Speakeasies have become synonymous with New York nightlife, from their origins during Prohibition to their more recent renaissance, first brought forth by the late Sasha Petraske of the bar Milk & Honey in the 2000s. Many modern speakeasies are often hidden behind something kitsch — a phone booth or maybe a faux pawn shop. To find a speakeasy behind a business that is actually real and useful to the neighborhood is always a nice surprise.
One of New York City’s newest speakeasies is The Little Shop, located near the South Street Seaport on Front Street between Peck Slip and the Brooklyn Bridge overpass. The Little Shop is fronted by a fully-stocked bodega where you can get your basic necessities, including coffee for $1.50, chips, sandwiches, batteries, condoms, groceries, medicine, and more. “Purveyor of Fine & Junk Foods,” is its tagline. But in the back, just past the Nishiki rice and sugar, you’ll find a sliding door that leads to a hidden bar.
The Little Shop is the creation of Philippe Boujnah and Anna Bazhenova, who met at an advertising agency in New York City. Concept-wise, the bodega was the nucleus. “The neighborhood demanded it,” Bazhenova tells us, “There’s no little shop in the neighborhood,” which has become predominantly residential and family-oriented. A few blocks away is South Street Seaport, but it lacks the kind of retail that caters to people who just need to pick something up around the corner from where they live. On our recent visit, there was a regular stream of locals and customers coming from the New Amsterdam film shoot taking place nearby.
But The Little Shop was always conceived as a two-part experience, with the speakeasy in the back. Boujnah, who lives upstairs, tells us, “It always made sense, to fill a void in the neighborhood, not just for the bodega, because that was definitely a necessity, but also just to have a place that was quiet and comfortable, you know, have a little bit more of a home feeling, a convivial feeling of the neighborhood.”
The speakeasy behind The Little Shop has been designed to feel like a living room. Almost all of the decor, down to the vintage glasses the drinks are served in, were sourced from the Brimfield Flea Market in Massachusetts. Some items come from nearby residents. “We have sets of things that are very unique. They all have a story, they all have a little bit of life,” says Boujnah. Bazhenova adds the decor is a celebration of Maximalism but mostly “we really wanted people to feel comfortable,” says Boujnah. The paintings are by the artist Aicha Zarrouk, a friend of Bazhenova and Boujnah.
The organic feel to The Little Shop crosses over into the cocktail and food menu, which is intended to be unfussy but rooted in quality products. “It’s really about the main ingredients,” says Boujnah about the cocktail menu, “We tried not to be too creative about the names.” The cocktails have names like Tumeric and Double Hot Chocolate and Ginger.
The food menu melds the many cultural influences that make New York’s collective cuisine, and Boujnah describes the menu as having a “New York flair to the international aspect of the food. New York is one of the only places in the world where you can have dumplings and empanadas and a short rib sandwich on the same menu.” At The Little Shop, you’ll find torched shishito peppers in takoyaki sauce with bonito flakes and sesame, and a whitefish dip, among other small bites. And if you want a bodega sandwich as the night gets late, you can get that too.
“People really do think of us when they need something in a pinch,” Bazhenova says proudly of The Little Shop. Both owners see it as an evolving project. “The whole point of this place is that nothing’s set in stone. It lives with the neighborhood and grows continuously with it,” says Boujnah.
The bar at The Little Shop, located at 252 Front Street, is open every day except Mondays, from 5 PM to 12 AM Sunday to Thursday, and 5 PM to 1 AM on Friday and Saturday.
Stay tuned for the second edition of our book New York Hidden Bars & Restaurants, releasing in late 2020.