Courtesy, Patent Pending
You probably weren’t around during Prohibition, when speakeasies were essential for New Yorkers looking to throw one back. Though we in NYC may not need secret bars any more, that doesn’t mean the rush of walking up a secret staircase or knocking on an unmarked door is obsolete. New York City still has a trove of incognito drinking dens hiding in unexpected places—under restaurants, inside ice cream shops, behind laundromats—that add a thrill to any night out. We’ll break down how to spot some of our favorite hidden bars below, and you’ll decide if the effort of finding the place makes its drinks taste that much better.
The Back Room. Photo: Troy Hahn
Outside: Look for a nondescript white sign on a gate that reads “Lower East Side Toy Company,” pass through and walk down a back alley, then ascend a set of stairs. Once inside, there’s a two-level lounge. Look for a sliding trick bookcase at the back of the upper level, which leads to a VIP area.
Inside: You’re stepping into a piece of history—this bar is set in what was a Prohibition-era speakeasy. In the 1920s, theater and film actors rubbed elbows with famed gangsters like Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano within its walls. The opulent red-lit, wood-paneled and chandelier-accented space is an homage to its roots, from the vintage couches to the drinks: cocktails are served in teacups, and bottled beer is offered in paper bags.
Outside: An old-school barbershop serves as the alter ego and entrance for this East Village favorite (which also has a newer iteration in the Moxy Times Square hotel). Book an appointment (the barbershop is open till 8pm, and you can get a haircut prior to retiring to the backroom lounge.
Inside: Pass through a sliding door at the back of the barbershop to get to Blind Barber’s bar space, where a dance floor and plenty of drink and pizza options await. Try a refreshing sip like the Batman—made with gin, rosolio, Pineau des Charentes, cava and mint.
Courtesy, Fig. 19
Outside: A white-walled art gallery is the first thing you’ll see at 131 Chrystie St. Go through a door at the very back of the space and you’ll find this low-lit cocktail lounge.
Inside: Perhaps in a nod to Prohibition, the menu here has plenty of rye- and gin-based drinks, like the Vanishing Point with vanilla- and cinnamon-infused gin, lemon and egg white. Make it a highbrow evening by sipping on-tap prosecco while you discuss the art you saw on the way through the gallery.
The Garret West Village. Courtesy: The Garret Group
Outside: This West Village spot is best described as “that bar above Five Guys.” That’s accurate; enter by passing all the way through the casual burger joint, through an unmarked door and up the black staircase.
Inside: Once you’ve made it past the burgers and fries, settle into this relaxed drinking den. It’s styled like a cozy living room, one where you’ll feel equally comfortable with a Montauk Cold Day IPA or a bourbon cocktail in hand. (For the latter, try The Beatles at Shea, made with black tea- and peach-infused bourbon, chipotle agave, lemon and mint).
La Esquina. Photo: Eduard Hueber
Outside: This ever-popular Soho spot has a diner-style taqueria as its upper-level entrance, where you can order tacos and grab a stool with a people-watching view.
Inside: Snag a reservation at the clubby subterranean lounge and a host will guide you beyond the casual upstairs portion, past the kitchen. Do your best to see and be seen in this dimly lit space while enjoying plenty of tacos and a killer margarita.
Courtesy, Le Boudoir
Outside: Brooklyn Heights bistro Chez Moi provides an elegant cover for Le Boudoir. This romantic bar occupies a secret tunnel space underneath the restaurant, accessible through a fake bookcase doorway.
Inside: The interior of this cocktail hideaway was inspired by Marie Antoinette’s private chambers. Expect to see oil paintings, bronze busts and crystal glassware. Get your Versailles on with a glass of something bubbly.
Courtesy, Patent Pending
Outside: Before 5pm, this spot operates as a friendly neighborhood coffee shop, Patent Coffee, in Nomad. After hours, the café space becomes an entryway leading to an unassuming back door. A cocktail bar waits on the other side.
Inside: Built in the basement of the Radio Wave Building where Nikola Tesla performed his experiments, Patent Pending channels its location by sorting drinks into categories like “Vibration,” “Frequency” and “Energy.” Snag a candlelit booth to try one of the carefully crafted beverages, like the Light Me Up with bourbon, Jamaican rum, amaro and Szechuan peppercorn.
Outside: Contrary to what the establishment’s name suggests, we’re happy to direct you to their James Beard Award–winning bar. Head to the East Village location of Crif Dogs, and then walk into the glass-and-wood-paneled vintage phone booth located on the left wall. A sign next to a red rotary phone will instruct you to ring just once, after which you’ll be granted entry.
Inside: Taxidermied animals dot the brick walls of the cozy space, which is lined with tufted leather banquettes and intimate two-seat tables. At the back is a wood bar, where craft cocktails like the Cascade—which mixes vodka, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, pineapple and champagne—are served up alongside upscale versions of burgers, hot dogs and tater tots.
Outside: Don’t mind the friendly Greenpointers folding their hoodies in this fully operational laundromat. Just pass through to the back door that conceals the (slightly) less practical side of Sunshine.
Inside: This divey pinball bar is perfect for a low-key date or a quick drink between loads of laundry. Draft beers rotate, but you’re sure to see some local Brooklyn brews like the Evil Twin Modern IPA or Greenpoint Milk & Honey blonde ale.
Outside: As you may have guessed, this hidden spot is located on the Upper East Side, specifically within a functional ice cream shop. Walk into the bubblegum-pink storefront, ask to see the storage room, and you’ll be led through a concealed door to the bar.
Inside: The color palette of UES’s bar space—gilded columns and black leather banquettes—is much less cotton candy than its scoop shop exterior. Cocktails show neighborhood pride with names like the Second Avenue Subway, which is a mix of maraschino liqueur, blood orange, sparkling wine and lemon sorbet.