Phoenix Speakeasies With a Modern Twist
Writer Fadi Sitto
Photography Courtesy of Melinda’s Alley, Honor Amongst Thieves and Mystery Room
Phoenix knows how to honor its colorful past, and its speakeasy bars are no exception. Today, Phoenix’s modern version of the speakeasy thrives in popularity by staying true to historical roots.
From 1920 to 1933, though booze was illegal and outlawed due to Prohibition, it flowed easily in numerous Arizona hideouts found only through word-of-mouth.
What did Prohibition look like here in Phoenix? As with many Western cities, there was little enforcement. If one place was forced to close down, a new hideaway would open up nearby in no time at all.
These secret speakeasy bars were often hidden in the backrooms of laundromats, butcher shops and behind unmarked doors. It was vital to keep these lucrative operations as discreet as possible.
This open Wild West environment soon attracted these underground bars, as well as gambling dens and brothels. In dingy, dimly lit back rooms, women in flappers and men in three-piece suits danced the Charleston, coolly smoked cigarettes and imbibed in forbidden liquors and brews.
The mafia was not too far behind, as these Phoenix speakeasy bars attracted notorious characters like Al Capone and John Dillinger.
The term “speakeasy” came from the practice of speaking “easy” about the whereabouts, so as not to tip off the authorities. Once Prohibition ended, speakeasy-spots ceased to be relevant, but the allure of these secret bars has been carried onward into Arizona’s retro establishments today.
Phoenix is home to several famed speakeasies that still offer hidden rooms, back-alley entrances and premium cocktails derived from the Prohibition era.
One such establishment is Melinda’s Alley. There are no signs, and you might have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone.
In 2016, when Melinda’s Alley was ready to re-open for business, the business’s sign was spelled with an “e.” Shortly after the bar opened, it was discovered that the historical woman’s name was “Malinda,” but it was decided that the original misspelled name would stay.
This speakeasy can be found down the alley between Monroe and Adams Streets, inside the cellar of the Renaissance Hotel. A massive mural of Malinda Curtis, an intriguing figure in Phoenix lore, draws visitors to a nearly hidden door that leads to the storied establishment.
The historical accounts and rumors behind Malinda Curtis are nothing short of fabulous.
Malinda was a woman who lived in the red-light district area of downtown Phoenix. She liked her gin and the neighbors knew it. She had several run-ins with the law over the years as well; she was once accused of using her feminine charms to seduce another woman’s husband.
Curtis also became known for her big heart. She would often take in strangers or homeless people who were down on their luck and give them money to get back on their feet.
As you walk in Melinda’s Alley, you’re struck with the vintage curiosity of it all. This speakeasy seats less than 50 people and the décor will keep your eyes wide open. The space houses antiquated couches, early 20th century light fixtures, mirrors and retro art.
“I think people trust us here, they trust us making their drinks,” says the bartender (who, adding to the secrecy, wished to remain nameless) here at Melinda’s.
No doubt, the lure of an ever-changing cocktail menu is a major part of why people seek out this bar. There are only five drinks on the menu, and it changes every week.
The Mystery Room
If you’re visiting the Camelback Corridor neighborhood of Phoenix, The Mystery Room is the secret legendary spot you may have never heard of, but should have.
Within the historic Biltmore Hotel lies a hidden speakeasy, only accessible by a secret password that changes often.
“I’m looking for John Galt,” “I have the missing eye to the blind tiger,” and, “Keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open” are just a few of the passwords from the bar’s past. New passwords are posted without notice on Twitter, but if you ask the concierge nicely, you may get the new code—but no guarantees.
The Mystery Room offers up a speakeasy experience that just may be the most authentic of all speakeasies in Phoenix. This is because the space has been used since the Prohibition in the 1920s, originally opened under the name, “Men’s Smoking Room.”
After taking the seemingly endless walk through the hotel lobby to the second-floor secret corridor, you’ll be greeted by wait staff in 1920s attire and a return to Prohibition-era drinks. Open only for three hours on Sundays and with limited space, you’ll definitely feel like you’re somewhere secretive and exclusive.
Honor Amongst Thieves
Another Phoenix hideaway that honors the history and atmosphere of authentic speakeasies is Honor Amongst Thieves. This uptown Phoenix hidden lounge is tucked above Stock & Stable Restaurant on 7th Street and is known for having some of the most elaborate and innovative cocktails in the city.
Entrance to Honor Amongst Thieves can be found via a staircase located around the back of Stock & Stable, but the rumor is that there is a lesser-known way to find your way to this hidden gem if you’re ready to walk through a hidden kitchen cooler door.
As you perch high up and place your elbows on the pristine wooden bar top, it’s easy to soak in the period nostalgia. With no windows and faint lighting, you’ll feel like you’re getting away with something by taking that awaited sip. For those who can keep a secret, Honor Amongst Thieves is the place for you.
If you’re drawn by uniquely Phoenix experiences, these Valley hangouts are well worth the effort to find. Once you visit one speakeasy, you may never look at a regular sports bar or neighborhood pub the same.