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  • Writer's pictureAlbert C

10 Best Speakeasies in NYC

On January 16, 1919, the federal government of the United States outlawed alcohol completely. While prohibition agents began dumping booze, the sale, manufacturing, and bootlegging of alcoholic beverages became illegal and practically obsolete save for speakeasies. Speakeasies were hidden away and disguised by faux names and entrances. Today, in the city that never sleeps, some clever business owners have revived and re-created this part of history for your excitement and entertainment. Throw on your flapper gown or tuxedo and hop into a limo to experience the best speakeasies in New York City.

Apothéke – Chinatown, $$$

Playfully based on 19th century apothecaries in Europe, the entire experience – liquid prescription cocktails with names like “Pain Killer” and bartenders dressed in lab coats – is uniquely dramatic in a feverish manner. Under the guise of an abandoned “chemist” shop, this bar adheres to a strict farm-to-bar ideology, sourcing their ingredients from Greenmarket and organic produce vendors, or from their own rooftop herb garden.

Specialty Drink: Anything with their 200-year-old absinthe recipe (prepared a la traditional distilleries from that time period)

Attaboy – Lower East Side, $$$

This no-frills, old school speakeasy bar is disguised as a “tailor made alterations” shop, which may allude to their customizable drinks, which you may order by simply describing to the bartender what you fancy since there is no drink menu in sight. To gain entry, one must knock at the door and wait for the doorman. If there’s no space inside, the doorman will take your phone number and text you when there’s space – and the industrial-style space is quite tiny, with only three tables and a long, skinny bar. Refreshingly, there’s no loud music playing here, so you can easily enjoy the company you’ve kept.

Specialty Drink: Penicillin (blended scotch, single-malt scotch, fresh lemon juice, honey syrup, and candied ginger).

Bathtub Gin – Chelsea, $$$

Tucked away behind the Stone Street Coffee Company (their website is too!), the low lit saloon contains antique furniture and burlesque shows. The centerpiece is a randomly appropriate copper clawfoot bathtub, which drunkards and dancers alike allowably climb into when the moment feels right. Fittingly, most of their cocktails are gin based and pair nicely with their small plate comfort foods, such as the fried oysters and pork belly sliders.

Specialty Drink: The Bathtub Tonic (house sparking tonic water paired with Ford’s Gin, a seasonal blend of juniper, cinnamon, almond, and alpine spice).

Beauty and Essex, Lower East Side, $$$

Enter this fancy nightclub through an equally tremendous pawn shop, apropos to the décor, which is modeled after a vintage jewelry box. A giant chandelier hangs in the middle of the room and the lavish jewelry encased within large golden frames is available for purchase. The plush leather seats are inviting, adding to the elegant feel, and the rap music heard overhead makes the place feel a tad reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Do your best to be seated downstairs where it’s a bit quieter, and tuck into some delicious tapas style dishes. Also, ladies, there’s free rosé in the bathroom (sorry, gents, none for you!)!

Specialty Drink: Beauty Elixir (Hendricks gin, cucumber, strawberry, and sparkling rosé).

Prohibition protestors holding

Employees Only, West Village, $$$

Camouflaged behind a neon red lit “psychic” sign, a curtain parts to reveal an actual tarot card reader and the art-deco wonderland beyond. Bottles of alcohol and candles are lined up on the ledges, and each room has a different vibe ranging from bright red and steel tables to marble countertops and wooden barstools. The shelves glow in a soft green and the space is so dimly lit that even the paintings have individual lights for your viewing pleasure. The drinks are prepared by mustached bartenders who mix devilishly strong cocktails, and the bone marrow poppers with pastry shell and bordelaise (served until 3:30am) are a popular favorite.

Specialty Drink: Mata Hari (Remy Martin 1738 cognac shaken with chai-infused martini rosso, and pomegranate juice, served straight up).

Little Branch, West Village, $$$

Hidden in plain sight by a nondescript maroon door within a chunk of white brick core on the corner, the only indicator that a bar exists beneath this façade is a bouncer sitting outside. “Bartending is an old and honorable trade,” the menu reads. Indeed, they take bartending seriously here, but not so seriously as to call themselves “professors” or “mixologists.” They keep it old-school, which is made clear by their staff wearing suspenders, as well as a list of bar rules, including "no name dropping" and "no hooting or hollering." The staff arrives two hours before opening to squeeze fresh juice, chill glasses, and cut blocks of ice. Variations of jazz are played on the free-standing piano Sunday through Thursday. Tell the bartender your favorite liquor and they’ll list off a steady stream of options for your taste bud’s delight.

Specialty Drink: Bennett (gin, lime, sugar, and Angostura bitters, shaken and served up).

Please Don’t Tell (PDT), East Village, $$$

If one of your friends instructs you to walk into Crif Dogs, enter the phone booth, and pick up the receiver, this may seem suspect at first, but don’t be alarmed when the hostess opens the back wall of the booth and leads you into the exposed brick, taxidermy-strewn saloon. Their seasonal cocktails are curated by the bartenders, and they use locally procured ingredients and Greenmarket produce. Unique menu items include bacon-infused bourbon and a deep-fried Crif Dog with spicy pickled cabbage, drunken black beans, and salsa de arbol. Contrarily, for such a rowdy vibe, the patrons are typically quite reserved and classy. PDT is certainly an experience, and at the very least, you’ll be in on the secret of why people seem to be disappearing when they enter that phone booth.

Specialty Drink: Millennium Fallon (Reisetbauer blue gin, Q tonic, and a huge blue ice “sabre”).

Raines Law Room, Flatiron, $$$

Like a scavenger hunt, one must follow these directions to find the gold: head down West 17th Street to an unmarked stairwell, walk downstairs, ring the doorbell under the lantern, and await your hostess. Do not be alarmed if your hostess is actually a bearded man inquiring what you’re there for – it’s part of keeping up the true speakeasy vibe. Upon your arrival, you’ll be escorted into a sophisticated den with Victorian-style parlor décor and barely audible swing music from the 1920s. Your waiter will approach your table once you’ve pulled the lamp string or rung another nearby doorbell (depending on where you’re seated). There’s not much offered in terms of nibbles (save for an assortment of gourmet olives, aged gouda, and soppressata), so be sure to dine beforehand.

Specialty Drink: Pimm’s Cup (pimm’s no. 1, lemon and lime juice, cucumber and strawberry, and club soda, shaken and served tall).

Jazz dancers in black & white

The Back Room, Lower East Side, $$

Ignore the advice to never stumble into a dodgy alley – this one is totally worth it. Previously an original speakeasy during prohibition, keep your eyes peeled for the sign that reads, “Lower East Side Toy Company” (though the “y” may be missing). Take in the history of this entrance through the toy store – this is the same entryway people climbed down 80 years ago when alcohol was outlawed – where you'll find (after a few twists and turns) the stunning red velvet chairs, chandeliers, and ornately framed portraits. They retain the pretense of prohibition by serving beer inside of brown paper bags and cocktails in teacups. There’s even a VIP-only private lounge hidden behind a bookcase. Enjoy live jazz on Mondays and a free 1920s dance lesson before the music begins.

Specialty Drink: Rosemary’s Baby (Dewar’s 12 blended scotch whisky, simple syrup, fresh lime juice, and a rosemary sprig garnish).

The Garret, West Village, $$

You may think you’re entering a normal Five Guys establishment, but turn left at the ketchup dispenser, past the counter, and up the random staircase in the back to find a speakeasy loft, with a mural painted into the fireplace, two sweeping skylights, endless hourglasses, and a random taxidermy rhino in a separate room. The cocktail menu has 12 drinks in total divided between classics, such as a gimlet, negroni, etc., as well as a few house creations. They're also home to quite a few specialty Five Guys Burgers that you can’t get at any other location, such as the Italian Neighbors Burger topped with Ottomanelli Bros. prosciutto and house-made marinara.

Specialty Drink: First Lady (gin and matcha powder).

After a long night of sneaking into gin joints, don’t let the cops see you in a drunken state! Book a ride with your honey and re-hash all of the fun on your way home.

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