Hidden among the mesmerizing canals of Amsterdam lies a secret, modern speakeasy-style bar, just waiting to be discovered.
The gilded heyday of the Roaring 20’s has come back into fashion. And I think the best modern form of this revival has been the comeback of the swanky secretive Prohibition bar.
If you’re on a quest for a memorable cocktail experience in Amsterdam, finding one of these hidden establishments is a must.
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I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Nestled within the myriad mesmerizing canals lies one of the world’s top speakeasy bars waiting for your knock on the door.
Having spent quite a few evenings in these dark and moody establishments (#dontjudge), I have to say that Door 74 in Amsterdam ranks as my top speakeasy destination in the world.
(You can find their very discreet website here.)
But if you need more validation, you can see here that this bar has made the list of the Top 50 bars in the world.
What’s a Speakeasy Bar?
For those unfamiliar, quick #spoileralert – a speakeasy is a hidden lounge that harkens back to the Prohibition era of the 1920s in the United States when liquor was taboo.
Let’s take a super quick look back in time to see how these covert bars came to be.
Back in the day, a strong religious movement, combined with a grain shortage from the war led to the banning of all alcohol consumption.
Those were some dry days, folks.
Can you imagine living in a world where the simple act of going to a bar and downing a drink risked landing you in the clinker?
Of course we all know that forbidding something makes it all the more enticing…
And this was certainly true for those rebellious souls who got creative and established these secretive speakeasies. And their brave patrons risked their livelihoods and reputations all for the chance to belly up to the bar.
Not only were these covert bars beautifully designed and detailed, but the cocktail menu also took on its own form of life. With restricted production, large distilleries went kaput, so bootleg booze and bathtub gin became a hot commodity. Germophobes, beware!!
Whiskey was still attainable with a doctor’s order. So that, along with gin became hot sellers and led to some of the classic cocktails we still know and love today.
Here’s looking at you, Old-Fashioned.
Thankfully, Prohibition ended!
(Fun fact: If you need an excuse to celebrate, not that the anniversary of Repeal Day is celebrated at bars worldwide each December 5th – cheers!)
And today, we can experience these revived historic treasures without any risk of ending up behind bars. *woot woot*
I love how these sequestered bars now span the gamut of various design styles, ranging from full vintage reproductions to the most modern mixology encounters.
These secluded venues can sometimes be hiding in plain sight, maybe even as your next-door neighbor. Although, they’re often discretely shielded behind an unmarked door, in the rear of a restaurant, or sometimes shrouded as a bar within a bar.
But I assure you that they’re out there, just waiting to be discovered. So keep your eyes open!
Pretty much every urban scene has at least one swanky speakeasy. And here you’ll find brilliant bartenders whisking together tempting libations with expert skill and artistry.
Such is what I discovered one night in Amsterdam.
Two of my traveling companions just happened to be world-renown chefs. So, as you can imagine, only the best-of-the-best establishments made our itinerary. And this bar was the number one must-see on our list.
We ventured out on a chilly evening, sauntering up to a very nondescript, black door and gave three quick taps.
After a momentary pause, a panel behind a peephole suddenly shifted, and an eyeball appeared. It furtively shifted side to side – apparently sizing us up.
The peephole abruptly snapped shut. We waited, expectantly but nothing happened.
We looked at each other, wondering…had the doorman had somehow deemed us as unworthy? I assessed my companions. Unlikely, given Chiseled Cheekbones standing in our midst.
After an awkward pause, we considered giving up and heading to the pub across the street. Just then, the “portal of rejection” was abruptly thrust open with a loud bang. Then an apparently British bloke sheepishly yelled out, “Hey mate, this bloody door is pure rubbish – the knob keeps jamming. Sorry to keep you waiting!”
And – just like that – we were in! Access granted. We eagerly stepped past the entrance and found ourselves inside the dark cavern, giving our eyes time to adjust to the dim lighting.
This place was the real deal.
In my opinion, a great speakeasy space should include dark, moody lighting, fully stocked shelves lining the cocktail bar, and an array of spirits, bitters, and tinctures.
All of that was in fine form here at Door 74.
The bar showcased a series of lit arches filled with unique and rare liquors. Sultry booths lined the perimeter for patrons to gather and drink in a secluded, intimate space, far away from prying eyes.
My party went straight to the center of the room and lined ourselves up at the bar. A charming bartender greeted us and wasted no time getting down to business.
When he asked what I fancied, I wasted no time responding,
“I’m an Old-Fashioned girl.”
With a sly grin, he winked and asked how much I trusted him.
Given Amsterdam’s notorious reputation, I was hesitant to throw all caution to the wind.
I narrowed my eyes and asked him exactly what he meant.
“Scale of 1 to 10, how much do you trust me to give you an Old-Fashioned twist and make you the best cocktail of your life?”
“Challenge accepted. I’ll give you a 9.5 to work with. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
And in true form, he created an epic Old-Fashioned that still is the best I’ve had in my life.
Speakeasy Interior Design Style
If you’re looking to celebrate this vintage look and bring some of that speakeasy-style into your home bar, there are many places you can go for inspiration.
Now, let the record state that my all-time best cocktail experience was at Door 74 in Amsterdam. However, from a design destination, I must give decor props (and solid drink props, as well) to Mathers in downtown Orlando.
Florida’s largest speakeasy sports a true hidden entrance. And #spoileralert – there’s a faux facade with a different name over the entry.
You’ll first walk into a different bar, then head up the stairs. There, you’ll find yourself within a small room surrounded by bookcases.
There’s a clever charm in having to navigate the bookshelf-lined room to discover which portal leads to the secret bar within.
After your successful entrance, you’ll be rewarded with a fully stocked bar featuring an array of whiskeys and other unique spirits lining the floor-to-ceiling shelves.
And naturally, it includes an iconic rolling ladder. You know, the types used by bartenders to scale and secure those top-shelf liquors required by discerning patrons.
The Art of Artifacts
If you’re looking to create your own speakeasy style bar within your own home, you’ll want to gather an assortment of artifacts, just like they did on this feature wall.
Be sure to take note of how they curated this array of hanging hooks, haphazardly tied with ropes hanging from the wooden beamed rafters and then offset the collection against a rugged, industrial brick wall.
Even though these spaces tend to be dark and moody, you can infuse pops of color. Check out what they did here with these vintage salmon-hued lounge chairs.
These chairs look even more enticing when gathered around this cozy vintage fireplace. And the ornate mercury glass mirror adds a vintage twist.
To have the ultimate home bar, you’ll need to create your own array of signature craft cocktails.
I actually LOL-ed at this Mathers signature, – paying tribute with a witty wink to the bathtub concoctions of yesterday.
Their “Bathtub Gin” is appropriately served in a porcelain bathtub. The ingredients contain a combo of gin, lavender, and simple syrup.
And #spoileralert, there’s even a rubber duckie thrown in for good measure.
What more could you want for last call?
Speakeasy Style Bar Takeaways:
Here are a few designer tips to bring a Prohibition-inspired speakeasy-style bar into your home:
1. Light up your liquor.
Like moths to a flame, a well-stocked, glowing bar display will keep the party going all night long!.
2. Turn down the lights.
Keep the space dark and moody to give off that elusive, covert vibe.
3. Search and salvage.
Go on a quest to find some unique, vintage treasures to display. And yes, obscure, rare liquor bottles absolutely count!
Cheers to you and your future speakeasy designs and discoveries!
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Explore More from Amsterdam:
Check out a few of my other favorite Amsterdam design destinations below.