There’s nothing secret about KGB Bar, the Soviet-inspired literary outpost in the East Village. Writers—both esteemed and unknown—have been doing readings there for twenty years. But the Red Room above KGB, which traces its roots back to Prohibition, is another story.
Outside on the street, a neon sign announces KGB, but there’s no indication of the Red Room. The building on East 4th Street that houses both bars, as well as the Kraine Theater, was originally a tenement building. In the 1950s and ’60s, the Ukranian Labor Home, a social club for Ukranian socialists, occupied the building. They hosted banquets on the first floor and operated their own private speakeasy on the second floor. But before the Ukranian Labor Home bought the building in 1948, notorious gangster Lucky Luciano ran a speakeasy called the Palm Court there.
Today, the Red Room on the third floor operates as a speakeasy of sorts. Though most people climb the narrow marble stairs only up to the second floor, if you keep going up, you’ll find an unmarked red door. Cross the threshold and you’ll find yourself in an intimate speakeasy-style bar where the cocktails are throwbacks to the 1920s. Settle in with a Gin Rickey—F. Scott Fitzgerald’s favorite—a French 75 or a champagne cocktail with Angostura bitters.
While KGB hosts literary readings, the Red Room hosts a burlesque show on Friday nights and a jazz trio on Saturdays. The Cobras and the Banditas put on a double feature full of humor and intrigue, changing up their act every couple of weeks to develop their story. The performers interact with the audience, drawing spectators into their web.
On Fridays, chef Patricia Clark, the Red Room’s culinary artist in residence, serves light bites on a rotating menu. One week she might dole out truffle mac & cheese, lobster shepherd’s pie, wild mushroom risotto and handmade donuts. Another week there might be pulled pork sliders, nova lox tartines and absinthe petit fours.
Saturdays tend to be a bit more laid back, with the Seth Myers Trio performing jazz infused with the sounds of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Their music is enough to transport you to a timeless New York, where strangers become friends over a round of drinks and time inches on toward the wee hours of the morning.