Entertainment & Arts

Exploring the secret doors of L.A. nightlife

It could be something as easily ignored as an ordinary door. Maybe it’s an elaborate setup that requires a secret password or talking to a brass owl. Or, as is the case at one Los Angeles club, La Descarga, patrons enter through an armoir full of clothes. Sure, you could call them gimmicky. But for many L.A. clubbers, it’s an opportunity to revisit a glamorous bit of Prohibition-era secrecy or just add some magic to the night.

The Varnish

The dark door in the back of the legendary Cole’s restaurant in downtown Los Angeles looks as ordinary as a door could be, blending into the surroundings of stained wood and sepia-toned photos that line the walls of the downtown fixture. Behind it lies a hidden treasure — a bar that could be described as something from “Boardwalk Empire.” The Varnish is a small, speak-easy type bar with a relaxed atmosphere and meticulously engineered drinks, hinting at an understated, Prohibition-era night on the town.

Mas Malo


Although the downstairs bar at the downtown Mas Malo restaurant — sister site to the Silver Lake location — doesn’t require a password or have any hidden doors, patrons need to know to head down an unmarked staircase to find the cantina. The bar is on the bottom of the three-floor restaurant in what was a jewelry store built in the 1920s, restored to capture that era’s signature flair.

Beacher’s Madhouse

Inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is a nightclub mixed with a circus. Finding it, however, means entering through a bookcase and crossing through a tunnel into the club, which opened this month. The club features vaudeville and comedy acts to create a vibe of a speak-easy theater from the 1920s.

Magic Castle


An evening at the Magic Castle also begins by getting through a bookcase. At the private, members-only club, patrons walk up to a brass owl perched on the bookshelf and command, “Open sesame!” It’s located in a restored Victorian-style home perched upon a hill overlooking Grauman’s Chinese Theater and other bits of classic Hollywood.

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