You’ve been to Maggie’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill — like, way too many times. Maybe you are ready to try something new. Or maybe you haven’t been to Maggie’s because it’s “too mainstream.” Your favorite movie is “Citizen Kane” and you relish in the superiority of your unique, refined tastes. Or maybe you just love knowing something that other people don’t, and your expertise in secrecy makes Varys from “Game of Thrones” look like an amateur. If any of these profiles sound familiar, secret bar-hopping may be for you. Atlanta is bursting with Prohibition-style bars just waiting to be explored. All you’ll need to find them is a spirit for discovery (and an occasional password).
Brigantine Beer Parlor: Resting cosily inside Argosy restaurant in the heart of East Atlanta, Brigantine Beer Parlor is the kind of bar that television shows like “How I Met Your Mother” try to recreate. Complete with skee ball, shuffleboard and pinball machine tabletops, this hideaway has more than enough to satisfy those looking for a chill time with friends. The wooden walls and tables give it an ambience akin to a hip cabin, while the diverse beer list should satisfy even the snobbiest brewery-goer in your group (you know who they are). The DJ stuck primarily within the realm of classic and indie rock tunes, while decorations like a giant wooden squid and hundreds of skee ball trophies protect a quirky vibe.
To find it, head inside Argosy, then keep walking till you find yourself in the back of the restaurant and then into the beer parlor. The spot opens at 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Supposedly, if you repeatedly push a button on one of the skee ball machines, something special happens. Unfortunately, that’s a secret I can’t discuss any further.
Red Phone Booth: For those aspiring to a true Prohibition-era experience, look no further. Red Phone Booth oozes exclusivity, from the plush
leather couches to a cocktail list that makes The Cheesecake Factory menu seem slim. Classic, Roy Orbison-style tunes play softly in the background while attendees wearing dresses and suits chat between sips from their martinis and puffs from their cigars.
You’ll need the password to make it beyond the booth. Maybe you know a friend who knows a friend who knows; otherwise you can try asking around at another bar downtown. Password in hand, head inside the red phone booth and dial the number. The phone side of the booth will swing inward, welcoming you to the 1920s.
Pro tip: Suit up. Our first try, we didn’t all have collared shirts. Getting turned away from a bar when you are under 21 is one thing; getting turned away when you are perfect legal age is another matter entirely. But, if you are like my friend who was “glad they didn’t let us in” and couldn’t wait to come back better prepared, Red Phone Booth may be your cup of tea.
El Bar: As far as secret bars go, El Bar couldn’t be more different from Red Phone Booth. Dark, loud and definitely without a dress code, El Bar will more than satisfy those looking for a more traditional night out on the town. With a mix of tile, cinder block and textured rock walls, it succeeds in creating an underground vibe. Combined with the distinctly Mexican decor, ranging from pinatas to sugar skulls, it feels a little bit like a year-round Dia de Los Muertos celebration. Floor space consumes the majority of the bar’s relatively small area, clearly designed with dancing in mind. The DJ played a mix of recent hits, sticking mostly to current hip-hop trends. I specifically recall some Chance the Rapper and Khalid in the mix.
Located in Poncey-Highland, arrive after 10 p.m. and walk around to the back of El Ponce restaurant. Enter through the door at the building’s corner. With margaritas and spiked Mexican soda on the menu, El Bar is a definite crowd-pleaser.
Edgewood Speakeasy: Intuitively located amongst the bustle of Edgewood nightlife in Old Fourth Ward, this bar is only a short walk from Noni’s. Akin to El Bar, the Edgewood Speakeasy provides a dark, low-lit atmosphere with both hip-hop and dance classics booming off the walls. Brick, tile and wooden walls give it an eclectic feel, while the open floor space in the middle of the room makes this a more than accommodating spot to unleash those dance moves you’ve been practicing back home. Our bartender was an all-around bro and helped us navigate the drink offerings on our first visit. Before we left we couldn’t resist the offer of $3 shots, the contents of which I know little more of than that they were “watermelon.”
For those interested, walk inside Bone Lick BBQ, head toward the back of the restaurant and hang a slight left. Along the wall is a bookcase. Except it’s not a bookcase, it’s a door. Pull it open and revel in your Scooby-Doo-caliber detective skills.
This list comprises just a few of the nearest secret bars (that I am aware of). For the true detectives among us, rest assured there is plenty more to uncover in Atlanta’s speakeasy underworld. Just be sure to enjoy a drink now and then between investigations.