Speakeasies: Hidden San Diego Bars
San Diegans are proud of their history — there’s a reason the city has preserved the nineteenth-century architecture of the Gaslamp Quarter district and the colonial landmarks of Old Town. So it should come as no surprise that history-inspired trends have caught on here — most recently, the Jazz Age-style secret-speakeasy trend. Check out our guide to five such secret spots throughout the city, from an Alice in Wonderland-themed wine bar to a high-end Tiki bar.
Vin de Syrah – 6.8 miles away
Vin de Syrah has done an impressive job of evoking the magical setting of “Alice in Wonderland” as Lewis Carroll likely envisioned it himself. Nestled in the Gaslamp Quarter, the softly lit drinking den shows off grass-colored carpeting, exposed-brick walls, chandeliers, and Victorian armchairs that feel just a bit too big — kind of like you’ve just imbibed the “Drink Me” potion that makes Alice smaller in the book. Speaking of drinks, this lounge’s wine and cocktail menu is considered one of the best in San Diego, featuring exotic European reds and whites and appropriately whimsical craft cocktails.
Noble Experiment – 7.5 miles away
Named after Henry Hoover’s nickname for Prohibition, Noble Experiment is themed around the Jazz Age, with a macabre twist. Hidden in the back of the Neighborhood restaurant in the city’s East Village, it shows off gilded skulls and wooden paneling that vaguely evokes Dracula’s Transylvania, as well as cream-colored tufted-leather booths and barstools. Cocktails incorporating freshly carved ice and exotic spirits and liqueurs are so popular that, to get into the bar, you often have to make reservations days in advance. There’s even a secret entrance that you won’t easily be able to find … good luck!
Raised by Wolves – 14 miles away
Raised by Wolves checks off two boxes that have made it a favorite watering hole among locals: It’s a secret speakeasy and it has a rotating bar. Cocktails that run from the Twilight Samurai (whisky, bitters, star anise, and pear eau-de-vie), to the cleverly named Christmas drink Snoop Noggy Nog have helped this spot land the title “Cocktail Bar of the Year” in Imbibe magazine. The space itself, unexpectedly nestled in a mall, showcases nostalgic and evocative design: marble-tiled floors, frescoes, polished-wood cabinetry, and shelves crowded with glittering glass bottles.
The Charles Kenneth
The Charles Kenneth is a “true” speakeasy, in that it traces its roots back to Prohibition, when its Victorian home doubled as a hotel serving bootleg alcohol in the basement. Of all the San Diego speakeasies, this one arguably conjures the 1920s in the most literal and immersive way: Phones aren’t allowed inside, men must ask the bartender for introductions to “ladies,” and patrons have to learn the password before visiting. Drinks-wise, you can expect only the most inventive craft cocktails, centered around tinctures and bitters that were favored in the Jazz Age.
32.4 miles away; https://www.thecharleskenneth.com
False Idol – 6.4 miles away
You’ll need to open a walk-in refrigerator’s door to access False Idol, a lounge hidden within Little Italy’s Craft & Commerce restaurant, and once there, you’ll need to keep your wits about you: Here, a flaming volcano can “erupt” at any minute. When you’re not preparing for a mild eruption (or setting it off yourself by ordering the Alkala the Fierce cocktail), you can admire the waterfall, grotto, dozens of wood carvings, and extensive cocktail list. More than 200 rums are represented here, in yet another nod to the immersive Tiki theme.
Prohibition – 7 miles away
As the name suggests, Prohibition — like the Charles Kenneth — really leans into the 1920s theme, in this case enforcing a semi-formal dress code and a cell-phone ban and showcasing nostalgic lighting and decor. You’ll access the bar through a secret door that belongs to the fictional “Eddie O’Hare, Esq.” and wait for the staff’s green light to come inside, before wandering downstairs for the full experience. Savor drinks such as Fear of the Dark (whisky, coffee, and orgeat with sarsaparilla bitters) and take in the music, which changes nightly and highlights the San Diego Jazz Collective and other local talent.
Plan Your Speakeasy Tour
Ready to explore all these hidden haunts and low-key lounges? Take a look at the exclusive offers at The Dana on Mission Bay and start planning your stay.