Credit: James Tran
Credit: James Tran

Shhh! 9 San Diego Speakeasies and How to Get In

From Tucked-Away Tiki Bars to Chinese Medicine-themed Watering Holes, These Hidden Haunts Are Sure to Wet your Whistle

Hyped up bars and nightclubs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea—or should we say, glass of whiskey. Some night owls prefer to fly a bit more under the radar, and fortunately for them, San Diego’s happening nightlife scene is home to several hidden bars with inventive themes and cocktails. These speakeasies can be found tucked away within popular restaurants through unassuming doors. The term speakeasy was coined based on the idea of “speaking easy” about the illegal underground bars that existed during the Prohibition Era, and though alcohol is (legally) flowing these days, the sentiment remains. Find your way in, but keep it low-key at these perfectly embellished San Diego speakeasies. Best Speakeasies San Diego

 

The Grass Skirt

Lei back at The Grass Skirt, a tucked-away tiki bar lined with colorful Polynesian decor. Find a top-notch drink selection offered by way of classic tropical cocktails and inventive twists on island favorites. Adorable parrot- and tiki-shaped festive glasses envelop the concoctions, but what really draws attention is the featured drinks arriving aflame. Some even trigger a restaurant-wide thunderstorm simulation when ordered, which is enough to silence even the jolliest of parties. (Hint: order the flaming bowls!) Detailed vibes, dim lighting and drinks all around make for a top-notch tiki time at The Grass Skirt.

How to Get in: Enter through Good Time Poke in the parking lot, and instead of ordering at the counter, look to your left, where you’ll find a freezer door that opens up into a dark, stone-lined hallway, which leads to the lounge.

Location: Pacific Beach

Best Speakeasies San Diego

Noble Experiment

It’s all in the name—there’s something risky and noble about the concept of speakeasies, and Noble Experiment is no exception. The Gaslamp Quarter’s gothic-inspired secret is intricately detailed with swanky white booths, a bejeweled chandelier and dim red lighting to set the mood of secrecy. Cozy up to the wall of brass skulls and fully displayed bar as you decide on which mix of top-shelf liquor, seasonally made syrups and beautifully displayed garnishes you’ll be enjoying for the evening. Bright and refreshing, classic and straight-forward, their mixologists have all you’re in search of. 

How to Get in: Enter into The Neighborhood restaurant located on G St, where you’ll see a wall of beer kegs near the bathrooms. The wall is actually a secret door; just push on the right of the kegs to find yourself immersed in a whole new vibe. 

Location: Gaslamp Quarter

 

Raised by Wolves

Located in the most unassuming space, Raised by Wolves is hidden in plain sight among the shops at UTC Mall in La Jolla. Everything in this space is carefully crafted: the cocktails, the detailed furnishings and even down to the storytelling nature of the menu items. Specializing in craft cocktails, you’ll find pretty much any libation under the sun—or should we say, moon—and if you’re unsure, knowledgeable bartenders will eagerly answer any questions. The extensive list of delicious drinks makes it hard to pick, but if you’re looking for anything custom, they offer a wide selection of bitters and vermouths to satisfy any connoisseur. 

How to Get in: Find the small room disguised as a liquor-stocked storefront. Speak to the clerk about a walk-in or–better yet–your reservation, and wait to be seated in the velvet chairs in front of the fireplace. The staff will take care of the rest, as the ground beneath spins you into a new realm of possibility.

Location: La Jolla

Best Speakeasies San Diego

Vin de Syrah

Credit: Jorg Photo, JorgPhoto.com

Ever wondered what life would be like in Wonderland? Head down the rabbit hole to Vin de Syrah, the Gaslamp Quarter’s hidden whimsical masterpiece. Wine bar by evening and dance floor by night, the curious, contemporary feel of this space is inspired by the eclectic lounges of New York and turn-of-the-century Paris. The parlor features an approachable wine list along with delicious cheeses and inventive cocktails. Though technically, this bar is hidden below street level, the upscale feel sets it a step above what is otherwise easily spotted on Fifth Ave.

How to Get in: Near the corner of Fifth Ave and E St, you’ll see a staircase. Head down to find what appears to be an owl-painted door. That grass-covered wall with a suspicious brass handle might actually be your one-way ticket to Wonderland.

Location: Gaslamp Quarter

 

Occulto 477

We heard you’re looking for spirits, and this one’s a double whammy. Occulto 477 lies just beyond the graveyard adjacent to El Campo Santo, San Diego’s second oldest cemetery, and very near the famously haunted Whaley House. All aspects of the bar pay homage to their eerie neighbor, from the drink names and decor to the number 477, which specifically marks the number of graves. Take the spooky edge off with their constantly evolving cocktail menu that’s organized by style; any newcomer will easily find their way to a new favorite libation.

How to Get in: Enter through the mezcal bar, Tahona, and let the hostess know of your reservation for Occulto 477. You will be handed an etiquette card, with rule No. 10 serving as your key to entry.

Location: Old Town

Best Speakeasies San Diego

False Idol

Get your fix of the tropics with a slightly treacherous twist at False Idol, Little Italy’s tucked-away tiki bar experience. The space is fully immersive–you’re greeted by a water- and fireball-spitting rock wall, setting a precedent for the rest of the bar’s dramatic yet darling decor. Colorfully painted glass buoys line the ceiling above you as wood carvings dance about your evening of tropical-inspired drinks. And there’s no shortage of beverages here; find 18 classics and 18 inventive drinks with everything from fruity and crisp to a more mellow and dry style.

How to Get in: Enter Craft & Commerce restaurant and you’ll see a stainless-steel door on the left side of the main bar. Enter to discover a cooler full of fruits and fake skulls—and thankfully, another door leading to your tiki experience.

Location: Little Italy

Best Speakeasies San Diego

Realm of the 52 Remedies

Credit: James Tran

Come cure what ails you at the Realm of the 52 Remedies. This speakeasy pays homage to an ancient Chinese medical text dating back to 215 BC, which outlined over 250 cures for ailments through elixirs. Enter into the Apothecary, a world focused on traditional methods of healing and longevity, and venture on to find the bar, AKA the modern world’s quick fix for whatever’s on your mind. A sort of symbolism is apparent in this Chinese- and Korean-inspired bar, serving delicious drinks focused on the flavors of healing.

How to Get in: Visit Common Theory on Convoy St and look for a white door. Then, enter into a simply decorated apothecary, where a host is ready to welcome you towards the bar’s second secret passageway.

Location: Kearny Mesa

Bar Three Piece

This escape is strictly for the whiskey lovers. Properly located in North Park’s highly popular, more visible Seven Grand (primarily a whiskey bar itself), Bar Three Piece strictly serves whiskey drinks. With a selection of over 250 bottles featuring high-quality impressive labels scattered among familiar favorites, patrons can enjoy everything from a strong whiskey neat to a classically mixed old-fashioned with a side of smooth jazz. The dim lighting illuminating the comfortably cushioned booths and wallflower taxidermy makes it easy for this classic-style speakeasy to blast you straight to the past. 

How to Get in: Enter Seven Grand Whiskey and search until you find the corridor. Monday through Friday, simply wander your way in, but Saturday and Sunday, a host may greet you, in which case you’ll want to make a reservation in advance. 

Location: North Park

 

Young Blood

Credit: Arlene Ibarra

Find the most dazzling of drinking experiences at Young Blood, a hidden bar nestled inside The Neighborhood in East Village. A flat fee of $65 earns you a curated three-course cocktail experience, discussed in full with an experienced server over your welcome glass of bubbly. Tingle your taste buds in this warmly lit space that’s filled with comfortable velvet seats and carefully adorned decor. Your server will check on you between each course to ensure all is to your liking and modify any selections necessary. Not finished after dessert? Don’t fret—bonus beverages are encouraged!

How to Get in: First step: reservations only! Once you’ve secured a reservation, enter through The Neighborhood and search for what appears to be a refrigerator case. If you open it to find a tiled hallway, keep going—you’re in the right place.

Location: East Village

Best Speakeasies San Diego

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Jaclyn is a sunshine chasing San Diego native with an extensive writing background. When she isn’t word-smithing, you can find her playing beach volleyball, skating the boardwalk, or on a rooftop enjoying a drink in the sunshine with her pals.

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