Destinations

7 Subterranean Bars Worth a Drop In

A male bartender is behind the bar, talking and gesturing to the guests sitting in front of him.
At The Guest Room in Starkville, MS, guests enjoy the intimacy of this elegant yet comfortable underground bar. Photo by Blake McCollum.

Underground bars have a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps it’s because these cavernous dive-ins breed a distinct feeling of intimacy — even secrecy — amongst patrons who are, all together, tucked beneath the footsteps of unsuspecting passers-by. Or maybe it has something to do with the soft and moody ambient light, and the oft jovial, echoing banter bouncing from wall to wall.

To find a basement bar and discover the appeal yourself, you’ll have to rely on a particularly keen eye (if you’re so blessed), word-of-mouth recommendations, or the tried and true Internet. We’ll get you started with our list of seven.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London

145 Fleet Street, London UK

Located in a back alley of Fleet Street is one of the oldest pubs in London and, as you’d imagine, it’s quite storied. Established in 1538 — and rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 — Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese served as a reliable haunt for the likes of literary figures such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain (it’s where he wrote Tale of Two Cities, and Ye Olde is alluded to within the text), and poet W.B. Yeats. Today, it continues to draw in writers and non-writers alike.

This pub features an upstairs, but it’s the underground section’s cold stone walls, shallow entryways (ducking required, most likely), maze-like corridors and low, candlelit lighting that makes it such a pull. As long as the ales continue to flow, we’re sure this place will continue to inspire.

The interior of a bar with stairs leading up to the entrance, sleek interior decor and large white skulls beneath the tables. Slip through a refrigerator door at the Don Batiz restaurant, and you'll find yourself in Jules Basement, one of the sleekest, most elite cocktail bars in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Jules Basement.

Jules Basement Bar in Mexico City

Julio Verne 93, Polanquito, Mexico City

This speakeasy-type establishment is located inside the Don Batiz restaurant in Mexico City and is noted for its glam décor, knowledgeable baristas and exclusivity. You’ll want a reservation to ensure a spot, especially if you’re with companions.

“I didn't actually go into this one, but I was eating at [the restaurant] and all these well-heeled people started lining up near the refrigerator,” recalls Joseph DeFerbrache about his Don Batiz dining experience. “A bouncer opened the door and one by one people went downstairs. The waiter told us it was one of the most exclusive clubs in the city and holds about 40 people. It's literally a basement bar.”

And yes, in case you were wondering, you do actually enter through the refrigerator.

The Marlin in Fairbanks, Alaska

3412 College Road, Fairbanks, Alaska

The Marlin is a bohemian-esque, dive-y tavern located in the basement of an Alaskan hostel. In other words, leave your fancy Sunday duds at home and wear something comfortable and preferably a little grungy.

The bar’s underground walls are coated in band stickers, and it’s reportedly super warm and cozy inside (perfect for the dead-of-winter in frigid Alaska, where residents don’t bat an eye at negative temps). The warmth is probably due to the fact that this establishment is notably tiny — like really, really tiny — so claustrophobes beware.

“If there was a fire, we'd all die,” says Fairbanks resident Trista Crass (again, not a selling point for claustrophobes). “But there is live, great music all the time, and it's dark and weird.”

A stairwell with a bookshelf in the middle. Slipping into The Drifter is trickier than you might think, first you have to find the bar and then begin the search for its hidden door; here's a sneak peak of what you're looking for. Photo courtesy of The Drifter Chicago.

The Drifter in Chicago

676 N Orleans Street, Chicago

If you’re looking for a reprieve from gusty blows in the windy city, look no further than The Drifter. This is another speakeasy-style establishment and is located directly underneath the Green Door Tavern, an iconic Irish bar on the north side.

The fun starts in actually trying to find the place, which isn’t an easy feat. Once you’re inside, things continue to get better. For starters, the specialty drink menus are printed on Tarot cards, and there’s also a small stage featuring live performers on the hour. Entertainment-wise, expect everything from hula dancers to solo piano acts.

Jessica McCafferty Brennan, Chicago resident, offers this hint for those desperate to get in: “The entrance looks like a bookshelf, [which] is actually a secret door,” she says. We bid you good luck.

A neon sign set against a painted brick wall says "Valley Bar."If you can find the alleyway in which Valley Bar is tucked, you'll spot a small neon sign, signaling the bar's underground location.

Valley Bar in Phoenix, Arizona

130 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix

With doors opening in 2015, Valley Bar is one of the newer additions to Phoenix’s ever-growing downtown bar scene, and it’s certainly only one of a very few underground establishments in this basement-barren city. It, too, is tucked away in a back alley, with only a small neon sign above the door to guide thirsty, wannabe patrons. (Tip: lines often form outside the door on weekend nights, so let that also serve as a guide.)

The dimly lit bar promises an eclectic experience, making it an ideal place to go if you’re with a group who can’t make up their minds about what they want to do that evening. Take your pick from a live performance in the Music Hall (featuring everything from comedy acts to salsa dancing to soul), pool, foosball, darts, board games, or simple chats in the Rose Room (named after the state’s first female governor, Rose Mofford Lounge).

There’s also a secret room full of books and quiet lounging, but we’ll let you figure out where it is.

The Guest Room in Starkville, Mississippi

100 East Main, Starkville, Miss.

“In the Deep South, Starkville is known mostly for college football, so a super hip little speakeasy might seem out of place,” says Rachel Claire Perkins, a long time Mississippi resident.

Don’t let the college town vibe dissuade you from giving this underground bar a go, though. Perkins says that The Guest Room is actually a perfect fit for Starkville, and a must-see for locals and those passing through the tiny town.

“You have to walk down a little alley off Main Street and walk in through a small, unmarked door behind a restaurant, and then go down some stairs to find it, but once you're in, it's awesome,” she notes. “The space is dimly lit and intimate, with a super casual and comfortable vibe. Their specialty is craft cocktails and their bartenders mix up some of the best drinks I've ever had.”

The Ipswitch in San Francisco

501 Jones St, San Francisco

What’s a city like San Francisco, known for its speakeasies, supposed to do when said speakeasies become more or less infiltrated by commoners and therefore begin to lose their cool, secret-y vibe? Create ultra secret bars within the space, of course.

A prime example is The Ipswitch, located below the well-known speakeasy, Bourbon & Branch. To access it, you’ll first need to make a reservation at Bourbon & Branch. From there, our only advice is to say a prayer to the vodka gods and hope that you’ll be invited, by chance (or by the vodka spirit), to the underground room. Fun fact: If you’re lucky enough to gain access, get ready to enter through the trap door located on the floor (where else?).

This, of course, is only an abbreviated list of amazing places to check out, should you get the chance. With that said, we leave you with this: instead of looking onward and upward, consider shifting your gaze downward the next time you’re looking for a notable place to have a drink.

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter and photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. From Tel Aviv to Miami, from Prague to NYC, she enjoys sipping on well-crafted cocktails in all corners of the world.

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