Six Former San Francisco Speakeasies Where You Should Celebrate Repeal Day

By Alyssa Pereira

Huzzah! Today marks the anniversary of the 1933 repeal of the Volstead Act, the law that allowed Prohibition to take effect. It was the end of a dark, sad time in American history.

Today however, decades later, we’re able to laugh at the whole ordeal, particularly because in San Francisco (especially along the Barbary Coast), prohibition was more of a loose guideline than an actual law.

Still, drinking establishment owners hid underground and behind secret doors, even though the whole charade was just to save themselves a side glance and a finger wag from the police. Police still had to police, after all.

Today, some of these bars are intact, and a few even honor their building’s heritage.

In honor of Repeal Day, here’s a list of a few former speakeasies where you can still grab a drink.

Bourbon & Branch, Wilson & Wilson, and The Library
Where: 501 Jones St.
The three (four actually, though the last one is super exclusive) bars situated inside 501 Jones all require a password. To get into the Library though, you don’t need a reservation. Simply utter “books” at the door, and you’ll be whisked into a dark room with rich wallpaper, ornate chandeliers, and shelves of hardcovers. Built atop an actual former speakeasy in the Tenderloin, you might actually get a legitimate experience as to what it was like during the roaring 20s.

Slide
Where: 430 Mason St.
In what used to be Coffee Dan’s, the most famous speakeasy in San Francisco, Slide now exists (complete with a literal slide entrance). Make sure you’re dressed nice—this spot is swanky.

The Great American Music Hall
Where: 859 O’Farrell St.
The Great American has been many things throughout its existence—a burlesque theater, a brothel, a French restaurant—but today it’s a gorgeous, gilded music venue. Once upon a time in what is now the space’s office, private peep shows and rounds of alcohol were consumed by the city’s VIPs.

Bar Drake
Where: 450 Powell St.
Bar Drake, situated inside the famous Sir Francis Drake hotel, housed a “between-floors speakeasy-storehouse,” a tiny, secret room where guests could imbibe. Today, Bar Drake revives its legacy, crafting old-timey manhattans and martinis.

Bimbo’s 365 Club
Where: 1025 Columbus Ave.
By his own admission, Agostino “Bimbo” Giuntoli used to make his own hooch in house at Bimbo’s. This writer has a suspicion that Bimbo used to provide his liquor to businesses in North Beach with underground bars (and there were many). Though he was sneaky, he was still once almost caught by the authorities. These days, you can buy a ticket to a show, and enjoy the nostalgia of the space.

House of Shields
Where: 39 New Montgomery St.
Legend has it that despite reports that President Warren Harding died at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1923, he actually died at House of Shields, an establishment with a secret bar and underground tunnels linking to the Palace Hotel.  As the story goes, he was rushed back to his hotel room after he passed so the American public wouldn’t find out that he had actually while drinking illegally. In any case, today it still stands as a bar (though it has been renovated), and you can pop in anytime to grab a drink in honor of ole Warren.

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