“What’s the password?”
This is the question that greets the patrons of Secret Tiki Temple, a small Polynesian/Hawaiian bar tucked behind large non-descript doors in the back of the Pagoda Restaurant in Jacksonville’s Baymeadows area. Modeled after the tiki bars of Los Angeles, this red-hued spot is packed with décor from the islands – think lots of hula lamps, rattan, coconuts and seashells – plus, Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii on the screen behind the bar. For drinks, one can’t miss with delicious libations in off-the-wall containers like the Horny Panda’s Todd the Panda cup or a SPAM can with a surprise flaming cocktail inside. Speaking of SPAM, there is a menu of bar bites with the ingredient, as any good island-style kitchen would have.
Hidden bars, AKA speakeasies, are becoming more prevalent in JAX and those in the know can find them behind clothing boutiques, vape shops and even other bars. The bars’ hidden mystique just adds to the experience.
Take for instance, Buchner’s Bierhalle in Murray Hill. This German bar requires patrons to walk through the storefront for Blackhat Vapor Co. to reach the bar. Once inside, the European ambiance is evident from the heavy wooden bar and furniture to the wallpaper and music. The knowledgeable staff are happy to recommend a glass of “wein” or a “bier” which could be enjoyed in the bar or the outdoor biergarten. Don’t sleep on the food in this spot either – the bar features plenty of bar snacks and meals including, of course, an assortment of würsts and schnitzels.
Grape & Grain Exchange in San Marco may look like a typical package store with a small bar, but slide the shelf on the back wall aside and discover a totally different vibe in The Parlour. Whereas the exterior-facing Grape & Grain is bright and airy, The Parlour is adorned with dim lighting, a dark wooden bar, purple velvet curtains and a small stage complete with a vintage piano. Live music performs from time to time and seasonal craft cocktails with small-batch spirits like absinthe are concocted in “garden-to-bar” fashion.
By day, it may appear to be an upscale men’s clothing and accessories boutique, but by night, T-Dub’s Mercantile’s back room speakeasy gets going with wine, beer and sake-based cocktails. Just steps from the Atlantic Ocean in Atlantic Beach, the small bar can be accessed through the shop (with sip-and-shop opportunities later in the day) or through a non-labeled door in the back parking lot. Don’t miss out on the jam sessions from local artists.
While not as hidden from plain site, the bygone era so reminiscent in speakeasies can also be found in honorable mentions, St. Augustine’s Ice Plant located in a former ice factory that dates back to 1927 and Downtown Jacksonville’s The Volstead named for the legislator behind the American Prohibition Act. Both bars whisk patrons back to the Prohibition-era and take the art of cocktail creation seriously in a cozy speakeasy environment.