As the clocks turned to midnight on New Year’s Day, a new decade began, but it felt as though all anyone could talk about was the past. The “Roaring 20s”, the nickname for the 1920s decade, brings to mind lavish, Gatsby-esque lifestyles. Now a full century ago, the 20s also coincided with Prohibition, a time when alcohol was banned in the United States. In true fashion, Americans did what they could to get around this rule—enter speakeasies, elusive locations where people could drink and party in legally dubious settings. The locations were secret, giving them a cult of exclusivity and mystery that has stuck around today. Though the actual Prohibition is over, these speakeasies in Philadelphia can help you revisit the now century–old mindset.
The Ranstead Room is a speakeasy in the most traditional form. It has two entrances, one with large unmarked velvety doors, and the other through the kitchen of El Rey. Yes, through the kitchen. The actual indoors have plush seating, dim lighting, and an all–red interior. The drinks have high expectations with homemade mixers, but the best part is the availability of snacks from El Rey. If you're looking for something special but not too crazy, this is definitely the spot for you.
Hop Sing Laundromat
The Hop Sing Laundromat is relatively easy to find on the weekends, with lines pouring out the door. Still, the hidden entrance to this hot spot is a black door with a silver buzzer to enter. Inside, the Hop Sing Laundromat has one of the largest alcohol collections in Philadelphia. The best part: the owner, Le, has a strict policy against photos and phones. Put on your fanciest outfits—no shorts allowed—and check out the Hop Sing Laundromat.
The Ruba Club takes a unique place in the world of speakeasies with its theatrical scene. One must belong to the Ruba Club to enter with a monthly membership fee, though they sometimes allow a cover charge for non–membered guests. The club has two floors with a dance floor, its speakeasy bar, and most importantly, a stage for performances, including burlesque shows, cabaret, and films, among others. The Ruba Club is open from Thursday to Sunday and is one of the few places in Philadelphia that is open until 3 AM.
At 45th and Locust, Fiume is only slightly outside of the Penn bubble, located above the Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia. There’s currently no sign marking out the bar, even within the restaurant, but continue travelling upstairs past the bathrooms, and you'll find the place. Known for its mysterious but welcoming atmosphere, Fiume often hosts bluegrass bands, which can be heard by the guests downstairs. In fact, a documentary was made about Fiume’s owner, his love for bluegrass music, and his bar.
Leaving the Penn bubble can seem daunting, but Philly's speakeasy scene offers the perfect escape.