Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Find Pennsylvania’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Find Pennsylvania’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo by Neal Santos courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

By Kalena Thomhave

August 22, 2023

Some of these establishments are more secret than others. But they all recall a period in US history where every bar was a secret bar. 

You’re probably thinking ‘Just how hidden are these bars if you’re writing about them?’ To which we say that speakeasies are businesses and they do want to be found. But it’s still fun to have to search for them and imagine that you’re frequenting an illicit hangout in the 1920s. After all, speakeasies came about during the Prohibition Era of 1920 to 1933, when alcohol was illegal in the United States. But today, you can visit a speakeasy without fear of arrest.

We’ve put together a list of nine of our favorite speakeasies and hidden bars across Pennsylvania. While most of these establishments are in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you may still find some hidden bars and lounges slinging drinks in the back alleys of smaller cities and towns. Raise a glass to 100 years without prohibition when you visit these speakeasies—if you can find them!

The Speakeasy – Pittsburgh

Aptly named, The Speakeasy is a classic speakeasy in the basement of the Omni William Penn Hotel. The vibe nails that of a 1920s speakeasy, probably because the space used to actually operate as a speakeasy during Prohibition. In fact, the former speakeasy space had been used for storage for decades before it was converted into the sophisticated cocktail bar it is today. Pay a visit to this bar under the hotel lobby to try one of The Speakeasy’s craft cocktails, many prepared with Pennsylvania-made liquor. 

The Bookstore Speakeasy – Bethlehem

Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Find Pennsylvania’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Robot Brainz

This cocktail bar is a recreation of a speakeasy that actually operated in the space during Prohibition. The Bookstore Speakeasy is not exactly a secret—you can make reservations—but it’s still located in a nondescript building that would be easy to overlook. The speakeasy is open Thursday through Saturday nights and offers live jazz music each night. Plus, unlike most speakeasies, the Bookstore Speakeasy even serves dinner, so no need to drink on an empty stomach.

Ranstead Room – Philadelphia

Behind an unassuming door in an alley off 20th Street near Ranstead Street in Center City Philadelphia lies one of the best hidden bars in the city, The Ranstead Room. This dimly lit and cozy bar is operated by the same people behind El Rey, an upscale Mexican restaurant that’s actually connected to the Ranstead Room (there’s your hint!). Once inside the bar, you can order off an inventive cocktail menu, which may include, for instance, a pickle-brine-based mule or a creative but classic old fashioned. If you’re hungry, you can also order some Mexican snacks from the El Rey kitchen.

Here’s another hint: When in the alley behind El Rey, look for “RR” stamped on a black door.

The Confidant – Pittsburgh

This speakeasy in the back room of The Goldmark in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood is open to everyone—so long as you can find it. With no posted address, sign, or social media presence, you just need to waltz down the alley of Eden Way and enter through the black door—so long as the green light of The Confidant is lit. The light tells you that The Confidant is indeed open, as the tropical-themed cocktail bar is only open Friday and Saturday nights. The place is small, with only enough space for 30 people—a perfect, cozy atmosphere in which to sip your mezcal old fashioned.

King George Speakeasy – York

This speakeasy isn’t super hidden, as it’s merely located in the basement of an Italian restaurant (Tutoni’s) in downtown York. But the cocktail bar that is King George Speakeasy is certainly intimate, with space for just 20-30 people each Friday and Saturday night. (That’s not including the regular live entertainment.) 

If King George is at full capacity when you visit to order one of their specialty cocktails, a glass of wine, or some small plates, you can wait upstairs at the bar at Tutoni’s until King George has availability.

Madame Jenny’s – Scranton 

At the back of the popular Scranton bar Ale Mary’s, you can find Madame Jenny’s, a speakeasy in the style of the 1920s. Both Ale Mary’s and Madame Jenny’s are in the historic Bittenbender building in downtown Scranton. Madame Jenny’s has a sparse social media and web presence—it is, after all, a hidden bar. And this authenticity extends to the atmosphere, which is classy yet relaxed, allowing you to dress in your best for the evening but still let loose. Madame Jenny’s serves classic cocktails and also offers live music. 

Fermentery Form – Philadelphia

This place isn’t a traditional speakeasy with cocktails as the main attraction, because Fermentery Form is actually a brewery. It also has a specified location in Philadelphia’s West Kensington. But what makes Fermentery Form more “hidden” than other breweries and bars is that it’s open sporadically, only by announcement. Check Facebook and Instagram on Saturdays—when Fermentery Form is open, the green light will be on!

The Agency – Harrisburg

Harrisburg’s “worst kept secret,” according to the speakeasy itself, is the Agency, a speakeasy style cocktail lounge above Nocturnal nightclub. “Speakeasy style” means that the Agency has a curated cocktail menu and a 1920s theme right down to the costumes that staff wear. The entrance is around the corner from Nocturnal, where you’ll “ask for Miss Knock” to get in.

CookieLab by Insomnia Cookies – Philadelphia

CookieLab is not a bar—unless you count the milkshake bar—but it is a cookie speakeasy. It’s a hidden experience that allows you to enjoy your vices (cookies) in secret. At CookieLab, you can try new and wild flavors of Insomnia Cookies that you create yourself or even get a cookie-fied milkshake. Grab the password (available on the CookieLab Instagram) and approach the secret entrance behind the bookcase at the Insomnia Cookies in Philly’s East Passyunk.

 

READ MORE: Welcome to Flavortown: 10 Pennsylvania Restaurants Featured on the Food Network

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