Hidden Near You: How to find Michigan’s best speakeasies and secret bars

Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Johnny's via Instagram

By Claire Mainprize

September 12, 2023

Sipping on a craft cocktail is so much more fun when you have to find a hidden doorway or recite a secret code before you can even order.

Such surreptitious hidden gems are often called speakeasies, which started in America’s Prohibition era (1920-1933). Named after the concept of keeping quiet, these illegal establishments sold liquor after the 18th Amendment outlawed it.

Some popular speakeasies still stand, while many others are modeled after the originals, with hidden entryways and decor that make you feel like you stepped back in time and into the height of the Roaring ’20s.

Here are 12 of Michigan’s best (and best-hidden) bars, complete with directions, reviews, menu highlights, and photos.

Evening Bar

Find it on a map.

Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Shinola Hotel via Instagram

Although Evening Bar is located in the basement of a Shinola-owned hotel in the heart of downtown Detroit, you can only access it through a nondescript door in Parker’s Alley. Once you find the place, you’ll be invited into a dimly lit, intricately designed, upscale bar with a fireplace and numerous cozy rooms to converse in.

Although reviewers note the overpriced cocktails and so-so food, they praise the bar’s “sexy,” “swanky,” and “romantic” ambiance, saying it’s an ideal spot for date night.

The Ebenezer

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Plymouth Bar + Speakeasy

The Ebenezer is another bar located in a basement—this time in a former bank in downtown Plymouth. With its authentic decorations and vault-turned-tasting-room, Plymouth’s first (and only) speakeasy will make you feel like you’re drinking in the Jazz Age.

The menu includes creative cocktails like the Smoke & Pancake, which is made with bacon-washed bourbon, maple syrup, and black walnut bitters, plus a handful of shareable appetizers including ahi tuna sliders and a charcuterie board with regional cheeses.

Johnny’s

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This speakeasy is so covert that it requires a reservation and a secret password just to get in the door. When you make a reservation on OpenTable, they’ll text you a code to use when you get there. Alternatively, you can get the password by calling ahead at 248-794-1261.

Scores of reviewers give the place five stars all around (for overall, food, service, and ambiance), with many praising the authentic speakeasy vibe, creative cocktails, and farm-to-table dishes.

One happy diner wrote, “This place is absolutely incredible. The secret password and the trip down the flight of stairs through the back entrance really set the mood. The wait staff was very attentive and the food, drinks and ambiance is amazing.” Another wrote, “From the minute we rang the back-alley doorbell at the indiscriminate door the atmosphere was on.”

The Last Word

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of The Last Word via Instagram

When Livability published a list of the best hidden bars in every state, The Last Word snagged the top spot for Michigan. To find the popular Ann Arbor Speakeasy, look for a red light and a small plaque inscribed with “The LW” on the corner of West Huron and 1st streets. It can be hard to miss, but is usually pretty packed once you finally make it inside (so if you have a larger party, be sure to make a reservation).

Visitors praise the large portions, excellent playlists or live jazz, and dark and moody ambiance. The menu is divided into “chapters,” and the chicken and waffles come highly recommended. Adding to the fun, you’ll find plenty of pop culture references on the cocktail menu, ranging from You’re My Boy Blue (Old School) to There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand (Arrested Development).

Shelby

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Shelby via Instagram

You won’t find any signage marking this speakeasy, so if you want to find the place without aimlessly wandering Detroit for hours, you better listen up. All you need to do is walk into the Down Under coffee shop in the Financial District and ask a barista to point you in the direction of Shelby. They will then guide you to the back of the shop and through an almost-hidden door that leads into a dark, modern bar complete with a Prohibition-era bank vault.

Michiganders claim it’s “by far the best happy hour in Detroit,” but recommend making reservations in advance.

Two Way Inn

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Two Way Inn via Instagram

If you’re down for a secret and spooky speakeasy experience, look no further than Two Way Inn. Considered the oldest bar in Detroit, Two Way first opened its doors in 1876 and quickly became a popular stagecoach stop. Apparently, not much has changed since then. Even some of the earliest regulars have stuck around.

According to the current owners, visitors have caught glimpses of Colonel Philetus Norris, a Civil War veteran and the bar’s founder, in his wide-brimmed hat, as well as the “Lady in White” and a little boy who died on the premises during the Prohibition era.

Although the place isn’t too hidden, you do have to ring the doorbell to enter. Once inside, be sure to ask the staff to share their paranormal encounters.

Bad Luck Bar

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Bad Luck Bar via Instagram

The only bad luck involved in this speakeasy is if you can’t find it and have to head somewhere far less snazzy. But don’t worry, it’s not too arduous, just find the stately Detroit apartment building called The Albert and head around back to the (allegedly trash-filled) alley between Griswold Street and Woodward Avenue. Once you find a red neon sign and a door covered with painted snakes, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Once inside, you and your date (and your pockets) will be blown away by the menu of luxurious and experimental beverages, from the $200 Admiral made with 1950s Black Tot rum to the $60 Mercury Rising, which comes with a tarot card and chocolate. The $26 Discipline is served within a vapor cloud. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll get a tequila shot on the house (although that probably sounds incredibly boring now).

Bab’s Underground

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Babs’ Underground

One of Ann Arbor’s best-kept secrets, Bab’s Underground is a speakeasy with a modern twist. Although it has a swanky, 1920s feel and you have to sneak to the basement of a building to find it, it also features pool and shuffleboard tables, arcade games, tons of TVs, and an eclectic crowd that ranges in generations.

Some of the weekly deals include Free Pool Tuesdays and Industry Night Sundays, during which service industry workers can get free pool games and $25 off their tab. It’s gotten more popular in recent years, so be sure to show up early if you want to snag a pool table.

Willow

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Willow via Instagram

Willow is a hip, new Black-owned bar that’s located beneath the Savannah Blue restaurant in Detroit’s Times Square. To find it, look for the gold door in the alley behind the restaurant.

Once you make it inside, your eyes will automatically be drawn to the giant, faux willow tree that glitters with twinkling lights. But the dimly lit speakeasy is intentionally intimate. It only seats 50 guests, and each one is limited to 90 minutes. Additionally, loud voices and cellphone usage aren’t encouraged, and men must remove their hats before entering. The Prohibition vibes are real.

The Ghostbar

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of The Whitney via Instagram

Unlike many of the bars on this list, The Ghostbar is above ground—three floors above it, in fact. Located on the third floor of the historic Whitney Mansion in Detroit, The Ghostbar is known for its gorgeous and grandiose architecture, excellent happy-hour menu, and tales of paranormal activity. Order the aptly named Witching Hour Martini while filling yourself in on the mansion’s haunted history that dates back to 1894.

Even the non-haunted history of the place is fascinating, though, as Thomas Edison reportedly installed the site’s electricity himself. It’s a must-visit spot for history nerds and cocktail lovers alike. Oh, and just a heads up: Formal dress is required.

Castalia

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Castalia via Instagram

As this list has shown, Detroit doesn’t disappoint when it comes to hidden cocktail bars, and Castalia is a case in point. Although it’s easier to find than other speakeasies on this list (it’s the garden-level unit of a Victorian mansion), the entire premise of the place is especially unique.

The location is a perfumery called Smufato by day and a cocktail bar by night, but the lines between the two businesses are a bit blurred. With the belief that “flavor and fragrance are inextricably linked,” the Midtown bar pairs each of its cocktails with a signature scent from its sister company. You can also choose from a to-go menu that includes DIY cocktail-making kits.

Walk-ins are welcome, but they also offer prepaid reservations for drink flights. According to the owner, “Our reservable cocktail tasting menu is a half-size serving of each of our 8 scented cocktails, for groups of up to 4. This 90-minute seating is $65 per person (includes all drinks), + 20% tip.”

One Yelp reviewer called it, “Easily one of the best sensory experiences I never thought I needed.”

Mash

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Hidden Near You: How to Find Michigan’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Photo courtesy of Mash via Instagram

Mash is a bourbon, whiskey, and beer bar in Ann Arbor that’s known for its weekly live music, rustic decor (including chalk writing on the walls), varied drink menu, and—according to several Yelp reviews—unfriendly bartenders. We’re just keeping it real, here.

Considering it was voted the 2022 Best Bar in Washtenaw County by Metro Times, it’s safe to say it has more fans than foes. Visitors claim it’s part-speakeasy and part-dive bar. They recommend grabbing some killer barbecue upstairs at the Blue Tractor before heading to the secretive location below.

 

READ MORE: Michigan’s Best-Kept Secret: Indulge in 8 Black-Owned Michigan Restaurants for a Soulful Experience

Author

  • Claire Mainprize

    Claire Mainprize is a writer and editor who covers the intersections of pop culture, lifestyle, and spirituality. Find more of her work at ClaireMainprize.com.

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