Speakeasy Bar was first started in the liquor prohibition era in the US, which lasted between 1920-1933. It was a time when consuming alcohol was disallowed, and this gave rise to speakeasies, as people craved to rebel against the prohibition. These bars sold alcohol illegally, without a license, and speaking softly inside these establishments was encouraged so as not to attract the attention of the police.
These bars were letting people to do what they couldn’t. Different names emerged to describe the speakeasies, such as ‘blind tiger’ and ‘blind pig’. One reason for why they were called such was because there was a drawer in the wall, from which people could get their fix, straight or spiked, and you couldn’t see the seller. It was like a blind operation.
Today, long after prohibition, this trend has picked up again. There is no prohibition in India today (except in a few states like Gujarat and Bihar), but people want that ambience that was well-loved from the past. They are on the look-out for quiet, intimate and personalised settings which these kinds of bars provide.
Pushed by the pandemic
A speakeasy is usually dark and dimly lit, often playing romantic jazz music. Says Ryan Snr, Co Founder, Prive by Akina, a speakeasy in Mumbai, “In the post-pandemic era, in bustling cities like Mumbai, individuals hanker for moments of tranquillity along with havens to enjoy cocktails while engaging in meaningful conversations.”
Listed here are some such watering holes:
Pass Code Only: Pass Code Only is famously known for allowing entry only to a select list of patrons who know the password to get in. Says Rakshay Dhariwal, the Founder, “It’s been 11 years since we opened, and we took this step since we saw a rise in the speakeasy culture across the world with places like Milk and Honey, PDT, and Apotheke. Hence we thought about starting a similar bar in India, and we’ve been doing very well. Almost every night we have a full house and we have managed to attract sets of people with similar mindsets which was also part of our objective.”
Cocktails and Dreams: Started by barman Yangdup Lama in 2012, in a basement, this speakeasy came to be known by word-of-mouth, like most of the others. The founder wanted his speakeasy to be an approachable one and not elitist like the others, and hence designed the place to have simple chairs and benches. Says Vishwanath Das, the bar manager, “We didn’t want to be an elitist speakeasy. We kept things simple. Our menu is also reasonably priced.”
Native Bombay, the Negroni Bar: Housed in a 150-year-old ice factory, going to Native Bombay’s Negroni Bar is literally like drinking in a basement or factory setting. Shares Shahrom Oshtori, Managing Partner, “At Native Bombay, we were quite clear while developing the menu that we wanted to introduce and amplify the Negroni culture in Bombay.”
ZLB23: Located in Bengaluru’s Leela Palace this is a plush, comfy bar with upholstery by Nilaya X Sabyasachi Mukherjee by Asian Paints. Shares Hemendra Shah, a patron, “There is definitely a mystique about the place. One can’t simply walk in; you have to be invited. You enter through the kitchen. It was a novel concept and that’s what pushed us to try it out.”
Prive by Akina: Prive’s beverage experience is rich and comes paired with modern Japanese cuisine. Festooned with sparkling mirrors, entering Prive is like stepping into a cocoon, where you can forget the world outside for some time. Shares Ryan Snr, Co-Founder Prive by Akina, “Speakeasy bars hold a distinct appeal as they provide individuals with a sense of community, belongingness, and exclusivity. By introducing our regular patrons to Prive, we value their loyalty and grant them access to a hidden world, fostering a unique bond.”
Hoots – Listed on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, today Hoots has become more popular than it was when it started, after initially only serving a few regulars and supporters. It offers classic, contemporary and progressive drinks today promising to take you on a spirited journey. These categories of cocktails are designed to keep everyone satisfied – from grandfather to grandson.