDT, on the other hand, I loved, because despite those trappings serves cocktails that are genuinely first-rate.)

                              I suspect most Prohibition-era speakeasies were not much to look at once you got past the door -- think raw-boned taverns, not posh, hushed supper clubs -- with most serving bad, overpriced booze and limited if any food.

                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                Raines Law Room is pretty good. The cocktails, servers and bartenders are excellent, but the doorman... He's polite, but it's like he's putting on act. His behavior seems strained and not always genuine. I'm in agreement with you on Bathtub Gin.

                                Here's a Yelp list I've put together on some of the speakeasies and craft cocktail joints in Manhattan. There are many more I need to add!

                                http://www.yelp.com/list/gin-mills-ne...

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Based on what OP said, I don't think she's thinking "craft cocktails, in which case I have to recommend...Hogan's Run. What else?

                                  1. re: LilBrownBat

                                    Hogan's Run would be a tough rec, considering it is gone.

                                    I think the OP limned the request pretty clearly to anyone familiar with his/her NYC citations. But as I said, the term certainly has strayed and expanded a lot from its original coinage as "illegal, hidden bar".

                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      "I'm not looking for the kind of place where the cocktails are exquisitely executed and drinks cost $19 apiece" whatever....

                                      1. re: LilBrownBat

                                        It's hard to find the speakeasy atmosphere where the drinks aren't expensive. At least in NYC, the cheapest place you can find now is $13 at Fig 19. A few places, like Fig 19 and Middle Branch used to be $12, but prices have gone up... boo

                                        1. re: LilBrownBat

                                          $19 isn't close to the typical price point for a cocktail at Boston's serious craft bars. I acknowledged that we don't have specifically what the OP is looking for, and tried to offer some useful context on and recommendations for our scene.

                                          Are you saying you don't like responses that also meander off in other directions? Got some bad news for you about the Internet in general and Chowhound specifically.

                                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/