The secret's out on Atlanta's speakeasy bars

Bars relive spirit of the 1920s with secret doors, locations, numbers.

Unless you know a thing or two, though, you probably won’t be able to find it. And even if you do, you might not be able to get in the door.

The same goes for the up-and-partying Prohibition in Buckhead, where to gain entry you must step into a red London-style phone booth outside and dial a secret phone number.

Both The Fred and Prohibition are examples of a happening nightlife trend — bars that mimic a secret 1920s speakeasy.

New York City can lay claim to the contemporary archetype. At PDT (Please Don’t Tell) on St. Marks Place in the East Village, the entrance is through a phone booth at Crif Dogs, a hipster hot dog spot.

But from Varnish in Los Angeles and Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco to Tavern Law in Seattle and The Violet Hour in Chicago, places serving drinks in an atmosphere that exudes some sort of underground mystique have cropped up all over the country.

We take a glimpse inside Prohibition and The Fred, plus three more Atlanta spots that conjure memories of long-ago speakeasies.

Prohibition, Buckhead

Prohibition is probably the closest Atlanta comes to the current style and substance of “speakeasies” in other big cities. Located below Stout Irish Pub in the funhouse labyrinth of Andrews Square, the atmosphere is clubby and classy. There’s oak paneling, a burnished honey-colored onyx bar top, a glowing hand-painted drop ceiling, and vintage ’20s decorations. Leather sofas and a fireplace create cozy seating nooks. But the bar is where the action is.

Owner/ bartender Steve De Haan calls his cocktails “prescriptions,” offering them up with a steady stream of barkeep banter. De Haan compounds drinks with giddy precision, using historical recipes and old-school techniques, top-shelf liquors, fresh-squeezed juices and garnishes, while chipping ice off a 300-pound block. Smoking is not only permitted, but celebrated, with a house humidor room filled with fine cigars. A concise food menu includes snacks such as lamb lollipops.

How do you find the secret number? That’s a really good question. But during a recent visit, several friendly bystanders were eager to share.

56 East Andrews Drive in Andrews Square, prohibitionatl.com

The Fred, Sandy Springs

Surprisingly, The Fred is the spawn of Taco Mac, the ubiquitous chain of Atlanta sports and beer bars. In fact, it’s situated in a basement room in the new Taco Mac at the Prado. But the aura is a world away from the banks of TVs and game-day action upstairs. Stone walls, with narrow glass-block windows, a striking vaulted ceiling formed from long, thin strips of walnut, and a curving polished walnut bar create a heady atmosphere akin to being in a catacomb or a wine cave.

The bar is named after Taco Mac beverage director Fred Crudder, who has done his namesake proud by stocking a boutique selection of beer, wine and spirits. Among the 20 draft beers available, a recent tasting party featured the very rare Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head collaboration brew called Life & Limb, plus several more special offerings. Cocktails include crossovers with American craft breweries, such as Spruce Cuke, made with Anchor Junipero gin. The food menu is limited to snacks, but features offerings such as five-cheese blue crab dip.

Currently, entrance to The Fred is reserved for members of Taco Mac’s Brewniversity educational beer drinkers program.

5600 Roswell Road , Suite 3, Sandy Springs, 404-941-1503; tacomac.com

The Warren, Virginia Highland

Perched atop the Dark Horse Tavern building in Virginia-Highland, The Warren has operated for more than six years as a private club with a private entrance. But it’s a very friendly place, offering nonmembers plenty of opportunities to get a foot in the door. Inside, the look resembles a fine dining restaurant with a bar area and skyline views from the rooftop deck.

The full restaurant menu ranges from appetizers and burgers to steak, pasta and desserts. On Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., The Warren is open to the public for brunch, with eggs Benedict, pancakes, omelets and the like. Once a month, there’s an open house, when potential members are invited to check out the scene. And nonmembers can reserve the space for private events.

818 North Highland Avenue., 404-475-1991, thewarrencityclub.com

Ormsby’s, Westside

Ormsby’s only looks like a speakeasy; it’s open to the public. But you have to go below ground level in the White Provision building to discover the hidden-in-plain-sight door to this new Westside tavern — the brainchild of bar man Warren Bruno of Atkins Park and former Sweetwater brewing sales dude Mike Goot. Together they’ve created a place that features an extensive craft beer selection, plus classic cocktails and some imaginative pub grub.

But it’s the secret lodge-meets-rumpus room setting that makes Ormsby’s so much fun. The upstairs bar and dining room is a warm and woody space. Downstairs, there’s another, more secluded bar, and a lounge area with backgammon, darts, pool, shuffleboard, and even an indoor bocce court. Game on.

1170 Howell Mill Road, 404-968-2033, ormsbysatlanta.com

Elliott Street Pub & Deli, Castleberry Hill

Though anyone can get in (unless it’s just too darn crowded), Elliot Street Pub regulars are likely to give newbies the stink eye if respect isn’t paid to the wonders of this tiny, off-the-grid watering hole. If you’re not familiar with Castleberry Hill, Elliott Street can be a vexing location to find, even with GPS. And its not a place for the prissy.

Call it an urban dive bar or a hipster hangout, it’s sometimes smoky, loud, and out of control. For aficionados, that’s the charm. Drinks aren’t anything fancy. A beer and a shot is de rigueur. But the big deli sandwiches, pressed on fresh bread and wrapped in butcher paper, are a remarkably savory surprise.

51 Elliott Street. S.W., 404-523-2174, elliottstreet.com

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