Unless you’re a time traveler, you’ve never visited an authentic speakeasy like the ones open during the Prohibition era. These old-timey taverns were forced underground when the distribution and consumption of alcohol became illegal in 1920. For 13 years, men and women mingled in these back-alley bars away from the watchful eyes of the law. But in 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, making beer and booze permissible once more. Since then, Americans have legally enjoyed their liquor, yet the allure of these covert cocktail lounges remains. The speakeasy has been revived in recent years, attracting a whole new generation of curious consumers. In New Jersey, speakeasies have been popping up across the state; you just need to know where to look for them.
Unlike the illicit bars of the 1920s, modern-day speakeasies are not so secretive. Most have an online presence, a permanent brick-and-mortar locale, and most importantly, a liquor license. While there is no longer a need for these undercover operations, they’re still an exciting way to spice up your evening out. We’re toasting to the return of the roaring ‘20s with a list of some of our favorite New Jersey speakeasies, but you didn’t hear it from us!
Murphy’s Tavern – Rumson, NJ
Once a speakeasy, always a speakeasy. More than 100 years ago, Murphy’s Tavern in Rumson covertly opened its doors in the wake of Prohibition. The secret saloon was housed in the cellar of an ordinary house on Ward Lane. Conveniently located near a hidden cove on the Navesink River, the tavern offered easy access to rum-runners and smugglers alike. Today, Murphy’s Tavern continues to (not so) secretly serve Rumson residents booze and beer from its cozy basement bar. Every Monday through Saturday, this local watering hole offers live music, darts, shuffleboard, and more; they even host monthly events such as trivia and bingo nights.
The Junto Attic Bar – Jersey City, NJ
Looking to elevate your evening out? Skip the mundane bar scene and visit the swankiest speakeasy in Jersey City, The Junto Attic Bar. Last year, this hidden gem, located above The Franklin Social, temporarily closed its doors in order to create a safer experience for all guests. After careful consideration, the lounge reopened last fall, but only to a select few. An Homage to the Cocktail Hour, Junto’s solution to indoor dining is an exclusive curated cocktail event. Every Friday and Saturday night, up to eight guests at a time can reserve their spot at this secretive soirée.
For $50, each person is greeted with a welcome libation, followed by your choice of two cocktails from their specialty menu. Between drinks, snacks such as mixed nuts, tomato bruschetta bites, and dessert are served—compliments of their chef. The night ends with a glass of their farewell cocktail. Reserve your table today, as tickets are limited.
No.12 – Ridgewood, NJ
Step into a real-life mystery novel when you make reservations at No.12, Ridgewood’s only seafood-centered speakeasy. When you arrive at the restaurant’s secluded blue front door, you’re going to need the night’s top-secret code to get in. Once you’ve gained access, you’ll quickly realize that there is nothing traditional about this underground lounge. While the bistro’s decor evokes images of the early 1920s, the funky beats of Biggie, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliot are routinely played overhead.
Unlike other New Jersey speakeasies, No.12’s dinner menu is always in flux, changing nightly. Heather and Ted Rozzi, the owners and chefs, regularly experiment with their fare, crafting tapas-style dishes that are meant to be shared. The space also features Ridgewood’s first raw bar that constantly serves some of the freshest shellfish and crustaceans available. Most nights, the raw bar offers 10 to 12 unique varieties of oysters for patrons to sample from.
The 1933 Room – Somerset, NJ
Shh! The 1933 Room is Somerset’s best-kept secret, and they’d like to keep it that way! This Soho-inspired lounge is situated above Verve, a cozy bistro serving comforting yet elegant French-American fare. Hidden in plain sight, The 1933 Room is reminiscent of most New York speakeasies of the early 20th century. The narrow parlor’s exposed brick walls are adorned with antique pieces of Prohibition-era artwork along with present-day decor. Large flat-screen TVs and speakers give the space a more modern vibe. Pull up a stool and browse their wide selection of signature libations. While they serve a variety of craft beers and wines, their seasonal cocktails are hands-down the best drinks on the menu.
Pasta Ramen is a new pop-up dining experience that is unlike any of the other New Jersey speakeasies on this list. Pulling a specific book from a shelf or whispering a secret code won’t grant you access to this underground restaurant—you need to be personally invited. How one procures this illusive invitation is still unknown, but that seems to be part of the intrigue. For the lucky few who secure their seat at Pasta Ramen, there are still questions that remain unanswered. Where, for example, will you be dining? It isn’t until the morning of that the restaurant reveals the location of that night’s dining event. Additionally, the menu remains a mystery until guests arrive for their reservation.
What we do know is that diners are presented with a 10-course Wafu-Italian meal by a mystery New Jersey chef. These Japanese-Italian-style dishes are inspired by seasons, flavors, and unique ingredients. Recently, their Instagram teased a heavenly sesame uni ramen carbonara as well as an Italian meatball topped with yakitori sauce and tempura crumble.
Thirty3 – Towaco, NJ
For years, New Jersey residents have been raving about Rails Steakhouse, an upscale dining destination located in Towaco. Only a select few, however, are privy to the restaurant’s countless secrets such as its underground bar and lounge. Thirty3 is an intimate Prohibition-themed speakeasy named for the celebratory year in which liquor became legal again. Handcrafted cocktails, comfy leather sofas, and hidden passages await those with reservations. But first, you’ll have to find the front door.
In order to enter, guests must pull a specific novel from a crowded bookcase; don’t worry, if you can’t crack the code, someone will assist you. Once below, guests can unwind with their drink of choice. The bar’s mixologists craft one-of-a-kind cocktails using the highest quality ingredients, hand-squeezed juices, and fresh herbs. We highly recommend ordering their signature smoked old fashion. If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, try one of their house-spiked single barrel bourbons; they also have an expansive single malt Scotch selection.
The Sinatra Room – Hoboken, NJ
A night out in Hoboken would not be complete without a visit to The Sinatra Room, the city’s most private cocktail lounge. Situated within Monroe’s restaurant, guests can only enter this sophisticated speakeasy by navigating through a secret bookshelf passageway. But admission is not that simple. When you arrive at the bar’s entrance, you must recite the week’s secret password to gain full access. Inside, the atmosphere is classy, much like the legendary crooner and Hoboken native the bar is named after.
An electric blue hue is cast throughout the basement by an impressive neon sign, while small Tiffany lamps illuminate individual tables. Settle into a comfy leather armchair and peruse their extensive craft cocktail list. The bar’s master mixologist, Melanie Carugan, is constantly experimenting with new drinks. Her unique blend of classic, modern, and seasonal cocktails is what sets this speakeasy apart from all the rest. Despite opening less than three months ago, The Sinatra Room has garnered a generous following of New Jersey residents eager to celebrate like Sintra himself.
Sushi by Bou – Jersey City, NJ
A speakeasy-style sushi bar? Sign us up! Tucked behind a mysterious door inside the critically acclaimed Ani Ramen is Sushi by Bou. If you’re lucky to secure a reservation, you and seven other guests are treated to an hour-long high-end Omakase experience. The menu for this intimate dining adventure is carefully curated by the restaurant’s chefs and is kept a secret until patrons arrive.
For $50, diners are presented with 12 pieces of handcrafted sushi, all made with the freshest ingredients possible. The venue has no servers, so guests truly get a one-on-one experience with the speakeasy’s seasoned chefs. While your dinner reservation only lasts an hour, the restaurant invites its guests to stay late and relax in their zen garden lounge area. End your evening with one of their craft cocktails, imported sakes, or Japanese beers from their street-cart-inspired bar.
Rabbit Hole – Bloomfield, NJ
Escape reality for a little while when you visit Rabbit Hole, Bloomfield’s whimsical speakeasy-style bar. This “Alice in Wonderland”–inspired cocktail lounge is located on the second level of Blue Steel Pizza Co., a New Jersey pizzeria dishing up Detroit-style pies. When you arrive, a hostess will guide you upstairs to what appears to be just another seating area. But looks can be quite deceiving. Just beyond the sliding bunny-clad door is an entirely different room with dark, moody decor and pops of neon lighting. It truly feels like you’ve followed Alice down the rabbit hole and have landed in a topsy turvy dream world.
Unlike the magical potions presented in the novel, the drinks served at Rabbit Hole will not cause you to shrink or grow in size. Their cocktail menu boasts an impressive list of unique liquid concoctions, all named after the fanciful children’s story; we highly recommend trying the refreshing “Nonsense” or the citrusy “Wonderland.” An email to Blue Steel’s management team might just get you on the list (but plan ahead, spots are limited).
The Laundromat – Morristown, NJ
To the unknown eye, The Laundromat in Morristown appears to be an everyday public washroom. Beyond the storefront’s nondescript marquee are rows of coin-operated washers seemingly available to clean a load of laundry. But upon closer inspection, patrons quickly realize these machines’ true purpose: to conceal an underground bar. The back wall of dryers swings out to reveal a winding staircase that leads directly to the lounge below.
In a past life, The Laundromat was once Dark Horse Lounge—a sweaty nightclub that catered mostly to college students. Now, sleek leather couches, reclaimed wood, and brick walls decorate the subterranean speakeasy. Guests, who must be 23 or older, can sip on artisanal cocktails while enjoying the night’s live musical performances: think soft jazz, blues, and funk. The Laundromat is open every Wednesday through Saturday—just don’t come with a bag of dirty clothes!
Nucky Thompson’s – Jersey City
If you’re a fan of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” you need to stop by Nucky Thompson’s in Downtown Jersey City. This underground lounge is located beneath Hudson Hound, an Irish bar and restaurant which recently opened in September 2020. Guests venture through the secret door to the beautifully decorated moonshine distillery turned prohibition-era speakeasy below. Rustic wood accents, exposed brick walls, and old-fashioned kegs enhance the bar’s atmosphere, truly transporting visitors back to the 1920s.
The current cocktail list consists of three to four seasonal drinks that rotate out weekly; if fan favorites emerge, they have the potential to make it on Hudson Hounds’ official menu. As for food, most dishes are shared with the restaurant above, though owners Jason O’Brien and Donal Crosbie aspire to create a menu specific to Nucky Thompson’s itself. This newly-established subterranean speakeasy is first-come, first-serve, and is open every Thursday through Sunday.
Have you been to any of these New Jersey speakeasies? Let us know in the comments below.
Main image from @bluesteelpizzacompany.