Cool and clandestine, these secret bars make you work for that hard-earned cocktail. See our pick of the five most quirkily-hidden bars in top nightlife cities around the world…
Soju Bar, Berlin
Hip Korean takeaway Angry Angry Chicken doesn’t just serve the best BBQ chicken in Kreutzberg – it also hides the entrance to its most delightful bar. Tiny and almost pitch-black save some retro neon ad signs hung from the ceiling, Soju is entered via an unmarked door at the back of the takeaway house. In the toilets, the surprises get weirder as you discover one of the booths holds a karaoke machine – though whether anyone actually decides to let their inner diva bust out while spending a penny is yet to be seen. Safer to save your best moves for the bar’s miniature-sized, disco ball-dazzled dancefloor, we say.
Check out these indie travel tips for Berlin.
Tintoreria Dontell, Barcelona
The clue’s in the name of this suspiciously quiet-looking drycleaners in Barcelona’s Eixample district. What exactly should you ‘dontell’ about, hmm? Slip through the door at the back of the shop and you’ll find out: this hip, slick and sizeable bar/restaurant is the aesthetic opposite of the down-at-heel store that masks it. Run by the Urban Secrets restaurant group, Tintoreria Dontell serves up excellent, modern Mediterranean fusion food from a seasonal menu that’s changed every two months. It’s an open kitchen, so you can watch over your martini glass as your meal’s prepared. Go on a weekend evening for a clubbier feel, where rounds of cocktails replace regular dining.
PDT, New York City
It’s the best cocktail-related phone-call you’ll ever make, that’s for sure: PDT (stands for Please Don’t Tell) in New York’s East Village can only be accessed via entryphoning-in from a booth in neighbouring hotdog joint Crif Dogs. The bar’s an intimate, speakeasy-style affair, though thankfully unpretentious: you can wash your cocktail down with burgers and fries, as well as ‘dogs from the adjoining restaurant. Cocktails themselves are strong and delicious: as well as an ever-changing menu of seasonal mixes served alongside old faithfuls, there’s a ‘high roller’ menu of pricier, blow-your-socks-off infusions.
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, London
Top brunch spot The Breakfast Club has four different outposts in London – but only the Spitalfields restaurant has a secret bar. Up top it’s business as usual, with 80s-referencing diner décor and a hipster clientele tucking into Full Monty fry-ups… but tell a waiter “I’m here to see the Mayor” and all the right doors will open for you – literally. An unobtrusive Smeg fridge turns out to be the gateway to a subterranean bar, its closed door concealing a downwards staircase. Climb through and follow it to discover a bustling, candle-lit cocktail-den, serving up cutely-named drinks like Rosie & Gin plus Americana-inspired snacks (chilli fries and meat balls are stand-outs). With a punk portrait of the Queen and toilet walls papered in copies of 80s pop bible Smash Hits, the vibe here is anything but serious – soak it up before bowing out a different way through the upstairs loos (leaving diners up there none the wiser!) Staying in London? Find a cheap London hotel and save your pounds for the bar.
Croft Institute, Melbourne
No gimmicks with Croft Institute – when we say ‘hard to find’ we mean exactly, geographically that! The bar’s your prize destination at the end of a winding, rather hazardous-feeling trek through a Chinatown backalley, complete with wheelie-bin dodging and graffiti décor. In a CBD filled with soft-focus basement speakeasies, it’s refreshing to enter the mad scientist’s lab that is Croft Institute – a ground-floor bar has barred windows and glowing glass shelves lined with test tubes, while a mix of house and electro perfectly soundtracks the edgy ambiance. Spirits (including Croft’s home-distilled vodka) are stacked against conical flasks at the sleek main bar, while a third-floor ‘gymnasium’ – aka dancefloor – opens on weekends with its own grass-topped cocktail bar.