It's probably the biggest trend in Dallas bars right now: the speakeasy bar, a catch-all term that operators are using to describe — well, it's evolving into a whole host of things.
The official/historical definition of a speakeasy is an illicit liquor store or nightclub that sprung up during the Prohibition era, when liquor sales were illegal. Fortunately for us, Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and the term lay dormant for a few decades.
Then came the craft cocktail movement, with bartenders digging into the archives and mixing up classic Prohibition-era drinks like sidecars and old-fashioneds — which led almost inevitably to speakeasy-style bars where Prohibition-style drinks could best be served.
The speakeasy trend first hit Dallas in 2014 with two openings: Midnight Rambler, the subterranean bar at the Joule Hotel in downtown Dallas; and Truth & Alibi, the Deep Ellum bar with the candy store facade.
Both of those pioneers had some key hallmarks of the new-era speakeasy, which can include:
- Hidden location
- Intimate setting
- Entrance that's either a false facade or else invisible/hard to spot
- Exclusive vibe, a place for insiders or those in the know
- Secret password or other special info required to gain entry
- A "bar within a bar" profile with a different and/or special menu
- Lack of publicity, contributing to the in-the-know cachet
Dallas can't resist the allure of exclusive, and so "speakeasy" has become an increasingly common angle for bars to take — especially post-pandemic, when operators are seeking creative ways to do business and keep patrons on premise. If your location has an extra room, you can designate it as a speakeasy and give restless customers two experiences in one.
As the trend becomes more popular, some elements have fallen by the wayside, particularly the PR aspect. It's now common for bars to promote themselves as speakeasies, even if doing so runs counter to the definition (whatever that nebulous definition might now be). "Speakeasy" has become a signifier of something cool, and has even spawned a sub-category, dubbed the "singeasy."
Here's all the speakeasy bars that have arisen, maybe not so secretly, around Dallas-Fort Worth, listed alphabetically:
Intimate speakeasy in Dallas' Arts District is located inside Musume, the Asian restaurant from Josh Babb and partner Sean Clavir of Rock Libations. Akai is especially fun because, in order to gain entrance, you must walk through the kitchen at Musume — very insider-y. It's a Japanese-inspired lounge with cocktails Friday-Saturday and a special food menu from Musume.
Known as Fort Worth's best kept secret, this cocktail bar is nestled inside Wishbone & Flynt. You can enter one of two ways — through a gold door with several doorknobs and handles hidden near the restaurant bar; or via an unmarked door on Bryan Avenue.
Speakeasy inside Dallas bar Henry's Majestic was one of the first when it opened in 2015. Co-founder Andrew Popp says they were inspired by speakeasy bars they'd seen in New York. In true speakeasy form, it's named for the actual alley where the speakeasy's entrance faces. "It evolved as a way to pay homage to the Prohibition era," he says. "We initially didn't advertise, it was just something the locals knew about."
Brand new speakeasy opening October 15 is inside Neon Kitten Izakaya, the dim sum restaurant in Deep Ellum, whose extended footprint allowed room for a separate concept in the back. Keep up with their social media, where they'll post a secret password to get in.
Bourbon & Banter
Bar at the Statler Dallas hotel embraces the speakeasy model with gusto, not only with its subterranean location but also the fun hurdles you must jump to get in. Don't tell anyone because it's a secret but look for the shoeshine station and the old-school phone booth in the lobby. Step inside the phone booth, and dial the old-fashioned phone. That's how you get in. The bar also has a library stocked with bourbon and whiskey, Prohibition classics.
Bar inside Casablanca, the new Bishop Arts bar and eatery from Exxir Hospitality, will be known as the speakeasy that took "speakeasy" to another level: They've dubbed it a "singeasy." It's basically a '70s-inspired karaoke lounge, with private rooms lined with wild wall treatments and jewel toned banquettes, which they hope will become a destination for a fun night out.
High & Tight
Barbershop-speakeasy in Deep Ellum was an early entry when it opened in 2015, and it introduced a combination previously only seen in Los Angeles and New York. "The idea was to have a barbershop in front with a kind of secret entry through the hallway to get into the bar," says co-founder Corey Good. The official entrance is via the barbershop, but for those who crave intrigue, you can also get in through a powder room.
Cocktail bar at The Joule fits the speakeasy bill in (at least) three ways: #1. Subterranean location, accessible only via the hotel lobby, with no signage whatsoever, IYKYK (which means "if you know you know," an annoying phrase that sums up the whole insider vibe of a speakeasy in the first place). #2. Intimate setting, with sexy low lighting. #3. Cocktails — as crafty as you get, especially with award-winning bartender Gabe Sanchez now behind the bar.
Calling this a speakeasy is a stretch; but by strict definition, it is a bar inside another space and it's definitely "exclusive." It's a membership-only bar inside Common Desk–Trammell Crow Center, and represents an extension of the company's fondness for throwing community-driven happy hours within their spaces. It also features a menu devised by Omar Yeefoon, owner of Shoals Sound & Service in Deep Ellum and a cocktail whiz.
The Parlour by Bottled in Bond
Speakeasy-style cocktail lounge in Frisco sits next door to its sibling bar-restaurant Bottled in Bond. It has an edited-down version of the Bottled in Bond menu of cocktails and foods, in a different, more cocktail-y atmosphere.
Fort Worth bar is inside Downtown Cowtown at the Isis, the thoughtfully renovated historic theater in Fort Worth's Stockyards. The Pharao has a number of speakeasy traits: It's hidden downstairs, and it has a cozy vibe, quiet enough to have a conversation. It also serves Prohibition-era cocktails like the Bee's Knees. The fact that the bar top is reclaimed from a 1928 home in South Carolina is just the Luxardo cherry on the sundae.
This one's not yet open but it will be part of Green Light Social, a new Dallas bar and nightclub opening near Deep Ellum with three environments under one roof — "so you can have your own bar crawl within one bar," says co-owner Ian Fletcher — including this 25-and-up membership-only speakeasy, named after Dallas' infamous Jack Ruby.
Thompson's Bookstore Fort Worth
Savvy patrons of this downtown cocktail lounge know there are two entrances: one behind a bookshelf and the other via a sub-street-level staircase outside that goes to the underground RX bar, which boasts a quirky pharmacy-inspired atmosphere. To gain access, you need a password, which you can find on Thompson's Facebook page.
Truth & Alibi
Deep Ellum bar is a glorious example of a speakeasy with all sorts of amusing motifs, beginning with the trick facade, an elaborately designed, glass-enclosed, fake candy store with rows of gumballs and a little mushroom table. A door on the right leads into the main bar. You (theoretically) need a password to get in, which they diligently post on their Facebook page, and once inside, you're treated to the kinds of craft cocktails that inspired this whole trend to begin with.
Stephanie Allmon Merry contributed to this story.