[Update: Love the hidden bar scene? Don't miss Prohibition NYC, a speakeasy event with Bravo chefs Rob McCue and Adam Banks. Only a few tickets left!]
Essential to survival in New York City is finding places where you can carve out your own space to momentarily escape the ever bustling city. The bars below not only represent well executed speakeasy experiences, clandestine entrances, and purveyors of well—crafted cocktails, but places that provide great evening refuges.
Ostensibly, the purpose of my research was to seek out hidden bars and speakeasies in New York City; however this article lent itself to a more expansive result. The city I had grown familiar with through work, wandering around my neighborhood and showing visitors around, revealed a whole other side I could not have expected.
124 Old Rabbit Club
Take a page out of Alice in Wonderland and follow the rabbit down the hole into this “craft beer bar.” The yellow rabbit on the exterior of the building marks the spot and guides you into the dimly lit establishment. This bar is a great choice for the beer connoisseur as it features an extensive list of domestic and imported beers. The ’60s English rock music that plays lightly from the speakers helps to create a casual, indie, and comfortable vibe. Recommendation is to go on a week night and early since this watering hole only sits about 20 people.
124 MacDougal Street between Bleecker Street and West 3rd Street
The Campbell Apartment is situated in Grand Central Station and is a testament to the grandiosity of a different area. The space originally served as a private salon for 1920′s financial mogul John W. Campbell and has been restored to give prominence to the intricately crafted woodwork on the ceiling, the stained glass windows, the dark wood paneled bar adjacent to the balcony and the large fireplace. I came here earlier this spring for a drink before catching the train to the Botanical Gardens. While sipping gingerly on a single malt scotch would have been more fitting for the environment, I only had 20 minutes before my train departure so I order a Bellini instead. The Campbell Apartment in its own right is a well sought after destination for the after-work crowd, but the convenience of its location caters largely to those in transit. There is a tangible juxtaposition at this bar between the temporal existence of travelers passing through and the transcendent experience of stepping into a relic of the golden era of the 20th century.
15 Vanderbilt Ave between East 42nd Street and East 43rd Street
Beauty and Essex
Who knew a pawn shop could be so glamorous? Beauty and Essex offers a very full night life experience so be prepared to spend a few hours at this bar. I came here for the first time last summer for dinner at midnight (still living in San Francisco at the time this was quite a shock to the system). A reservation for dinner is a must as the line out front can usually trail a few blocks down Essex street. From the outside you would never expect that the building holds a two-story bar and restaurant with high vaulted ceilings and enormous chandeliers. The dining room post midnight turns into a nightclub as restaurant goers forgo their booths to dance on the tables and swig champagne — reveling in contemporary Euro techno, Pop, and Hip-Hop music blaring from the DJ booth. If you choose to dine here, I highly recommend the lobster tacos and the short ribs to order as appetizers. The second level is fun for dancing but be warned that it gets really crowded and can become a bit of a muggy space. Also notable, they serve pink champagne in the ladies restroom, which definitely makes the wait more bearable.
146 Essex Street between Rivington Street and Stanton Street
Photo Credit: Urbandaddy.com
Completley unmarked, I made the mistake of almost entering in through the floor to ceiling windows in the bar area before sauntering around the side to walk in through the patio. I came here for a cocktail as well as dinner. The bar only seats about 15 people so again the recommendation is to get a reservation for dinner so you only have to be standing in the bar area before you are seated. I sipped on a delicious St. Germain cocktail and devoured scallops for my entree. The atmosphere is very warm and charming and the entire space helps create the illusion that you are no longer in NYC but at an upstate manor.
447 Hudson Street between Morton Street and Barrow Street
Photo Credit: David B. Torch for The New York Times
The address speaks for itself — as the illusive entrance should garner only 1/2 a digit. In the back of “Envoy Enterprises” a fluorescent light filled art gallery adorned with minimalistic and modern art pieces, hosts a nondescript doorway that leads into the back bar. The space is very crisp, clean, with two glittering chandeliers draping over the bar. The vibe is very hip but not pretentious as the knowledgeable bartenders are very relaxed in their service. They use a variety of fresh ingredients like mint, rose, ginger, taragon and lavender for their ever changing menu.
131 ½ Chrystie Street between Delancey Street and Broome Street
Photo Credit: Carmen Lopez and AJ Wilhelm for New York Magazine
The smooth jazz music and the even smoother cocktails transport you back in time to the days of Prohibition at this petite speakeasy. I squeezed into a booth here with a couple of my friends and enjoyed a Moscow Mule and an off-the-menu tequila concoction that the bartender crafted. The place is very cozy and the drinks are on the more expensive side, but I recommend this place for a mid-week night cap since it is very unassuming and a more relaxed environment.
22 7th Ave South between Carmine Street and Leroy Street
A slight spin on the adjective hidden — this place remains cloaked by the fact that it only grants entrance to members of the club and their guests. The brownstone offers a unique experience in that each floor has a different decor to create different atmospheres for private parties. My favorite locations in the building are the outer deck on the top floor, the main lobby bar (pictured below) and the beautiful back garden where they serve food as well but only until 11pm so as not to disturb the neighbors. The entire space has a very European and avant garde feel to it — perhaps a testament to the celebrities like Mick Jagger who have graced this establishment.
241 West 14th Street between 7th Ave and 8th Ave
Raine’s Law Room
Photo Credit: Raine’s Law Room
Ring the doorbell and you are greeted by a very serious and stoic man clad in a vest and bow-tie requesting the name on your reservation. Do not fret if you have not made one, usually you can put your name in and drink down the street at places like Rye for 30-45 minutes until a seating area is ready. Once in, you are swept past low couches and tables that are separated by mostly opaque curtains to the back kitchen area where the mixologists craft their signature recipes. You can drink in this standing room only or if available the host will show you to your own secluded, curtained area to enjoy your drink amongst the other hushed speakeasy goers.
48 West 17th Street between 5th Ave and 6th Ave
Firstly, the tacos available to order at the street level counter are one of my top 5 favorite things to eat in New York City. Secondly, the jalapeno margaritas called Pepino Diablo from the bar underneath are one of my top 5 favorite libations to drink in New York City. I recommend both experiences, although I have been to order just the tacos more times than I’d care to admit. The brasserie which is the restaurant and bar area down below can be difficult to get into since the bouncer likes to maintain the air of exclusivity and mystique — but if you make a reservation for dinner then you will have no problem getting into the bar. The bar area is very cavernous and dark with wrought iron lighting illuminating the lounge area — creating an alluring and romantic ambiance.
114 Kenmare Street between Mott Street and Elizabeth Street
Photo Credit Esquina NYC
The Back Room
Of this list, The Back Room receives the nomination as the most authentic speakeasy experience. The first picture is from the point of view of the entrance and captures the path down the hidden alley to get to the bar. The dark, dingy alley serves as a great contrast to the interior of the bar which is gilded, Victorian, embellished, and filled with overstuffed couches covered in luxe fabrics. I enjoyed the cocktail the “Bee’s Knees,” which was a vodka based concoction infused with honey and lemon flavoring — especially more enjoyable as it was served true Prohibition style in teacups.
102 Norfolk Street between Rivington Street and Delancey Street
Last but definitely not least, Freemans assuredly offers one of the most divine bar and restaurant experiences in the city. Tucked away at the end of Freemans Alley behind the club The Box, the large strung light bulbs and planted bench in the entryway create a very ethereal setting. The interior has a very rustic feel as taxidermy hangs above the main fireplace and bar, wooden tables are adorned with low candles and the walls encased with bookshelves. The second level has a small library and a separate bar if you choose to venture here just for a cocktail, although the food is as equally impressive as the decor. Private parties can rent out the secluded rooms on the second floor for special events and if you notice the bookshelf at the end of the hallway by the bathrooms — it swivels to reveal a whole wing of the building that is currently under construction for future private dining areas.
191 Chrystie Street between Delancey St & Rivington St
Try as I might, there are just too many bars in New York City to strike from the bucket list. I have covered a lot of ground, but have barely put a dent, let alone a seemingly small scratch into the nightlife here. Yet that is the beauty of this metropolis — the list will never be complete and it is something you have to learn to embrace.