The world is currently obsessed with Secret Bars. Sadly, most are just a spare room inside another bar, barely withholding their secret-ness from the public’s prying eyes. The following four bars on the other hand, are properly secretive. dangerous, discrete, difficult to enter, and even harder to leave, they are the pinnacle of a hidden, hard-earned, good time.
Beirut - The Green Line - $$
We’ve all done Beirut; Junkyard, Bar ThreeSixty, MAD, BO18—same places, same faces. There is however, a jewel in the ‘Paris of the East’ that rivals any hidden gem. First you need the password. Then, take the highway south towards Damour Beach. A little ways past the airport look for an abandoned double-decker bus; if there are three flares burning, the club is open. Pull up besides the bus and get ready. You’ll be sized up by several boys and a man with a cane. Give them the password. They will judge your appropriateness, sometimes taking your picture and texting it ahead for approval. Give them ten Lebanese pounds as a token of goodwill [more would be considered a bribe and will meet with a caning from the old man]. If you pass, you will be blindfolded and driven to the venue.
You can smell the sea, so you’re near the beach, but otherwise the exact location is unknown. There are armed military types patrolling the fence— purely for show, probably—they open the barricade and wave you in to The Green Line. It’s an old army bunker-turned-pleasure dome. In addition to the usual drinking and diversions there are unique distractions as well—you can pick up a weapon from a vendor and parade around like it’s 1975. At last call, everybody raises their weapons and opens fire—all blanks, apparently. You can also rent a go-kart and enter into hair-straightening races around the metal-framed balcony—nothing says a night on the town like being run off the road by three bikini-clad girls toting Kalashnikovs. Back downstairs, head for the Bedouin tent and order a round of Kamal’s specialty—The Peace Accord; Muddled Mint, Arak, Bourbon, Orange Zest, chilled and downed as a shot.
Singapore - GRNDR - $$$
Located in Haw Par Villa, and once home to the brothers who invented Tiger Balm, this theme park may be most famous for its Love Land, which consists of oversized statues depicting all varieties of erotic encounters, but travel onwards to the Ten Courts Of Hell, because, of course, that’s where the bar is. Enter the Hell Gate, reflect in the “Mirror Of Retribution,” and pass through the nine courts, each surveying garish representations of the tortures of the damned [head of a man, body of a crab anyone?]. Finally, at the Tenth Court and its Pavilion of Forgetfulness, look for a large man in a fez carrying a pygmy marmoset. The marmoset’s name is Lester and if he reacts positively, you will be shown the hidden door behind the “Screen of Unpronounceable Horrors.” GRNDR is a bucket list stop. You descend about 200 meters in a hand-pulled bucket to an underground grotto, where torches illuminate the bacchanal—a turn-of-the-century “night market” afloat within the cavern. Look for Yee Mee’s barge [green and gold with Fire-eaters] and Florian will hook you up with his cobra-infused absinthe masterpiece, the “Togarashi Rimjob.” Please beware of the human traffickers.
Rome - Piccolo Diavolo aka Poussin’s - $$$$
There are over 900 churches in Rome, but as far as this scribe knows, only one has a secret bar— the “Little Devil”—located in a crypt, deep inside San Lorenzo in Lucina church. This ecclesiastical-themed bar has been wowing the cognoscenti for over 1300 years. Although the church itself was built sometime before 366, it apparently did not have its own bar until about 820. Poussin reportedly drank himself to death there in 1665, and since then the place was unofficially renamed as a tribute to his talent, and his prodigious capacity for spirits. When his sarcophagus was erected in the sacristy, it was renovated as the secret door to the bar. To gain entrance you must locate the “priest who is not a priest” and accompany him into a confessional. After unloading your sins, you will be given an ancient Etruscan coin. If you try to leave the church with the coin, you will be found, believe me. Place the coin in Poussin’s ear and the door will crack slightly. Descend into the dark and prepare to be amazed. For centuries, while war and famine raged above, the catacombs of San Lorenzo have been a refuge for the spirit, and a hiding place for the riches of Rome—picture the Medicis throwing a yard sale. The walls are studded with the skeletons of clergy and patrons past. The staff, outfitted in ancient clerical garb, glide around the hushed space. If Matteo is behind the bar (you’ll know him by his golden bishop’s vestments) ask for a Lacrime di Diavolo, “the devil’s tears,” which is a Calabrian-Chile Amaro, and Ancient Genever delight.
Los Angeles - Otto’s - $$$$$$$
The Byzantine-Latino quarter is not one of L.A.’s main tourist attractions. Known mostly for the Ray Charles Memorial Library and Papa Cristo’s greek restaurant, it also houses a wonder of the world—Otto’s. In the early 1930s the Russian and European film diaspora got together to create a private club where they would escape their day with a game of chess and a pipe of opium. The club was not only kept private, but hidden. Money was no object. The founders decided on an opulent Turkish décor—minarets, silks, etc. The building resides underground, with the above-ground portion disguised under a quonset hut with a sign reading “Otto’s Lock and Key.” The pleasure dome was in full force through the early ’60s, before fading into obscurity until a ’90s consortium of young actors, drug lords, plastic surgeons, professional athletes and self-help gurus made it their own. Fanatically private, there is almost no way to gain admittance. Members are subject to full body scans upon arrival, and guests receive a memory wipe at the end of the night. Little has changed since the old days with the exception of a ban on animal sacrifice, and a non-smoking section towards the front. The small casino is popular on weekends and the Salon Privé is lively throughout the week. If you are invited, prepare to change into a silk robe and surrender your morals. You won’t remember of course, but it will be the greatest night of your life.