My most recent travel adventure took me to Philadelphia with my sister. This girls trip was a much needed energetic jolt in my schedule, which had been quiet for some time (if only that were still true). The city, of course, differs from our experiences in Miami. The walking, the history, pretty much everything. Besides these facets, which naturally infused more pep in our step, we experienced what was possibly the best speakeasy.
This concept is popping up in quite a few cities, and I’ve seen it done both well and pretty lame in my travel experiences. Mostly it’s the latter. Much like the ambiguous foodie term “gastropub” (or its equally misleading prefix version, “gastro”, which is thrown about like excess fairy dust before anything edible). Few restaurants actually understand and get it right. Much the same way, very few bars understand the true essence of a speakeasy and misleadingly utilize it to capitalize off its buzz.
A speakeasy was originally a bar where alcohol could be purchased safely, and illegally, during our country’s prohibition era. Nowadays, creative bar owners have taken license to revitalize the concept and translate it in our present society of legal alcohol. Speakeasies bring about images of dark places and the excitement of doing something wrong. In order to create this same feeling, modern bar owners have developed underground watering holes that have absolutely no signage or advertising. . . except word of mouth. It’s like being part of a secret society, and it makes you feel jazzier while drinking your cocktail.
Our oversharing generation gets off on this concept as it is a departure from constantly living on display. As a connected person myself, the no phone or picture rule was so refreshing. It forced my sister and I to be present, which usually only happens for us in nature or other remote areas. Definitely not at a bar, especially one I’d like to share with our Emerald readers.
But alas, our last night in Philly led us to Hop Sing Laundromat. Located in the city’s Chinatown, we walked our buzzed selves over to the brightly lit streets filled with asian lettering and neon hues. It’s a sight to see. There is beauty in the overcrowded buildings, especially at night post-rainshower, with their reflections shimmering on the shiny streets. We heard about the speakeasy after doing some research, but the instructions to get there where extremely cryptic. Finally finding the destination by name, there was absolutely no sign of a bar. The Hop Sing Laundromat was closed and we didn’t see the bell our research indicated to ring.
As I scaled the walls with my hands poking and prodding all the crevices looking for a sign, my sister stood by freezing and periodically reminding me we could be murdered at any time. I duly noted this and kept searching, almost winking at an elderly Asian lady passing by. One person’s account spoke of using this universal gesture as a way in. Thankfully, my sister pulled me back and we walked down the block, by chance stumbling upon a doorbell with no signage. This had to be it.
We waited in the cold hoping we weren’t ringing a random business’ bell, as this door was easily 3 stores down from the “Hop Sing Laundromat.” Like something out of a dream, a small middle-aged Asian man sporting a fedora and black framed glasses opened the door and asked my sister and I how we heard of this place. She offered the explanation “friends". He quickly nodded and went right back in. Moments later, he led my sister and I to a small room.
This room was no bigger than an elevator. It was dimly lit and had bookcases filled with novels and other interesting nicknacks that set the tone for the evening. The man then sat on an old red, leather chair, the kind used in the 20’s for men to get their shoes shined, and explained the rules. There are absolutely no photos allowed. You may text in the main room, but no calls. Other than that, you are free to enjoy the specialty cocktails. You can only pay cash. We were asked if we understood and agreed, we both nodded.
Once inside, the Hop Sing Laundromat is magnificent. The picturesque bar is stacked with all the spirits and fancy trimmings you could imagine. Their specialty cocktail list, an impressively extensive collection of fancy and creative concoctions, is a mixology buff’s dream come true. The drinks are made with interesting materials and ingredients. . . and the presentation of each concoction is to the nines. I am a sucker for a well-dressed cocktail, it must be said. To top that off, the names. This must be mentioned as well. The cleverness behind these titles tickled me, such as the Hemingway Daiquiri. Too cute. I’ll let you find out the rest on your own. Definite must-stop should you be in Philly.
While the destination is a sight to behold and a great time, it was getting there that actually made the experience. You could walk into any bar, especially one that’s a bit pricier and serves cleverly named drinks. However, what I’ll remember more than the inside of Hop Sing Laundromat is scaling a wall in the cold with my sister as I almost blinked at an elderly woman.
Similar to life, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey.
Because my sister and I listen to directions and did not take any photos inside, please enjoy some photos of us sippin' coffee and exploring Philly!
Have you been to Hop Sing Laundromat or another speakeasy? Did you dig this article? Share with us below!