Many say that 1920s America was defined by jazz musicians, flappers, writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and booze, even though it was outlawed until 1933.
But legality didn’t keep the thirsty from imbibing alcoholic beverages—they found strong moonshine underground in surreptitious establishments with passwords and secret handshakes that led to a world of music, women and liquor.
Like New York and Chicago, San Francisco was once a hotbed of illegal bars with intricate underground tunnels that helped bootleggers in case they needed a fast escape.
Though only a few of these speakeasies have been historically documented, a few are still functioning bars, where you can sip specialty Prohibition-inspired cocktails from bartenders dressed the part, relax on wooden whiskey barrels under mood-lighting and enjoy a trip back in time.
1. Bourbon and Branch (slides 1-4) 2. Dalva (slides 5 and 6) 3. 15 Romolo (slides 7 and 8)
is a San Francisco-based based reporter who spends her free time eating, cycling and mastering the art of the single cup pour-over coffee.
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Bourbon & Branch: Located under an Anti-Saloon League sign, this Prohibition Era speakeasy has been used mostly as a bar ever since.
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Bourbon and Branch is a labyrinth. The main bar is the one most visit. The John J. Russell Room is tucked away behind a wooden door disguised as a bookshelf and only available for private events. For a quieter evening, book the Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency: a hidden speakeasy within the speakeasy.There is also the Library, which is hidden and filled with vintage books. And the original speakeasy, the Ipswitch, is still there but located underneath the bar and accessible (only to very special people) through a trap door within the John J. Russell Room.
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As the story goes, John J. Russell himself ran a fake cigar shop at this location. If a customer could name the correct cigar of the day, Russell would let them down to the Ipswitch. Though the days of Prohibition are over, Bourbon and Branch keeps the custom of only letting those with the daily passwords through the doors to the main room and the Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency. There is a password for the Library as well, but it is always BOOKS.
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House specialties: the Frank Lloyd Wright (Bourbon, pear liqueur, nocino, Islay whiskey, old-fashioned bitters) and scotch flights.
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Dalva: Step into Dalva, a bustling bar in the Mission, and you probably will not notice the bar tucked away in the back, which was called "The Hideout" by gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s.
Used as a closet for janitors until five years ago, the Hideout has a storied past. Mobsters are rumored to have used this room to hang out, talk shop, play cards and on occasion, stash unruly clients in the catacombs below the bar.
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House specialties include Ruby's Cup (pictured above): Gin, amaro, lemon, ginger, strawberry shrub, mint, bitters, soda. Also, Altered State: Mezcal, blanc vermouth, gentian aperitif.
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15 Romolo: This speakeasy is tucked away off an alley in the North Beach neighborhood. It was once a Basque refugee boarding house in the early 20th century.
The bar has an intimate feel with wooden floors, whiskey barrels and a bar with a large assortment of sherry and Spanish wines, which pay homage to its roots.
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House specialty: the Basque Firing Squad, which is made with mescal, patxaran, grenadine, lime, carnival and angostura bitters.