“The parties were bigger, the pace was faster, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser and the liquor was cheaper.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald on the 1920s in The Great Gatsby
It’s night time and the city is filled with revelers succumbing to libations and roaming from bar to bar in the East Village. You spot a hot dog joint tucked away in the crevices of St. Marks Place where the smell of frankfurters and fries entice you to enter. To the knowing stranger this small eatery is so much more than a quick stop for fast food but rather is a portal to another world, another era. In the corner of the restaurant sits a solitary telephone booth oddly out of place among the arcade games being used as tables. Unbeknownst to the casual hot dog eater, the back of the booth can swing open to reveal a hidden bar. This is a speakeasy.
Back in the heyday of the Prohibition-era, speakeasies were establishments that turned their cheek to the law by selling illegal liquor to patrons. Coined speakeasies because of the practice of ‘speaking quietly’ about such places in public, speakeasies became “in-the-know” spots for getting a good drink. Whether tucked away behind a store front or hidden behind the wall of a pawn shop, speakeasies took on an air of mystery, secrecy and excitement that still exists in New York today.
In 2013, the Prohibition-era is far behind us and the ban on alcohol has thankfully been lifted but speakeasies remain a portal to a time where our country was blossoming with change and buzzing with excitement. In present day New York, flapper culture takes form in the annual Jazz Age Lawn Party and 1920s inspired locales; the following places evoke the feel of the ‘Roaring 20s’ and prove there is more than meets the eye.
The Back Room
102 Norfolk St
The Back Room is a speakeasy hidden behind the façade of the LOWER EAST SIDE TOY COMPANY in Manhattan. Easily missed, the entrance is simply a worn down sign over a rusty gate on Norfolk Street. Proving the old adage true of “not to judge a book by its cover,” guests who pass through the gate; walk down an alleyway and up a solitary flight of stairs will discover a 1920s-inspired speakeasy. The Back Room boasts chandeliers, a tin ceiling, plush couches and Victorian-esq decor. In true Prohibition-era style, The Back Room masks its cocktails by serving drinks in teacups and beers in brown bags as though the “coppers” (1920s slang for police) might burst in at any moment.
113 St. Marks Place
PDT (or Please Don’t Tell) is an East Village speakeasy with an entrance hidden inconspicuously inside a phone booth at Crif Dogs. PDT is home to celebrated mixologist, Jim Meehan, who serves up creative cocktails alongside Crif Dogs’ laid back fare. Oddly, the match up of classic cocktails with finger food works and lends a playful air to this coveted speakeasy. Meehan also whips up original cocktail concoctions, such as a re-imagined ‘Old Fashioned’ with bacon infused bourbon to name a few. Note: PDT only accepts reservations starting at 3pm the day of; if wishing to walk through the phone booth try giving PDT a call.
Beauty & Essex
146 Essex Street
Under the blaring display of Beauty & Essex is a humble, fluorescent lit pawn shop with a secret entrance. Behind the pawn shop cashier a back wall pushes open to a lavish restaurant that reveals the real beauty of Beauty & Essex. Beauty & Essex boasts chandeliers, a tasty dinner menu and champagne that never ceases to flow. For women, the ladies room at Beauty & Essex gives a respite from dinner by offering plush, velvet couches and pink champagne to all who enter.
Raines Law Room
48 West 17th Street
Named after the 1896 law meant to dampen New York’s liquor consumption, Raines Law Room is a speakeasy in Chelsea featuring a Jazz Age vibe. Hidden behind a solitary door, guests must press the buzzer to enter the windowless space that features turn-of-the-century décor and antiques. Private tables at Raines Law Room feature a buzzer for the server, to ensure you never catch sight of the bottom of your glass.
132 Ninth Avenue
Tucked away inside the Stone Street Coffee Company, Bathtub Gin is a small bar featuring a pressed tin ceiling and silk couches. Rather than focus on the homemade liquor of its namesake, Bathtub Gin features pre-Prohibition era cocktails. Beyond the expansive cocktail list, Bathtub Gin is known for their copper bathtub placed prominently in the middle of the bar; the copper bathtub has become a fun photo opportunity for night time revelers.
*My article is also shared on The Hostel Life here: http://www.thehostellife.com/news/item/501