Once you've grabbed a meal or a drink at the nation's most iconic restaurants, you may be in the mood for something a little more exclusive. And while there are plenty of spots off the beaten path to whet your appetite or quench your thirst, some try to dial up the intrigue by staying hidden from the masses. But don't worry: we're on the case, with tips on securing a spot at 25 of the nation's best secret restaurants and speakeasies.
Los Angeles, CA
To enjoy a craft cocktail at Lock & Key, you'll have to find the unmarked red door by a to-go window selling fried chicken sandwiches on an unassuming street in Los Angeles' Koreatown neighborhood. Waiting is an attendant who will guide you through a wall covered in door knobs – just one opens the next door – and into a stylish little spot with green booths, mirrored ceilings and a long, polished bar.
It looks like an adorable sweets shop from the outside, with a sign that proclaims "The Original Deep Ellum Candy Company." But the lines snaking out the door at night should tip you off that no one's waiting for a lollipop. You'll need a password to get in (the bar's Facebook page is where to find it). Passing through the secret door in the candy shop reveals a dark, grownup club with dangling crystal chandeliers, elegant furniture, and moody lighting.
New York, NY
Even if you do find Bohemian, tucked behind a butcher shop inside a graffiti-covered façade in NoHo, you'll need a referral from an existing patron -- or you can email the powers that be to request a spot, "should the stars align." But it's worth the effort to snag a table, reviewers say, so you can enjoy dishes including Washugyu beef sliders or beef tartare with grilled blue cheese sandwiches – the meat, of course, is from the shop up front.
The speakeasy trend isn't limited to the coasts, and Wicked Rabbit proves it. Head to the swanky Hotel Deco XV, find the Looking Glass cigar and liquor shop, and poke around the shelves to find this bar's hidden entrance. Inside, the plush booths, gold tables and heavy purple curtains will make you feel exclusive indeed as you sip a cocktail or two.
Atlantic City, NJ
Chef Vola's website confirms its existence, but gives neither an address nor a phone number. But the location of this old-school Italian restaurant, in a basement of an unassuming house, is easily obtained with a simple web search. To get into this James Beard America's Classics award winner, you'll need to make a reservation (pssst ... click here) and hope that the gods of veal parmigiana smile on you.
Walk in the door at Williams & Graham and you're in a diminutive little bookstore – that is, until an attendant swings open a bookcase and ushers you down a hall into a cozy, casual bar. Once seated, you'll be able to pick and choose from a robust menu of cocktails and bar staples, plus food options including roasted bone marrow, mole, and even s'mores.
Safe House takes its "clandestine" shtick in stride. Would-be secret agents will need to look for the plaque for "International Exports Ltd." in a dingy Milwaukee alley. You'll be asked for the password (and likely forced to do a silly dance when you don't have it) before being ushered past a door doubling as a bookcase. The spy-themed décor includes two-way mirrors, and the family-friendly menu has "green bean missiles" and a "double agent burger," among other choices.
It's easy to walk right past The Violet Hour in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood: The façade is obscured by a mural that changes frequently. To find the door, look for the single light (and often, the line of people hoping to get in). Inside, things are unexpectedly fancy – think marble bar, crystal chandeliers, and leather chairs. There's a small menu of eats, but the star is the booze. In fact, The Violet Hour has won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program.
You can actually make a reservation at Captain Gregory's, but you'll need to find this nautical-themed dinner and cocktail lounge first. Hint: Head to Sugar Shack donuts, and look for the whiskey flag. Inside, this intimate 25-seat bar has a menu of small plates to go with the handcrafted cocktails. It also maintains a strict two-hour time limit so that it can accommodate as many intrepid patrons as possible.
Las Vegas, NV
You'll find this exclusive restaurant-within-a-restaurant at Jaleo, celebrity chef Jose Andres' restaurant at the Cosmopolitan. Beyond the hush-hush glass door is a nine-seat chef's table with blood-red walls and curtains where guests can enjoy avant-garde Spanish cuisine. The prepaid reservations don't come cheap: They start at $250 a person, not including booze.
New York, NY
Don't bother looking for the sign marking the location of PDT, or "Please Don't Tell." Instead, look for Crif Dogs, a tiny hot-dog joint in the East Village. Head inside, find the vintage phone booth, and press the buzzer to gain entry to this speakeasy. You might need reservations, as the space is small, but why pass up the chance to pair your cocktails with a deep-fried hot dog passed through a slot behind the bar?
By now, Club 33 is probably one of Disneyland's worst-kept secrets. The door to this invitation-only restaurant and lounge isn't exactly hidden in the New Orleans Square area, but those who aren't looking for it will walk right past. Initiation fees start at $25,000 – ouch. Ponying up that kind of cash (and getting off a long wait list) gets you access to an elegant bar (the only spot to serve booze in Disneyland), sumptuous food, and loads of Disney memorabilia.
By day, you'll find a cheerful, family-friendly soda fountain inside Brent's Drugs, a now-defunct pharmacy. By night, heading to the back of the darkened space will reveal the Apothecary, a speakeasy serving up "prescriptions" for all that ails you: Innovative hand-mixed cocktails, wine, beer, and a small menu of bar eats including breakfast tacos and house-cut fries.
If you always pay at the pump, you'll never find one of Miami's best-kept secrets. That's because El Carajo, a well-regarded wine and tapas bar, is actually tucked away in the back of a gas station's convenience store. Time magazine recommends the chorizo al vino – that's little sausages sautéed in red wine. There's also a full bakery and daytime café serving up empanadas, tostadas, croquetas, and fresh sandwiches.
Don't know where to find the Pink Door? Wander down Post Alley behind Seattle's landmark Pike Place Market and look for ... well, you've probably guessed it already. Inside is a whimsically elegant Italian restaurant that also happens to feature burlesque shows and trapeze artists to entertain you while you dig into a plate of fresh lasagna or osso buco.
Live out your Prohibition fantasies at this neon-lit speakeasy hidden in a narrow alley beside Old Chicago Inn bed and breakfast, a few blocks south of Wrigley Field. You'll need to know the password (staying at the inn helps there) and be properly dressed (suit jackets are required for men). And don't expect to sip your favorite girly drink: Room 13 focuses on keeping things authentic with 1920s drinks like gin and whiskey.
This classy Tulsa steakhouse and cocktail bar is so secret that no one can really agree on the name. Tucked away in an alley in Tulsa's Brady District, the only sign you've stumbled upon the place is a small bull hanging above a large green door. There is a website, though all it features is a number to call for reservations. Diners who've been lucky enough to eat here say the Porterhouse for two is perfection.
Once you've had your fill of the elevated comfort food served up at JM Curley, a stone's throw from Boston Common, you may go searching for the bathroom. If you find a heavy burgundy curtain, take a peek in. While you won't find the toilet, you will find 20-seat Bogie's Place, an art deco steakhouse with leather booths, time-warp food, customized martinis, and even caviar.
Los Angeles, CA
If you walk into Raffallo's Pizza in a Hollywood strip mall expecting to find a mom-and-pop pie joint, you may be sorely disappointed – or delighted. There's a restaurant there, but it's actually Trois Mec, and it serves high-end prix fixe French cuisine. There are no reservations to be had: Instead, you'll have to buy a pricey ticket (batches are released the first Friday of every month). Next door, Petit Trois offers a more humble menu from the same team.
Want to drink at Volstead's? Its website proclaims that it's "hidden in Uptown" and provides an email for reservations, but you'll still have to find the door, complete with a red glowing light and a sliding peephole, tucked away in an alley. Curtained booths and secret rooms add to the intrigue inside. Feeling adventurous? There's even an Absinthe menu.
Octopus Bar doesn't open until 10:30 p.m., but if you can hold out that long, devotees say there's something magical about this self-described "intersection between a local eatery and punk rock fine dining." You'll find this unmarked restaurant within a restaurant at So Ba Vietnamese in East Atlanta Village. The Asian-inspired menu changes daily.
Los Ranchos, NM
You'll need to make reservations in order to get the password that lets you into Vernon's, hidden in plain sight in an unassuming building on the outskirts of Albuquerque. Look for the black door with the red light (be sure to knock three times). Once you've stuffed yourself with prime rib or shrimp scampi, listen to some live music while you sip a cocktail or puff on a cigar in the lounge.
New York, NY
La Esquina is a well-known quick-eats staple for Mexican eats in Soho, but it has a swankier, secret subterranean cousin. Hidden behind an "Employees Only" door inside the humble taqueria is what New York Magazine calls a "Mexican dungeon styled for a 'Vogue' shoot." And it even has a star-studded clientele to go with its specialty cocktail menu.
First, you'll have to find the unmarked door of Nomad.PDX, a buzzy new restaurant option in Portland's thriving dining scene. Once inside, you'll have to try a couple of doors to find tiny, horseshoe-shaped Ash Bar. Though it can't accommodate a crowd, Ash Bar is worth seeking out for its inventive drinks and food (you can even nosh on an artisan PB&J made with peanut butter mousse on toasted brioche).
To find Classified, you have to head to ... Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport? That's right – this invite-only restaurant, run by United Airlines and catering to its frequent fliers, sprang up in an abandoned conference room and seats just 36 diners. Tucked down a secret hallway, Classified serves up a 42-ounce Tomahawk steak, among other posh dishes.