Your guide to 14 great secret bars and speakeasies in Kansas City
Kansas City thrived under Prohibition, with dozens of speakeasies serving booze behind hidden doors and through tucked-away tunnels. There are a few places well-known for recreating the spirit of the era: Manifesto, which opened in 2009, was among the first to pick up on the speakeasy revival, and Swordfish Tom’s and PS Speakeasy (secret wall panel in the Hotel Phillips lobby) followed in 2017. Here are a list of bars that tend to fly under the radar. You don’t need a password to get in, but you do need the intel.
When it opened in 2009, Manifesto heralded the return of speakeasy culture to modern times. Located in the basement of the Rieger, Manifesto’s stone walls, candle lighting and hushed vibe evokes the secretive nature of a throwback speakeasy. There’s no marked entrance – you have to be buzzed in through the Rieger’s backdoor in an alleyway – but Manifesto does accept reservations. On weekends, when thirsty crowds clamor for one of the bar’s craft cocktails, you’d be wise to make one.
Swordfish Tom’s could cram fifty or so people into the sub-level Crossroads space (you’ll find the unmarked entrance down an alley), but owner and head bartender Jill Cockson sets capacity at thirty. This means that on busy nights, overflow guests may stand by in a small chamber outside the bar, waiting for the light over the thick iron door to switch from red – meaning the bar is at capacity – to green, signifying that seats have opened up. Cockson’s menu emphasizes pre-Prohibition era cocktails, but there’s no end to the creativity of her bar staff.
Mutual Musicians Foundation
1823 Highland Ave., KCMO. Open 1-5 am Friday-Sunday.
This historic landmark building in the 18th and Vine District started as a union hall for African-American musicians in 1917. Since the thirties, it’s hosted late-night jazz jam sessions—a tradition that continues every weekend. Pay the cover and gain access to an after-hours party where drinks are cheap and the music is hot. After other gigs, jazz artists come here to let loose. In 2015, after finishing a sold-out concert at the Sprint Center, Stevie Wonder’s band filtered in and jammed out.
Being shown to P.S. Speakeasy feels like being let in on a secret – in large part because to enter the clubby underground bar, you’ll have to get a Hotel Phillips employee to open a secret door behind reception. Hotel Phillips opened in 1931 – just two years before Prohibition ended – and you’ll find plenty of historical nods in the bar’s décor. Reservations accepted.
Located in the basement of the Garment House, Hush hosts live jazz or DJ music three nights a week. If you’re looking for a lively time, this is the place – there’s a dance floor for you to show off your hottest moves.
You can find Panther’s Place in the Westside neighborhood, in the courtyard by Poi-o, with an entrance covertly hidden behind an airstream. The open-air backyard unfolds like a hidden oasis: Plants and succulents are everywhere, string lights zigzag overhead and a spiral staircase leads to a second-story lounge overlooking the dreamy scene below. The drink of choice here is Miller High Life. Panther’s Place is open most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays spring through fall, but they also set their own schedule, so there are no guarantees.
Westport’s HopCat is devoted to beer, but its sister concept TikiCat is all about rum (and classic tiki cocktails, of course). This basement-level bar casts itself as a tropical oasis with veritable chill powers – just look to the cocktail menu. There’s a two-drink maximum per person, in case you were wondering how serious they are about The Zombie cocktail. Reservations accepted.
The Hey Hey Club
There’s nothing terribly secret about the Hey Hey Club. Other than its basement location and rich furnishings – think tufted leather and a glowing fireplace – this bar, located within the new J. Rieger & Co. Distillery complex, is not trying to stay under the radar. But the vibe warrants it a place on this list, and the polished cocktail menu doesn’t pull any punches. Reservations accepted.
The Parlour at Monarch Bar
The back room at Monarch Bar is called the Parlour, and it looks nothing like the bright, marbled main room of this lavish Plaza cocktail emporium. The candlelit space features richly upholstered black leather, heavy curtains and shelves stocked with some of the world’s most exclusive spirits (Highland Park 1976 Scotch, Grand Marnier Quintessence, Krug Champagne) and a cocktail menu that’s small, expensive and chock-full of posh ingredients. The room seats sixteen and requires reservations and a steep minimum expense. On the weekends, guests at the main Monarch Bar may be allowed in when space is available.
You wouldn’t really expect a plush speakeasy from the owners of the rowdy Westport Ale House, and to be fair, that’s not exactly what you get with The Fall. It’s located in the basement of the same building, but there’s a different idea at play here: the spacious bar is loosely themed around Alice in Wonderland. There are cocktails named for characters in the Lewis Carroll masterpiece, and various rooms pay homage to scenes or concepts from the book.
It’s a family atmosphere at American Legion Post 213—the KCK neighborhood bar also known as the Eagles Nest or simply the Nest. It doesn’t look much like a bar from the outside, but prepare yourself for a good time. Drinks are cheap, the game is always on, and you’ve got a built-in community to cheer with.
The Pendergast Club is a relic from Kansas City’s Prohibition days. This space, located on the top floor of The Majestic Restaurant, started as a brothel and was once an office to Pendergast himself. Today, it’s a members-only cigar lounge boasting an impressive collection of fine Scotch, whiskey and bourbon. Guests can order from the Majestic food menu and enjoy a walk-in humidor. Non-members are sometimes admitted to the Pendergast Club if they are already dining at the Majestic, but this privilege is always up to the management. You can book out the space for a fee.
Fat Matt’s Vortex
Fat Matt’s isn’t all that secret—it keeps regular hours and will serve anyone—but too few people know about this unique bar in a converted funeral parlor in KCK, which still has a crematorium in the basement. Joni Bocelewatz took over the bar in 2004 and today runs it with her son, Sam. Either will be quick to regale you with tales of spooky incidents like doors slamming and lights flickering, but they will also reassure you that the spirits are not malevolent, just restless. Joni is a Wiccan high priestess, so you should feel safe with her around. Or take a shot of liquid courage: Fat Matt’s serves up Grog, Joni’s secret recipe that she makes in batches.
It doesn’t really call itself a speakeasy, but with its unlikely location – through an unmarked door on a quiet street in downtown Lee’s Summit, up a narrow set of stairs and in a slender parlor room – the W Bar really lends itself to the stereotype. You’ll need to make a reservation to snag one of the W’s 38 seats, but once you’re in, prepare yourself for an intimate and special cocktail experience.