Rye Old Fashioned - Photo credit flickr.com/scaredykat Rye Old Fashioned - Photo credit flickr.com/scaredykat

Knock, knock. What’s the password? Get the inside scoop on Michigan’s best speakeasy-inspired hangouts and haunts.

MICHIGAN—These hidden bars in Michigan are the cat’s meow.

If you’re in the mood for a pub crawl and got the moxie, try out one of Michigan’s speakeasy-themed bars. The speakeasy, sometimes called a blind pig, was an illegal liquor establishment during the Prohibition era, often using bootlegged alcohol. The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution made the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal. Criminal groups, such as Detroit’s Purple Gang or Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit, ran the alcohol supply. Prohibition, and thus the popularity of the speakeasy, lasted from 1920 to 1933, when the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed.

Bars themed after speakeasies and the Roaring Twenties came into prominence in 2000. New York City bar Milk & Honey started the trend of a speakeasy-themed cocktail bar, and the trend has been the bee’s knees ever since. Their popularity has only grown in 2020 and beyond, when the Roaring Twenties have made a stylistic comeback.

Eager to change into your glad rags and score a hotsy-totsy glass of giggle water? Here are some of Michigan’s best bars with either a speakeasy theme or historic past.

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Café d’Mongo’s Speakeasy (Detroit)

1439 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226

One of Detroit’s worst-kept secrets is a little paradise on Griswold Street. Café d’Mongo’s had its first run from 1985 to 1995, then reopened in 2007. It was featured on Esquire TV’s “Best Bars in America” and Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.” A number of celebrities have visited over the years, including Ryan Gosling and Quentin Tarantino. 

Owner and Detroit entrepreneur Larry Mongo’s relatives ran blind pigs in Detroit’s North End neighborhood during Prohibition, and Café d’Mongo’s is decorated to match. With gourmet grilled cheeses, strong drinks, and a staff of quirky characters often performing onstage, Café d’Mongo’s keeps the 20s alive and is not an experience to be missed.

Visit Café d’Mongo’s on Facebook or Instagram for more information.

Shelby (Detroit)

607 Shelby St, Detroit, MI 48226

This fledgling cocktail bar in Detroit’s Financial District is located in the basement of a ten-story office building, in a former bank vault. The bank vault itself serves as a seating area, and the entire space is the centerpiece of Shelby’s “old meets new” vibe.

Shelby, which opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a craft cocktail bar that was named one of Detroit Free Press’s Top 5 Best New Restaurants for 2022. The menu is not extensive, but the shareplates were hand-selected and fine-tuned to perfection by the bar staff. Enjoy charcuterie or shrimp cocktail with beverage creations such as Riptide, a new spin on the Negroni cocktail, or Grow A Pear, a tequila-based drink with prickly pear flavor.

Visit Shelby’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

Tommy’s Detroit Bar & Grill (Detroit)

624 3rd Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

If you’re interested in a bar with a speakeasy history, look no further than Tommy’s. Wayne State University archeologists traced Tommy’s history to Little Harry’s Speakeasy, thought to be controlled by Detroit’s infamous Purple Gang. The building housing Tommy’s was built in 1840 with a sizable tunnel beneath the building. This tunnel was not just used during Prohibition to funnel alcohol, but also for runaway enslaved people during the Underground Railroad. Urban legend claims a body was buried in the basement by the Purple Gang, which may be responsible for certain hauntings.

Tommy’s has gone through several incarnations, including the Golden Galleon and Mac’s on Third. Today, Tommy’s Detroit Bar & Grill is known as an affordable option for brews, burgers, and corned beef. Since it’s right across the street from Joe Louis Arena, it’s a great spot for local Red Wings fans. If you’re lucky, you can even get owner Tom Burelle to offer a tour of the infamous basement—just watch out for any apparitions in fedoras.

Visit Tommy’s official website or Facebook page for more information.

The Ebenezer (Plymouth)

305 Fleet St, Plymouth, MI 48170

This newer cocktail lounge has circulated Plymouth’s name around on social media, but you’ll still be hard-pressed to find it. In true speakeasy fashion, visitors can only find the main entrance to The Ebenezer in an alley. But don’t worry, there’s at least adequate signage when you get there.

The speakeasy-themed Ebenezer is located in the basement of the former First National Bank of Plymouth and named after the bank’s first president in 1871, Ebenezer J. Penniman. The decor was meticulously chosen, with century-old furniture such as couches, lighting fixtures, and photographs. Although the Ebenezer has its share of flash cocktails, including the Rosé Martini with an erupting smoke bubble, the venue is laid back enough for patrons to order simple two-ingredient cocktails or beers as well. Make sure to check out signature dessert cocktail The Dude, named after the cocktail of choice of the eponymous character from The Big Lebowski.

Visit The Ebenezer’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

Oakland Art Novelty Company (Ferndale)

201 W Nine Mile Rd, Ferndale, MI 48220

The Oakland Art Novelty Company, often better known as The Oakland, has been serving up craft cocktails for over a decade. Though it has a former life as a tiki bar, it was a founding member of Detroit’s revived cocktail scene. Unlike other speakeasy-themed establishments, the Oakland is not difficult to find, with the front door facing Ferndale’s downtown. The Oakland features a wide menu of seasonal and rotating cocktails, hand-crafted with quality ingredients.

Visit the Oakland Art Novelty Company’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

Johnny’s (Royal Oak)

215 S Main St, Royal Oak, MI 48067

Johnny’s in Royal Oak provides one of the most authentic speakeasy experiences. As a reservation only bar, visitors must make a reservation if they want the secret password. The front door is disguised as a refrigerator door behind the Alchemi restaurant, formerly Mr. B’s Gastropub. Inside, though, Johnny’s features over 600 different spirits and a delectable menu with Michigan-made ingredients such as mushrooms and blueberries. The addition of live jazz shows makes for a decadent and exclusive experience.

Visit Johnny’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

The Last Word (Ann Arbor)

301 W Huron St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Named after a famous 1920s cocktail from the Detroit Athletic Club, the Last Word stands out as an intimate venue among Ann Arbor’s larger bar scene. 

The Last Word operates under the LIVE Nightclub, but the atmosphere contrasts wildly. Patrons enter the bar through an unassuming and unmarked door, in true Prohibition style. Thankfully, though, the Last Word has tastier drinks than your garden variety speakeasy in the 20s. This literary-themed atmosphere features more than 20 signature cocktails and an impressive variety of whiskeys and bourbons. The food offerings also benefit a refined palette, with foodie favorites such as charcuterie, baked brie, pimento cheese, and shishito peppers.

Visit the Last Word’s official website or their Facebook page for more information.

The Relief & Resource Co. (Fenton)

113 1/2, Mill St, Fenton, MI 48430

The small unassuming town of Fenton is surprisingly a foodie destination, but visitors to the Latin American restaurant El Topo might be surprised to find, of all things, a Pringles vending machine. This machine might seem out of place, but should a visitor press the “original Pringles” button after 5 p.m., they will summon the host of Relief & Resource Co., who will guide you to the other side.

Half speakeasy and half neighborhood bar, the Relief & Resource Co. offers an impressive array of cocktails, including classic, house, and tiki cocktails. It also offers mocktails without alcohol, as well as beer, wine, and cider. The spirits menu is overflowing with offerings of whiskeys, bourbons, gins, and other hard liquors. For the Fenton foodies, Relief & Resource Co. offers everything from the El Topo menu, as well as its own centerpiece: build-your-own cheese and charcuterie boards. Patrons can stack their charcuterie board with whatever cheeses or meats their heart desires, with crackers, mustards, and jam included.

Visit the Relief & Resource Co.’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

2FOG’s Pub (Howell)

118a W Grand River Rd, Howell, MI 48843

This basement pub in Howell may have originally stood for “two friendly old guys,” but since new owners took over in 2020, it’s a speakeasy Cheers, where everyone knows your name.

2FOG’s Pub is located in the Heart of Howell building, a re-development project in downtown Howell. By descending the stairs in the alley behind the building, patrons will emerge in a cozy basement room with vintage wood and brick walls. Their signature cocktails are all themed after the Roaring 20s, with offerings such as Bootlegger Lemonade, Whiskey Sidecar, and the Inside Job. They also offer full menus for lunch, dinner, and brunch. 

Visit the 2FOG’s Pub official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

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Capone’s Speakeasy & Pizzeria (Muskegon)

794 Pine St, Muskegon, MI 49442

This Muskegon pizza joint is a rarity in Michigan, a spot where you can actually get Chicago-style pizza. And it’s themed after Chicago’s most notorious gangster, Al Capone.

A painting of the real-life Scarface graces the wall above the taps, ensconced by rows of hard liquor bottles. Otherwise, the wall decor is sparse, with no signs and no windows in this Prohibition-themed eatery. And the only hint that there’s a restaurant here is the sign on the door reading “Anti-Saloon League Chicago Branch.”

In addition to the beloved pizzas in deep dish Chicago style and square-cut Sicilian style, Capone’s now offers a full menu of Italian-inspired dishes Big Al would love. A variety of cocktails are offered, some seasonally, but the Old Fashioned is definitely the crowd favorite.

Visit Capone’s Speakeasy & Pizzeria’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

18th Amendment Spirits Co. (Muskegon)

350 W Western Ave, Muskegon, MI 49440

A distillery named after the infamous Constitutional amendment that banned alcohol production. Now, isn’t that ironic?

Located in an older building formerly housing the Savings and Loan Bank, 18th Amendment Spirits Co. takes inspiration from the rum-runners of yesteryear and distributes its spirits all over the state. The distillery is owned by a local lawyer specializing in liquor law, hence the name. It crafts its own whiskeys, gin, rum, and vodka in house. Their cocktails use rare and specialized ingredients such as star anise, edible gold, rose petals, and more. Guests can also build their own Bloody Mary to their specifications. For food, the menu features bar appetizers, pub pizzas, Mac N’ Cheese, and more.

Visit 18th Amendment Spirits Co.’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

IDC (Grand Rapids)

187 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Eschewing the 1920s theme, IDC in the Amway Grand Plaza is more Studio 54 than Great Gatsby. IDC is “exclusive but inclusive,” admitting only by secret passcode, but the passcode is given to anyone who signs up for the email mailing list. Beyond the keypad door, you’ll find far-out tunes to groove to, a large mural of disco queen Donna Summer, and, of course, a revolving disco ball.

The “secret bar” of IDC opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and did very well with a limited guest list. The bar is both indoor and outdoor, with a balcony overlooking Grand Rapids’ Hotel District. Cocktails are traditional and nostalgic, with Pomegranate Martinis, Rosemary Sazerac, Amaretto Sour, and Detroit-born Last Word.

Visit IDC’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

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Low Bar (Traverse City)

128 S Union St, Traverse City, MI 49684

Traverse City is well known for the many microbreweries, wineries, and distilleries in the area. It didn’t need more of the same, so the owners of the 7 Monks Taproom decided to go in a business direction that’d have them dancing the Charleston in no time.

Low Bar is a rare entry into Traverse City’s bar scene that offers craft cocktails. True to its name, the Low Bar is a dark basement bar designed to look like a cozy speakeasy. It features over 70 whiskeys and 200 spirits overall. The cocktail menu is sorted in a way to make James Bond happy, with one list for shaken cocktails and one list for stirred, which includes multiple varieties of the Old Fashioned. 

Visit Low Bar’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

The Counting Room (Houghton)

600 Shelden Ave, Houghton, MI 49931

Should you brave a trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s U.P., it’d be worth it to book a reservation at The Vault Hotel. Why? So you can gain access to Michigan’s most exclusive and remote speakeasy, The Counting Room.

Both The Vault and The Counting Room are situated in an 1887 sandstone building that was formerly a bank, thus the name. The Counting Room is a new bar neatly hidden in The Vault Hotel’s basement. Its bar surface features layers of coins to keep up with the theme. The capacity of the speakeasy is only 25 people, limited to hotel guests and community members who purchase a membership. Professional mixologists handcraft cocktails with hand-sculpted ice and premium ingredients.

Visit the Vault Hotel’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

The Trap Door (Clare)

501 N McEwan St, Clare, MI 48617

Clare County is a lesser known locale for the Purple Gang when they were “Up North,” and The Trap Door in Clare builds on this legacy.

The Venue at 501 is a venue space originally built in 1910. The historic building was formerly home to the Mill End mercantile. Beneath the space often used for weddings and other events is The Trap Door, a speakeasy with handcrafted cocktails and Michigan beers. The Trap Door goes all out with the theme, hosting jazz and other musicians periodically, and even hosting Roaring 20s nights where period attire is encouraged. The food menu features charcuterie and small plates like pretzel bites, feta dip, and firecracker shrimp.

Visit The Trap Door’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

Nudged Underground (Bay City)

304 Center Ave, Bay City, MI 48708

While the pinball machine wasn’t invented until after Prohibition, this arcade addition will certainly make you believe Al Capone himself could have been a pinball whiz. 

The Crazy Quarters Arcade in downtown Bay City recently expanded its space for International Flipper Pinball Association events, and decided on a speakeasy theme. Nudged Underground, the expansion, houses more than 50 pinball machines with plenty of room to relax as well. Rather ironically, despite the theme, no alcohol is served. It’s purely for theme, fun, and a touch of class.

Visit Crazy Quarters Arcade’s official website or their Facebook or Instagram page for more information.

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