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. When you’re done with these, discover more in our 2015 guide to NYC’s top hidden bars and check out our list of the Top 10 Hidden Restaurants in NYC, many which appear in the Untapped Cities authored book New York: Hidden Bars & Restaurants.
Pick up a copy of the book New York Hidden Bars and Restaurants from the Untapped Cities shop and check out a preview of some of the locations in the book below:
10. 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
9. Campbell Apartment
The Campbell Apartment is situated in Grand Central Terminal 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.
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
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
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
6. Fig 19
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
5. Little Branch
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
4. Norwood Club
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
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
2. La Esquina
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
1. 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
Bonus: Please Don’t Tell
Please Don’t Tell (or PDT as insiders know it) is one of the more memorable speakeasy-style experiences, mainly because you enter it through a vintage phone booth in a hot dog shop. For first-time visitors, this is quite astonishing. Coming in off the street, you walk four steps down into Crif Dogs, a divey little hot dog place. Just to the left is a vintage phone booth. Slide the door open, pick up the receiver of the red rotary phone, and dial 1. A hostess will answer and grant or deny you entry by opening a door on the other side.
PDT is dimly lit and done up in the style of a 19th century tavern, with a low ceiling fashioned from diagonal wooden slats, a few black leather booths, a long copper bar, and taxidermy-adorned brick walls. If you sit at the bar, you’ll be packed in tight, but you’ll have the best vantage point to see what the bartenders are mixing up. Jim Meehan, the bar’s co-founder and partner behind the cocktail program, is a self-declared cocktail geek. He wrote the PDT Cocktail Book, edits Food & Wine magazine’s annual cocktail book, and is the Drinks Editor of Tasting Table. Under his guidance, PDT won the James Beard Foundation’s inaugural Outstanding Bar Program award in 2012.
Next, check out our 2015 guide to the Top 10 Hidden Bars in NYC.