Shh! These are Dallas-Fort Worth's 5 best speakeasies

You may have heard whispers of a secret hideaway burrowed somewhere in the nameless streets of Dallas -- a drinking establishment given to evangelization of a particular spirit. No sign was displayed, no view to the inside visible, no social media used to give away its location. The door was always locked and a discreetly placed light outside signaled whether the place was open. It was a true speakeasy, at least while it lasted.

It's hard to find a real speakeasy these days. Those word-of-mouth sanctuaries, with their illicit elixirs, blossomed during the dark years of prohibition out of necessity. But 84 years later, with the craft-cocktail renaissance in high gear, there's no need to be underground about it all anymore.

Still, there are places that keep the speakeasy spirit alive. Here are five of Dallas-Fort Worth's best.

Atwater Alley

Knox-Henderson

For years, this space behind what is now Henry's Majestic was a hidden jewel -- and it still is, except now there's a bar in it. You enter Atwater Alley through the alley, of course, where little exists to inform you of its location (except on weekends, where there's a doorman).

Inside is a cozy, two-story lair somewhere between modern Victorian and Old West saloon. Think plush furniture and dark wooden fixtures and massive bars that look like they were pulled from decades-old booze joints. The dimly lit, second-floor space, with its tiled ceiling, is especially womb-like, with the light at the bar drawing you like a moth to the flavorful flames fanned by Ricky Cleva and his expert team of craft bartenders.

The bar is an industry favorite and offers an occasional series of guest-bartender nights featuring some of the city's best drink-slingers.

  • 4900 McKinney Ave., Dallas

Black Swan Saloon

Deep Ellum

There's no sign outside Black Swan's dark, plain exterior to let you know you're within striking distance of one of Dallas' oldest craft-cocktail spots, right under everyone's noses on increasingly busy Elm Street in Deep Ellum.

Inside, there's no pretense whatsoever at this low-key divey hideaway. Owner Gabe Sanchez handles the thirsty crowds as coolly as Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, whose image squints from above the bar. That image conveniently captures the saloon's backyard party vibe -- anonymous and enigmatic, a little rough around the edges.

No menu here; just tell Sanchez or his crew what you like, take a flyer on one of his rotating series of spirit infusions or try one of his latest originals, like a Sidecar variation subbing apple brandy for Cognac and St. Germain for orange liqueur.

  • 2708 Elm St., Dallas

High & Tight Barbershop

Deep Ellum

So, you've come to this grittily hip salon off Main to get your hair cut, maybe even to get the actual "high and tight" style popular in the 1920s. But wait, what's that music coming from that room back there?

Well, it's bar man Austin Gurley's not-so-secret lounge at High & Tight, a live-music venue offering great cocktails in a woodsy, vintage atmosphere. On weekends, when the dance floor fills with people responding to rockabilly or indie rock with whatever gestations they see fit, you'll have to fight your way through the crowds for seasonal tipples like the El Romero -- a mingling of rosemary-infused tequila, lime, apricot and ginger. If you're lucky, you can claim a spot on the sofa to take in both the band and the old silent movies playing on the adjacent wall.

  • 2701 Main St., Dallas

Thompson's Bookstore

Downtown Fort Worth

Thompson's, smack dab in downtown Fort Worth, is not hard to find. As a kid, co-owner Will Wells recalls stepping through its doors when it actually was a bookstore from the 1970s until the early 1990s. Years later, when he and Glen Keely (they're the folks behind Poag Mahone's Irish Pub in Fort Worth) figured Fort Worth needed a speakeasy-style bar, he paid homage to those bookstore days with a ground-level lounge that's just like grandpa's den, with old-timey chairs, plenty of whiskey and tall shelves stocked with musty old books.

Behind those shelves, though, that's where the speakeasy magic lies: Stairs descend to a quirky bar recalling the building's pre-bookstore life as a pharmacy, with curtained booths that can be enclosed like hospital beds and a hospital gurney remodeled to serve as a table.

The trick is getting down there. The hidden bar is open Wednesday through Saturday, but you'll need a password on weekends, available on Thompson's' website or by buying a drink at the upstairs bar and checking the bottom of your receipt. There's also a discreet street entrance with a green light indicating the downstairs level is open. Enter and you'll find not only a working absinthe fountain but barrel-aged and draft cocktails besides. Pick your poison, indeed.

  • 900 Houston St., Fort Worth

Truth & Alibi

Deep Ellum

Just down the street from Black Swan and High & Tight's back door, you'll find the Deep Ellum Candy Company, est. 1921; the colorful storefront looks onto busy Elm Street with its old-timey sign. But it's all a ruse, you see: This is Truth and Alibi, brought to you by Chris and Mark Beardon, the folks behind Tipsy Alchemist and Pilikia.

Step inside the "store" and you'll be greeted by a finely dressed gentleman (or three) of few words who will ask you to give them a password. It isn't much of a secret: You can find that on T&A's Facebook page.

Then, in you go. The speakeasy theme ends there -- and so, too, it seems, does Deep Ellum: Aside from the exposed fixtures overhead, it's a place more in line with Uptown, with swanky furnishings, cascading chandeliers and a DJ dropping enough bass to bounce a low rider.

It's all in fun. Trios of young women nestle in high-backed settees; there's an ATM in a British-style phone booth and celebrity mug shots lining a back wall. Grab a cocktail from the list of "manly" and "girly" drinks and find a fancy chair to sit in; just be prepared to abdicate your throne if you haven't made reservations.

  • 2618 Elm St., Dallas

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