Create a Secret Speakeasy Bar at Home—Here’s How

Follow these tips to set up a roaring Twenties-style drinking den.

Fancy cocktails with garnishes on top of a hammered copper bar top

Speakeasies were illicit drinking establishments that flourished during the Prohibition era in the United States. These hidden bars offered a refuge from strict alcohol laws and were often decorated in a stylish and somewhat moody manner.

If you are a fan of the Art Deco era and are looking to create your own speakeasy bar, take a look at these home speakeasy ideas that are inspired by historical speakeasy bars across the country.

1
Hidden Location

Speakeasies were often hidden in basements, behind secret doors, or in other out-of-the-way locations. To create a truly mysterious atmosphere, choose a hidden location for your bar and make it difficult for outsiders to find.

While I don’t claim this is easy or obvious in most small old homes, there are ways you can get a little creative with it.

  • Build a hidden entrance. For ambitious DIYers, create a hidden door or trapdoor that leads to your speakeasy bar—and require a password or secret knock to gain entry. This can be as (ahem) simple as a bookshelf that slides open to reveal the bar, or you can use a more elaborate mechanism such as a lever or a button that opens the door.
  • Add curtains or screens. If you can’t fashion a true hidden entrance, use curtains or screens to cover windows or doors that lead to the bar. (The fancy term for this is a portiere.) Use this fabric to create private or semi-private areas within the bar.
  • Install dim lighting. Dim the lighting in your speakeasy bar to create a cozy and intimate atmosphere, especially if your bar isn’t exactly hidden. Use a combination of overhead lighting, floor lamps, string lights, and candles with warm-toned bulbs to achieve the desired effect.
  • Use sound-dampening materials. If not hidden from sight, hide the cove from listening ears. If necessary, use sound-dampening materials such as thick curtains, rugs, or foam panels to reduce the sound of music and conversation to keep your speakeasy bar hidden from outside ears.
  • Paint walls or furniture in a dark color. Be careful when painting basement walls, especially if moisture is an issue. But if you can, dark paint colors can create a spooky (and moody!) atmosphere. Consider using shades of dark blue, navy, or black.

2
Sophisticated Decor

Speakeasies, both current and historical, are known for their stylish, jazzy decor. These spaces often feature Art Deco antiques and other fashionable design touches, but you don’t have to stick to a specific era. Choose decorations that evoke the glamour and excitement of the period but also ones that evoke a sense of excitement and intrigue for you.

Depending on your specific theme and plans, gather items within the four main areas of decor:

  • Decorations (vintage posters, feathers, beads, etc.)
  • Props (gramophone, antique telephone, etc.)
  • Music (record player, radio, playlist on a device)
  • Games and activities (cards, dice, etc.)

How to Set up a Speakeasy

  1. Choose a theme for your speakeasy bar. This can be based on the Roaring Twenties, with vintage decorations and jazz music, or it can be a modern take on the speakeasy concept. Keep your plan consistent so the final look feels cohesive. Or don’t and make everything feel very eclectic and haphazard.
  2. Plan the layout. Include the essentials like the bar area, seating, and other features like a stage or dance floor. Drawing up a makeshift plan will help you spend less time rearranging furniture.
  3. Set up the bar area first. This should include a bar or table with a selection of bottles and glasses, as well as a bartender’s station with a sink and any other necessary equipment. A dry sink will work if you are working on a budget and don’t have access to plumbing.
  4. Add plenty of seating. And arrange the seating in a way that encourages conversation and mingling.
  5. Finish styling with decorations/entertainment. This can include vintage posters, feathers, beads, and other decor items that fit the Roaring Twenties theme. Don’t forget to add props, music, and games, too.

3
Classic Cocktails

Credit: The Library

The speakeasy is a haven for lovers of fine spirits, and many classic cocktails were invented during this era. Stock your bar with various high-quality spirits like gin, whiskey, and vodka, as well as mixers and garnishes. You don’t need an entire bar shelf to be impressive. Stick to filling up an Art Deco bar cart and build on your collection from there.

Offer a selection of 1920s-inspired cocktails and include them on a custom menu (stick to one or two options to start). Here are some popular cocktails and drinks from the 1920s you might want to make in your speakeasy bar:

  • Bee’s Knees: made with gin, honey, and lemon juice
  • French 75: made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and champagne
  • Gimlet: made with gin and lime juice, served over ice
  • Gin Fizz: made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water, served over ice and topped with a dash of cream
  • Manhattan: made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a cherry
  • Martini: made with gin and vermouth, garnished with a green olive or lemon twist
  • Mint Julep: made with bourbon, sugar, and mint leaves, served over crushed ice
  • Old Fashioned: made with whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a twist of orange peel
  • Sazerac: made with rye whiskey, absinthe, and bitters
  • Sidecar: made with cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, served over ice

In addition to these cocktails, have a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, such as soda water, lemonade, and iced tea, as well as snacks and appetizers to serve alongside the drinks.

4
Entertainment

Capt. Billy’s Whiz Bang, c. 1922

In the 1920s, speakeasies were often the center of the social scene and offered a variety of entertainment options. So, plan some entertainment so everyone doesn’t just end up staring at their phones!

Consider any of these entertainment ideas for your at-home speakeasy bar:

  • Live music. Hire a jazz or blues band to perform at your speakeasy bar, or invite a musician or singer. If you decide to hire entertainment, just be sure to pay them well for their time.
  • Burlesque show. Hire a burlesque performer or group to provide a sultry and glamorous entertainment option for your guests
  • Murder mystery game. Host a murder mystery game set in the world of speakeasies, with guests taking on different roles and trying to solve the crime
  • Dancing. Encourage your guests to hit the dance floor and show off their moves, with a mix of swing, jazz, and other 1920s-inspired dance styles
  • Casino games. Set up a table or two with classic casino games such as poker, blackjack, and roulette, and let your guests try their luck
  • Karaoke. Set up a karaoke system and encourage your guests to take the mic and sing their hearts out
  • Movie night. Show a classic film from the 1920s or a modern movie with a speakeasy theme, such as The Great Gatsby or Boardwalk Empire

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