There’s something about the Prohibition era that sounds pretty cool — not the no-alcohol law, but the way imbibers had to sneak around to get some. It was all secret handshakes and clever passwords. Nowadays, bars are trying to recapture that clubby, clandestine feel. Here are three spots where you can experience it for yourself:
New York City: The Vault at Pfaff’s. Opened in September beneath Broadway and Bleecker Street, The Vault is a reincarnation of the original 1850s bar frequented by Walt Whitman. A poem he wrote about the place is featured on the menu, which is made of actual newspaper and modeled after The Saturday Press. Vault has atmosphere to spare: It’s underneath the Corner Street Café, outfitted with a century-old bar and features Christian Siriano-designed staff uniforms. We recommend ordering the Ada Clare (Rittenhouse rye, Luxardo amaretto, fresh sour with a cinnamon sugar rim).
Chicago: The Violet Hour. With house rules like “No O-Bombs, No Jager-Bombs. No bombs of any kind,” you can guess these folks are serious about libations. While you’ll have to find the camouflaged door (look for a discreet handle, there’s no sign outside), you won’t miss the décor — it mirrors 19th-century English clubs and French salons with oversized white chairs and dark purple hues. The Oldest Living Confederate Widow (Tanqueray gin, lemon, honey syrup, Pernod absinthe) is worth a try for its name alone.
San Francisco: Bourbon & Branch. Its name comes from the popular 1800s drink (bourbon and water) and this underground Prohibition-era watering hole operated under the guise of “JJ Russell’s Cigar Shop.” Explore the series of tunnels, which were used as getaways in the event of a raid, or savor your handcrafted cocktails in the password-required library. Tip: You must make a phone reservation or you simply won’t get in.
Photos Courtesy of The Vault at Pfaff’s