The Best Speakeasy in DC? It’s Just a Storage Room. No, Really.

"Every armoire doesn't lead to Narnia."

Photograph courtesy of Cotton & Reed.

Cotton & Reed. 1330 5th St., NE.

Over the weekend, someone posted a photo on Reddit of a blue door surrounded by beat-up white brick with the caption “Have you been to this speakeasy.” A commenter identified it as inside rum distillery Cotton & Reed, calling it “the best speakeasy in DC.” Soon after, people started showing up at the Union Market distillery looking for the hidden bar and asking how to get a reservation.

The problem: it’s not a secret door disguised as a storage room. It’s actually just a storage room. No, seriously. This isn’t yet another trendy bar gimmick. The room is literally filled with stacked patio chairs, broken tables, bags of sidewalk salt, and dust.

“Every armoire doesn’t lead to Narnia,” says Cotton & Reed owner Jordan Cotton.

Cotton says some people came to the distillery specifically because they saw the Reddit post. One person wanted to go inside and take photos. A bartender even overheard a discussion about the fake speakeasy where one customer claimed they’d already been a few times. “Let’s not brag about having gone to the exclusive thing that doesn’t exist, please,” Cotton says.

Cotton ended up having to add a lock to the door and put up a sign that reads “No Entry. Literally just a gross storage area.” He also posted a video on Instagram to prove it wasn’t a speakeasy. (Skeptical about the cut in the video after he unlocks the door, I made Cotton give me a FaceTime tour. I can confirm it is in fact a storage room.)

But now… does Cotton want to turn it into a speakeasy? “Well, let’s see. First answer, also final answer is no, because we have too much stuff going on,” he says. After all, the distillery recently announced plans to expand its production into a much larger space in Ivy City where Bo & Ivy is closing. He adds that the storage area is part of a separate lease that will be ending in the near future as their landlord renovates the warehouse.

The new production facility in Ivy City does have its own tucked-away bar that could theoretically be a “speakeasy.” Cotton says they may use it for private events, but there are no plans to make it open to the public because of the lack of foot traffic.

But even if he did have the space for a so-called speakeasy, he wouldn’t open one. For starters, it’s “the most cliched, played-out trend.” But also: “It’s a real speakeasy if it doesn’t have permits. And if anything, we have way more permits than any bar because we’re a distillery also. So that definitely negates us wanting to self-describe as a speakeasy.”


Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.