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Great Gatsby atmospheres are back in vogue inside the newly resurrected (and legal!) speakeasies. From New York to Berlin, from Milan to London and Paris, secret bars are all the rage, venues where mum’s the word. No signs, no indications and no publicity, apart from the usual word of mouth.
They can only be detected thanks to a few precious clues, such as a doorman at the gate of an anonymous building, mysterious door phones and passwords. But where are today’s trendiest secret venues?
The Guardian has recently published the Big Apple’s top ten secret venues, based on the recommendations of a guide entitled New York Hidden bars and restaurants which also reveals how to go about finding them. When lit, the lantern on the facade of the famous Iroquois Hotel of Midtown West indicates that the Lantern's Keep is in business. Likewise, a group of punters disappearing behind an anonymous door reveals that there is much more than meets the eye behind La Esquina, a tiny taqueria in the Soho district: the most popular margaritas of New York and some excellent Mexican street food. Then again, a little blue light next to a dilapidated roller shutter is a sign that the evening is in full swing inside the “Nublu” of East Village with performances by young musicians their way to success (for example, it is here that Norah Jones and Moby started out), accompanied by sake, wine and beer.
On this side of the Atlantic the secret bar fad is also catching on fast. For “booze bloggers”, the trendiest venues are '"Happiness Forgets" in East London and the '"Experimental Cocktail Club" in Chinatown (they have just opened another one in Rue Saint-Sauveur in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris). The former is the most refined place for cocktails while the latter, an authentic gem concealed behind a dilapidated entrance, is one of the Clubs most loved by Londoners for its sparkling atmosphere. However, London can offer plenty hot spots that are just as appealing.
According to the Daily Telegraph, there are eleven top secret bars. They recommend "The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town", in the cellars of the "The Breakfast Club in London" in Artillery Lane, where admittance is only granted to those who approach a staff member asking to “talk to the Mayor”, along with the amusing "Evans and Peel Detective Agency" on Earls Court Road. To become a client, you have to submit a “case” online to Evans and Peel; when you arrive at the club, the usher-detective will interrogate prospective punters about their case and, only then, will they be admitted to the Twenties-style venue, by passing through a “bookshop”.
More speakeasy-inspired venues have sprung up in the wake of the Experimental Cocktail Club on Rue Saint-Sauveur. One of these is the Moonshiner on Rue Sedaine in the eleventh arrondissement: you enter it by going through a crowded pizzeria into a backroom and then passing through the door of the cold storage room (!).
Candelaria (at 52 Rue Saintonge in the 3rd arrondissement) is also hidden away behind the scenes of another eatery, a Mexican taqueria.
The German cannot resist a mystery, so much so that there are many Berliners who admit to having lived a few doors away from a secret bar without having ever nurtured the slightest suspicion. According to punchdrink.com, there are as many as nine great secret bars spread around Berlin. From the tiny Becketts Kopf and Buck and Breck in what used to be the East Berlin of Prenzlauer Berg, the hippest district in Europe, to the Bar Tausend of Schiffbauerdamm, located along the railway lines on the river Spree.
Amidst bricks, pipes and original machinery a former 1800s brewery (at 242 Prenzlauer Allee), has been converted into La Soupe Populaire, specialized in traditional German cuisine, while aperitifs and after dinner drinks are served in "Le Croco Bleu" next door, in what used to be the engine room. The "Butcher's Bar", on the other hand, is located at the back of an old butcher’s shop at 116 Torstrasse: you enter it through a broken-down phone box, placed in a sausage vendor’s shack.
The only truly mysterious secret bar in Italy is the 1930, mentioned by TrendWatching as one of the five global consumer trends of 2016. Here, in perfect Prohibitionist style, two bartenders offer vintage or seasonal cocktails, artfully mixed and recounted in the pages of a novel. Where is it, exactly? All we know is that it is hidden away in a narrow, dimly lit street close to piazza Cinque Giornate. The only trace is a Facebook page. In brief, the most unmentionable secret bar of Milan is really top secret and those who have crossed its threshold (it apparently stands behind what would appear to be a café, but some say it is an ethnic food shop) are asked not to reveal its existence. Otherwise, we might as well say goodbye to the mystery.