Kansas City’s P.S. blurs the line between modern cocktail bar and vintage speakeasy to delightful effect.

Beginning on January 17, 1920, with the Volstead Act taking effect, if you wanted to go out and get a drink outside the privacy of your own home, you needed some insider information. Under Prohibition, establishments that sold alcohol were committing a federal crime. This created an impetus for inconspicuous locations, password systems, and crucially, talking in a quiet tone of voice about the very existence of such places.

A century since the beginning of the Prohibition era, the speakeasy aesthetic has lost none of its allure. Proprietors and patrons alike are still transfixed by classic cocktails, dimly lit art-deco accents, secret passcodes, and inconspicuous entryways. In some cases, this fascination manifests itself as 1920s decor inside an otherwise typical bar, but a handful of Missouri gin joints operate in shadowy locations and require a password or membership to gain entry.

Even though getting a drink at one of the Show-Me State’s speakeasies today doesn’t contain the clandestine element of danger it did a century ago, there’s no shortage of atmosphere in the spots we’ve rounded up here. We’ve searched behind paintings, back alley doors, and in historic hotel basements for Missouri’s most elusive drinking establishments.

P.S., Kansas City

P.S., located in Kansas City’s Hotel Phillips, serves up classic Prohibition-era cocktails in a 1930s setting. The name P.S. is a nod to the space the bar occupies, which was once the hotel’s mail sorting room. You’ll find the craft cocktails and vintage setting of P.S. behind an unmarked door in the Hotel Phillips basement.

Hotel Phillips is a Four Diamond Award-winning establishment, which guarantees a certain level of skillfulness in every aspect of the hospitality—including cocktail creation. Need a spirit recommendation? The bartenders at P.S. can point you in the right direction or simply help you branch out of your normal routine.

The ambience at P.S. is always speakeasy-inspired, and when a live jazz band performs on Thursday nights, it’s even easier to imagine yourself back in the 1920s enjoying an illicit diversion.

Luckily for twenty-first-century clientele, you won’t have to worry about the bulls busting in and breaking up the party while you’re enjoying a drink.

106 W. 12th St. • PS1931.com

There is a $5 cover charge, and reservations are accepted online.

Manifesto, Kansas City

Manifesto routinely makes the list of best cocktail bars in Kansas City.

Kansas City’s art-deco architecture and gangland history make it the ideal starting point for a tour of bars with Prohibition-era tendencies. Manifesto, housed in the basement of the historic Rieger Hotel, is the only backroom bar on this list that can claim to have hosted an actual speakeasy during Prohibition. Built in 1915, The Rieger and the backroom bar inside were allegedly frequented by Al Capone and Tom Pendergast.

Historical associations aside, Manifesto deserves recognition for being one of Kansas City’s best cocktail bars (and, per Esquire magazine, one of the 100 best bars in the country). The cocktail menu features seasonally rotating options as well as house mainstays like the farmhouse fizz, a take on the gin fizz made with dry gin from J. Rieger Co. (the hotel’s namesake) and a splash of Boulevard Tank 7.

To visit Manifesto, enter The Rieger through the back entrance and proceed down the staircase. When you arrive, you’ll find yourself in an intimate, candlelit bar with a timeless aesthetic. You’re encouraged to reserve a table via text message before you arrive because seating is limited, and you’re also encouraged to put away your cell phone and enjoy the atmosphere once you’re there. Stop in and toast the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment next time you’re in KC.

1924 Main St. • ManifestoKC.com • Reserve a table by texting 816-536-1325.

The Thaxton Speakeasy, St. Louis

The Thaxton goes out of its way to achieve the speakeasy aesthetic, and that sometimes includes bumping into patrons in ’20s and ’30s attire.

Take a walk down Olive Street in downtown St. Louis and you might wind up passing by The Thaxton building, built in 1925 by the Eastman Kodak Company. Its art-deco facade immediately conjures up the Jazz Age, making it an ideal setting for a speakeasy.

To get in, you’ll need to go around to the rear alley where a helpful sign points out the entrance. From there, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the rotating password for a discount on the cover charge. Owner Kim Pitilangas says the password changes weekly. Once admitted, get into the swing of things with a cocktail or a dance.

On certain evenings, you’ll rub elbows with Thaxton clientele dressed in Prohibition-era garb. Every week, The Thaxton hosts Prohibition Thursdays, which features live music and swing dancing.

Opened in 2007, this speakeasy operates Thursday through Saturday when not booked for a private event. The Thaxton Building also serves as a wedding space.

Whether you’re looking for a craft cocktail, a bit of living history, or simply want to dance, The Thaxton makes for a memorable evening on the town.

1009 Olive St. • ThaxtonSpeakeasy.com • Text “Thaxton” to 46786 to get the password.

“Never refuse to do a kindness unless the act would work great injury to yourself, and never refuse to take a drink—under any circumstances,”

—Mark Twain

The W, Lee’s Summit

The glass jars on the bar at The W in Lee’s Summit allow them to fully infuse drinks with smoke.

It’s a matter of course that Kansas City is home to multiple good speakeasies and jazz-age bars. But just outside the city, in nearby Lee’s Summit, The W serves up seasonal cocktails and keeps over 1,000 different spirits on hand.

You’ll need a reservation to get in, and you’ll find The W up a staircase behind a nondescript wooden door signed only with the street number: 6 ½.

Aside from its speakeasy charm, The W is an adventurous drinker’s delight with its variety of spirits and rotating cocktail menu. Perhaps the most intriguing part of that menu is the smoked cocktail selection, which bartenders at The W infuse under glass, giving smoked drinks new layers of depth and lending a pleasant haze to the bar setting. The smoke adds to the Prohibition vibe but gives off a pleasing aroma as opposed to the cigarette and cigar smoke that was found in genuine speakeasies.

The W has been featured on TravelChannel.com as a hidden gem, and according to owner Merideth Veritasi, the bar is usually booked on weekend nights. Make a reservation next time you’re looking for something unexpected.

6 ½ SW 3rd St. • TheW.bar • Text 816-287-0000 for reservations.

“In terms of emotional comfort it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well made cocktail.”

—David Sedaris

The Hepburn, Springfield

The Hepburn’s membership requirement makes it perhaps the most spiritually akin to a ’20s gin joint of any bar on this list.

The Hepburn is the most exclusive bar on this list. To gain admittance, you either need to be a member or know someone who is (and who is willing to bring you along). If you’re in the club, you know which picture frame inside Springfield’s old Sterling Hotel you have to move to reveal the thumbprint-scanning sensor that opens the door to the staircase.

Once admitted, guests head downstairs and into a bar setting that conjures the 1930s in spades with vintage settees, glass globes, and antique drinkware.

The Hepburn takes drink slinging seriously. They make thirty-six syrups and eight different varieties of bitters in-house, according to owner Sean Brownfield. The Hepburn also uses a special ice machine to make their own ice, which is cut by hand, to ensure ice is mineral-free and to help them achieve the proper dilution ratio.

You can become a member of The Hepburn or get an expanded membership that includes haircuts at the Dapper Barber upstairs from the bar, an establishment that Sean also owns.

312 Park Central East • Call 417-720-1196 for membership information.

Photos // Hotel Phillips, The Thaxton, Manifesto, The Hepburn, The W