Shhh, don’t tell, but I’m going through an excitingly exploratory clandestine phase (regarding my bar choices that is!). The thrill of being in the know of a “secret” spot is just too seductive to ignore. Ok, ok, there are no real secrets in NY anymore, but still, I’m enjoying the come back of the so-called “speak-easies.” They are charming, usually small, and well disguised. And just because you found the unmarked entrance door, do not expect guaranteed entry. Door policy is randomly finicky as usual, but maybe if you put on your friendly mobster face you’ll pass right through it.
Here are a couple of my favorites:
Milk & Honey: the classic. For years its phone number kept changing and impossible to get, unless you kept up your visits, and got the freshly printed business cards. Recently Sasha P, the master speak-easy mood creator, decided to allow access to their phone number. It’s small, reservation a must, and if you don’t follow the strict conduct rules (be discreet, no gentleman is allowed to introduce himself to the ladies, no boisterous behavior). Keep it in the low guys, or you’ll be escorted out, just like in the old days.
134 Eldridge St (between Broome and Delancey), 718-308-6881
Apotheke: I’m convinced that the wood door at the end of a dark Chinatown alley is a time portal. Large Victorian sofas, spacious Louis XV chaises, the large antique shelves the five-ton marble bar counter stocked with spirits in century-old bottles make this a time warp experience. Just like entering an illicit candle-lit establishment, which, I’m not kidding, used to be an opium den (I told you it gives me goose bumps!).
Finally, the only place worth of calling bartenders: mixologists. Dressed in white gowns, a line of friendly looking “pharmacists” concoct a series of complex beverage recipes to make you feel better. Last night I told Orson (super nice Venezuelan bartender) I needed something bubbly and uplifting. He formulated a beautiful Champagne chilly pepper-infused remedy in a test tube looking tulip glass. Medicate me, I know you’ve got the cure!
9 Doyers St (between Bowery and Pell) 212-406-0400
La Esquina: ok, this is not really a speakeasy style establishment, but how you get into this hot underground spot feels pretty illicit to me. To get into the downstairs restaurant (and bar!) you first enter a tiny shabby looking taqueria (delicious tacos btw). Then you pretend you know where you are going, which is straight ahead, look for the “Employees Only” door. Of course the only tell-tell will be a bouncer or cute hostess hanging just in front of it with an unmistakable smirk on their face as they clutch: THE LIST. You won’t be on the list, but remember you know where you are going. Be nice, and say you are just here for a drink. The narrow stairs to the basement take you straight through the kitchen, careful with the hot plates, and finally, around the sharp corner you’ll discover one the most fun basements in New York City. Decorated like a Mexican garden, this sexy dungeon is bigger then you would think, and the food is delicioso (try the Papa y Chorizo taco)
114 Kenmare Street (corner of Lafayette), 646 613 7100
The Back Room: need inspiration for your fantasy mobster movie script? This is the real thing. A real speakeasy during the 20’s, the adventure to find it is almost as good as the genuine art deco details inside. Pass the metal gate under the “Lower East Side Toy Company,” down the steps through a narrow dark alley and up the metal steps to the old-fashioned door with a peephole. No special knock required, Pheew. Staying true to Prohibition Era conduct, drinks are served in teacups and beer bottles are wrapped in brown bags. You know, to fool the cops.
102 Norfolk St. (between Rivington and Delancey) 212-228-5098
Oh the thrills that come with savoring the “forbidden”... The drinks just taste so much better when you had to sneak around a little to get one!