The world’s best disguised drinking holes and bars-within-bars

Posted by
Victoria Gray

If variety is the spice of life, why do we keep going to pubs and bars that look like what they actually are? It is far much more fun to go to a bar that looks like a fridge, or a bookshelf, or even a pawn shop. Disguised bars are popping up everywhere - from a juice bar where you can sneak in your own alcohol in Central London to an unassuming boiler shop in Nottingham that is so much more than it seems. 

A new bar has just opened in Shanghai in which you enter through a vending machine, which has inspired us to look for the world's most fascinating bar fronts, and of course plan several trips out for drinks...

  • Lost and Found, Birmingham

    8 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5RS,

    The secret door: This quirky pub doesn't stop at the Victorian decorations, birdcage lamps and old-library setting. Pull at the bookcase and you'll discover a secret cosy room, fulfilling every fantasy of living in a children's book set in a huge house with endless cubby holes to discover.

    Booking: Not necessary unless you specifically want to sit in the bookcase area (rather than just look at it)

    Opening hours: Monday - Thursday, 11am - 11pm; Friday 11am - 12am; Saturday, 10am - 12am; Sundays, 11am – 9pm

  • Back in 5 Minutes, East London

    Ante, 224 Brick Lane, E1 6SA,

    The secret door: Back in Five Minutes is hidden behind a clothing shop on Brick Lane, so after you've shopped at Ante, you can ask to be shown through the door beside the counter to the tiny dining room and cocktail bar. You'll probably be a bit longer than five minutes though.

    Booking: There are only 28 seats, so it's recommended

    Opening hours: Every Wednesday to Saturday, 6.30pm - 1am

  • Looking Glass Cocktail Club, East London

    49 Hackney Road, Hackney, London E2 7NX,

    The secret door: Looking Glass Cocktail Club has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it, from the Drink Me on the menu, to the looking glass at the back of the bar. If you pull it open, you discover a second bar, with a more upbeat vibe. Curiouser and curiouser...

    Booking: Advisable, but not necessary - there's a lot of space through that looking glass!

    Opening hours: Sunday - Thursday, 6pm - 12am; Friday and Saturday 6pm - 2am 

  • 81LTD, Liverpool

    81 Seel Street, Liverpool L1,

    The secret door: You'll feel like James Bond for getting into this place - after texting for an invite, you receive a code to an unassuming door above a hot dog restaurant, which you punch in to ascend to a cocktail paradise.

    Booking: "By appointment only", so best to phone ahead

    Opening hours: Thursday, Sunday from 8pm; Friday and Saturday from 7pm

  • Panda & Sons, Edinburgh

    79 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4NF,

    The secret door: You could easily walk past Panda & Sons, mistaking it for a vintage barber shop (with a haircut at just 25 cents!), but step inside and toddle over to the bookcase where you'll quickly find what the place is really all about - posh cocktails. Served in Beauty and the Beast style bell jars, and everything.

    Booking: Booking ahead will guarantee you a space, but is not necessary.

    Opening hours: Monday - Thursday, 4pm - 1am; Friday - Sunday 3pm - 1am

  • The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, East London

    12-16 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS,

    The secret door: Retro lovers, rejoice. The entrance to the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town from the Breakfast Club restaurant it's located in is through a Smeg fridge. Just ask to see the mayor and you'll be ushered in.

    Booking: Unfortunantely the Mayor is too popular to allow for reservations, so best plan to come in a small group, or away from busier times like the weekend.

    Opening times: Monday - Thursday, 5pm - 12am; Friday 3pm - 12am; Saturday 12pm - 12am; Sunday 12pm - 10.30pm

  • From Dusk Til Pawn, Manchester

    Stevenson Square, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1FB

    The secret door: From Dusk Til Pawn's disguise is strong - the entire front gives a great impression of being a dusty old-fashioned pawn shop. But step inside, and you'll be welcomed to the bourbon bar, with an ever-changing menu, and a jukebox. You may find yourself swapping your possessions for the killer cocktails.

    Booking: Not necessary

    Opening hours: Tuesday - Thursday, 5pm - 1am; Friday and Saturday, 5pm - 3am; Sunday, 5pm - 1am 

  • Boilermaker, Nottingham

    36b Carlton Street, Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 1NN,

    The secret door: Boilermaker looks like the world's dullest shop from the outside, a single counter, where you can buy boilers. But barge your way through the Staff Only door, and you'll find yourself in a bar. Have a drink to celebrate.

    Booking: Recommended - the bar has a no standing policy, so you can usually expect to queue if you haven't booked ahead.

    Opening hours: Monday - Saturday, 5pm - 1am, Sunday 7pm - 1am

  • Upstairs at Callooh Callay, East London

    65 Rivington St, London EC2A 3AY,

    The secret door: Callooh Callay is frequently ranked among the world's best bars. And to add to its wonders is the Narnia-like area that you climb through the wardrobe at the back to discover. There is also a secret third area, but you'll have to be a member to get the key, so it's time to up the visits.

    Booking: Highly recommended - the world's best bar isn't going to be sitting empty of an evening

    Opening hours: Monday - Wednesday, 6pm – 12am; Thursday - Sunday, 6pm – 1am

  • The Wick, Brighton

    63 Western Rd, Hove, BN3 1JD,

    The secret door: Well, it's more a secret set of spiral stairs. Which could be more secret. But nevertheless, ascending above the Wick pub leads you to an unexpected candlelit speakeasy bar, which only opens on the weekends and plays all the jazz to fulfill all your Twenties needs.

    Booking: Advisable, though not necessary.

    Opening hours: Friday and Saturday, 7pm - 12am

  • Simo’s Bar, Central London

    3 Greek Street, London W1D 4NX

    The secret door: Hiding in plain sight, Simo’s bar is tucked underneath legendary whiskey shop Milroy’s of Soho. With a re-launch of the whiskey emporium planned for February is the addition of the 55-seater cocktail bar, with a barrel shaped area if you want a little more privacy. Just head downstairs “giving a sense that you are in the know”. Just make sure you don’t walk into the stock room.

    Booking: Advisable - the bar doesn't open until February so get planning

    Opening hours: Tuesday – Thursday, 6pm -11:30pm; Friday – Saturday, 5pm – 12am

  • Danger of Death, East London

    Brick Lane, London E1,

    The secret door: It seems like Brick Lane is full of secret bars. Danger of Death is a bar underneath a street-level coffee shop, which you enter by pressing the right set of switches in the electrical cupboard (hence the name). Once inside, the cocktails are of course, killer.

    Booking: The bar is sadly, very exclusive, so if you're not a member, book well in advance to guarantee a space.

    Opening hours: Wednesday - Saturday, 6pm to 1am

  • Call Me Mr Lucky, South London

    11 Southwark Street, SE1 1RQ,

    The secret door: The Breakfast Club certainly love a hidden bar - as well as The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, they have a hidden laundrette in Battersea Rise, but we love Call Me Mr Lucky, where if you tell the staff "I'm here to get lucky" you'll be led through the kitchen to the bar, which includes a drink wheel of fortune. Lucky indeed.

    Booking: Best to email ahead but walk-ins are definitely accepted

    Opening hours: Monday to Wednesday, 5pm - 12am; Thursday to Saturday, 3pm-1am; Sunday, 5pm - 11pm

  • The Luggage Room, Central London

    Grosvenor Square, London, W1K

    The secret door: Within the Marriott Hotel on Grosvenor Square, this bar used to be, you guessed it, the luggage room. But it's not as simple as just strolling in, you'll have to ask the porter and knock on a inconspicuous black door. Once inside, the sleek luggage-inspired decor is enough to tempt you to stay all night.

    Booking: Booking is essential for large groups, and recommended for smaller parties to guarantee a space

    Opening hours: 5pm - 2am every day

  • BYOC, Covent Garden

    28 Bedfordbury, WC2N

    The secret door: Push through a door behind the counter at The Juice People in Covent Garden (with new branches in Camden and Brighton, too) to find BYOC, or Bring Your Own Cocktails. You provide the spirit and the staff mix it up into some delicious cocktails with an ingredients list spanning fruit, vegetables, herbs and minerals.

    Booking: Heavily recommended - space is limited and it gets cosy quickly

    Opening hours: 6pm-11pm every night.

  • Hausbar, Bristol

    52 Upper Belgrave Rd, Avon, Bristol BS8

    The secret door: Underneath the Rajpoot Indian restaurant lies this Berlin-inspired speakeasy, bringing a touch of trendy to the genteel Georgian mansions that surround it. 

    Booking: Groups of five or more are required to book in advance

    Opening hours: From 8pm - 2am every night

  • Flask, Shanghai

    432 Shaanxi Nan Lu, near Yongjia Lu, Xuhui district

    The secret door: A retro Coca-Cola vending machine in a average-looking sandwich shop in the Shaanxi Nan Lu area of Shanghai, opens to reveal a sleek cocktail bar, designed by architect Alberto Caiola.

    Booking: The bar gets busy after 10pm, so get through that door quickly!

    Opening hours: Monday- Saturday, from 7pm


  • Butcher's Bar, Berlin

    Torstraße 116, 10119 Berlin,

    The secret door: What looks like a run-of-the-mill currywurst shop is actually one of the coolest joints in Berlin. Once inside, skip the sausage and head straight to the photobooth, which is hiding a phone booth, which is hiding the doorbell to this meat-inspired bar.

    Booking: You might want to save yourself a space, so give them an email before heading down.

    Opening hours: Tuesday - Saturday, from 8.30pm 

  • Fall from Grace, Melbourne

    477 Collins Street Melbourne 3000,

    The secret door: Inside the State of Grace restaurant, there's a bookcase. And if you pull out a certain book - yes you guessed it, reveals a decadent hidden cocktail bar. Just like in a murder mystery novel, but hopefully less dangerous.

    Booking: Not required but it is possible to reserve a space.

    Opening hours: Monday - Wednesday, 5pm to late; Thursday - Friday, 4pm - late; Saturday 5pm - late

  • The Blind Barber, New York

    339 East 10th Street, New York, NY 10009,

    The secret door: The Blind Barber is a functioning barber shop in the trendy East Village in New York, but if you ask for a drink, instead of a haircut, you'll be shown through a modest door to the speakeasy-feel secret bar at the back.

    Opening times: Monday - Saturday, 12pm - 9pm; Sunday, 12pm - 6pm

    Booking: Advised on weekends and busy periods, but not necessary


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Victoria Gray

Victoria is a contributor for She covers lifestyle and food pieces for the site. When on the internet she can be found tweeting feverishly about Great British Bake Off, and offline she is never happier than when in the company of some wine and cheese.

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