Over the past decade, speakeasy-style bars have made a huge comeback. Dipping into the shadows to find a clandestine hideout for a cocktail is no longer necessary or illegal, but the idea that it once was brings the same feeling of excitement and exclusivity.
The modern speakeasy trend – the idea of serving drinks in a “secret” location, complete with Prohibition-era style and passwords – has made its way across the country. These hidden bars in NYC have that vibe down pat, complete with unlabeled and misleading entrances, but instead of bootleg liquor there’s top-notch mixologists behind the bar serving up high-quality, unique and delicious cocktails.
From bars set in original speakeasy locations to Tokyo-inspired underground haunts, there’s something about finding these cool little spots in the middle of the big city that never gets old. Similar to the hidden restaurants we recommended last month, hidden bars in NYC just feel special. Read on and discover.
Hidden Bars In NYC
The Back Room (pictured above)
102 Norfolk Street
Unlike most of the hidden bars in NYC which simply portray a speakeasy aesthetic, The Back Room is one of the original 1920s speakeasies that operated during Prohibition. To get in, look for the sign that reads “the Lower East Side Toy Company,” pass through the gate and walk down an alleyway, where you will arrive through the original entrance. The vintage 1920’s décor, complete with red velvet couches, tin ceiling, velvet paisley wallpaper and a fireplace make it feel like you’ve not only found a secret spot, but traveled back in time to get there. Cocktails are served in teacups and the beer comes in paper bags, just as it was done during Prohibition and a VIP-only room is hidden behind a bookcase. Weekend DJs and live jazz on Mondays.
132 9th Avenue, New York
Found behind the Stone Street Coffee Company shop in Chelsea, a back wall opens to reveal Bathtub Gin, a dimly-lit space decorated with tin ceilings, plush banquettes and a copper bathtub that sits front and center, alluding to the name of the bar and the Prohibition-era homemade spirit for which it was named. The drink menu features original recipes, along with a list of gin cocktails that are made with fresh fruit juices, syrups, infusions and “fizz.” Try the “Dutch Bramble,” made with gin, blackberry liqueur, pressed lemon and fresh blackberries with a cheese or cured meat platter. Bottle service and table-side drinks are also offered as well as tea pots (cocktails made with tea, vodka and mix-ins) and punch bowls for sharing. A weekly schedule of events include live jazz on Mondays, DJs on the weekends and live burlesque performances on Tuesdays and Sundays.
296 Bleeker Street (2nd floor), New York
Upstairs from the West Village Five Guys, there is not much to tip you off to this hidden bar other than a neon sign in the window that reads “SOUL,” which doesn’t tell you much unless you already know what you’re seeking. Behind the Five Guys’ counter there is a discrete staircase that leads to the impressive and cozy hangout, accented with rugged wood tables and bar stools, unique artwork, chandeliers and huge skylights. In addition to a selection of wines, beers and classic cocktails, there is a list of seven house cocktails, including the “Hey Girl” strawberry prosecco cocktail, and “The First Lady,” a unique mix of gin, matcha green tea, lemon and fresh basil. If you need something to munch on, grab an order of Mama Jeans Village Brined Pickles – served with or without a shot of whiskey. Last year, the Garret expanded to the Garret East, a not-secret, similarly cool space in the East Village.
211 East 43rd Street, New York
Who would have thought that a New York City basement could seemingly transplant you to a Tokyo isakaya (tavern)? Who am I kidding? It’s in New York City. Of course this exists. The only challenge is finding it. To get to this midtown sake den, you must first go through an unmarked lobby of an office building, down stairs and through a basement corridor. Just when you’re ready to turn around, you’ll find a quiet little room dressed in bamboo and flowers. The reward for your journey is more than 200 types of sake, Japanese beers and a menu of authentic Japanese small plates, sashimi and other specialties including tempura, rice and noodle bowls. If you need help finding your way around the extensive sake list, the knowledgeable wait staff will guide the way.
113 St. Marks Place, New York
The phone booth inside of hot dog joint Crif Dogs is your gateway to PDT, which is short for “Please Don’t Tell.” Whoops. As one of the most well-known hidden bars in NYC, I’m not the first one to let it slip. In fact, if you want to hang out with the taxidermy at this saloon, it’s recommend that you make a reservation at exactly 3 p.m. when the bar opens. Once you’ve got your spot saved, dial the phone and a hostess will open up the back wall to let you in. Highlights from mixologist Jim Meehan’s creative cocktail menu include a bacon-infused old-fashioned and the Staggerac, a Sazerac made with 140-proof bourbon and absinthe. An abbreviated Crif Dogs menu is available, but you can also put in requests from the full menu next door.
Beauty & Essex
146 Essex Street, New York
Operated by the TAO restaurant and nightlife company, this opulent speakeasy-style lounge is full of surprises, starting with its funky pawn shop façade. Once you’re in, there are two stories of ’50s/’60s-era style rooms, where a hip crowd mixes over music and inventive cocktails such as the “Beauty Elixir” – a mix of gin, cucumber, strawberry and sparkling rosé – or Emerald Gimlets made with basil, lemon and lime. The menu of comfort foods includes beer-battered lobster tacos, grilled cheese with bacon and tomato soup dumplings, and heritage baby back ribs with hush puppies and smoked black pepper and honey butter. And don’t leave without trying the “Box of Doughnuts” for dessert. It’s a bit of a splurge, but it’s a popular spot for girl’s night out in NYC.
Similarly named and concealed (by a functioning coffee shop), but unrelated, is Sons of Essex across the street. A bit more laid back, the versatile space, covered in vintage knickknacks and sepia photos, is as approachable for a comfortable Sunday brunch as it is a lively night out at the bar.
277 Church Street, New York
Inspired by the hard-to-find, underground bars of Tokyo, this dimly-lit Tribeca bar and jazz lounge is located down a flight of stairs through a door marked only with small Bb (B flat denoted in music). The small black and white sign that reads “Burlesque” above is a clue. Often accompanied by live jazz music, bartenders masterfully mix up classic and specialty cocktails with music-related names, such as “The Groovy,” made with shiso-infused vodka and yuzu juice. Light bites such as flash fried shishito peppers, pork buns and a teriyaki beef burger pair up nicely and soak up some of the booze.
510 Hudson Street, NYC
Employees Only can be found in the West Village under the guise of a red “psychic” sign glowing in the window (there’s also a live tarot card reader if you’re into that). Known as an “insider’s” joint where bartenders and chefs come to hang out late at night, it’s also cemented its place as a quintessential New York nightlife spot. Beyond offering the novelty of a speakeasy, the stars of this award-winning bar are undoubtedly the talented mixologists who serve up expert made classic and craft cocktails to a boisterous crowd. Try the “Billionaire Cocktail,” a bourbon concoction shaken with fresh lemon juice, absinthe bitters and house grenadine. The food is good too, especially the much-raved about bone marrow poppers on the after dark menu. Every night is a celebration and if you make it to last call, you are rewarded with chicken soup.
Have you ever been to one of these hidden bars in NYC? Which one would you like to try? Tell us in the comments.
If you’re driving into the city, don’t forget to use your AAA discount to save at Icon Parking garages.