Speakeasies and Secret Bars in NYC

We can't help being drawn to the prohibited, the clandestine, and the mysterious, which might explain the proliferation of secret bars and speakeasies in New York City that have been sprouting behind unmarked doors, faux storefronts, and subterranean basements for years. The drinking experience heightens as mystique grows, and anything involving surreptitious locales, secret passwords, or cryptic directions is bound to intrigue. From whiskey out of teacups to phone booth entrances, here is a collection of NYC's secret drinking dens and underground cocktail parlors.
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Cienfuegos -- CLOSED

95 Avenue A, New York City, NY 10009

Up a narrow, rickety staircase on Avenue A, lies a pastel-hued, whimsical den devoted to rum. There are comfortable arm chairs, twinkle lights, chandeliers; there is a turquoise room edged in white details, and a pink room that is sweet and dimly lit. There is a sense of magic in the air, mixed with mystery, and a mist of the tropical. And there is rum, lots of it. The punch is served in silver bowls from which one ladles the boozy concoctions, the decadent cocktails intrigue with their names and delight with their flavors, the flights are an education in rum. A small assortment of Cuban-inspired plates makes for yummy finger food in between the sips and swallows. The ambience (and the rum!) is sure to warm any rainy or wintery day.

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Back Room

102 Norfolk St, New York, NY 10002

The Back Room is the epitome of a speakeasy, with it’s faux toy store façade and an entrance that includes a creaking gate and dimly lit alley. Once you navigate the complexities, the reward is decadent and debaucherous, and the most wonderful sort of clandestine. Stepping inside feels like stepping into Gatsby’s drawing room- a cozy brick-faced fireplace is complimented by plush red Victorian armchairs and settees, paisley-patterned wallpaper, and tin ceilings. Cocktails are served out of mismatched teacups and beer comes concealed in paper bags. There’s even a secret within this secret- a bookcase conceals a doorway leading further into a hideaway reserved for A-listers and VIPs.

Apotheke

9 Doyers St #1, New York, NY 10013

Most secret bars require a bit of stealthy maneuvering, perhaps even a password, to get into. Finding Doyers Street alone, where Apotheke is located, is a bit of a maze-like experience. This bended alley in the very heart of Chinatown was once known as the “Bloody Angle” and site of many shootings and gang battles, and this secret cocktail parlor resides in what was once an opium den. Inspired by old European apothecaries as well as Parisian absinthe dens of the 19th century, Apotheke is a stunning, clandestine space where prescriptions come in the form of artfully crafted cocktails of the highest caliber. The utmost care goes into their preparation, with ingredients culled straight from the rooftop herb garden and organic produce sourced from local greenmarkets. Live jazz enhances the atmosphere most nights and Prohibition Wednesdays feature a special menu of classic cocktails. For a chance to play at boozy alchemy and bring some of these medicines home, the Apotheke Academy offers a handful of enlightening mixology and cocktail classes.

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PDT (Please Don't Tell)

113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009

Crif Dogs, the St. Mark’s Place hotdog haven, is a destination in itself- bacon-wrapped hotdogs served with a creative heaping of toppings and late night hours make this a must stop during East Village drinking sessions. But there is another reason to linger a little longer that has nothing to do with deep fried franks. The vintage phone booth lurking in the corner is a secret porthole into a speakeasy style lounge, PDT (Please Don’t Tell). Pick up the phone, press the buzzer, and await approval (reservations recommended!). Once you have made your super cool and sneaky entrance, an intimate, elegant space awaits, buzzing with a clandestine and illicit sort of ambience. The extensive cocktail list is creative and well crafted and food includes off-the-menu hotdog creations from next door.

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Beauty & Essex

146 Essex St, New York City, NY 10002

The sign looms bright and splendid above this pawn shop on Essex Street, where a collection of vintage guitars adorns the walls and all sorts of jewels and memorabilia gather dust behind glass cases and locked cabinets. But through a door manned by a suited up bouncer waits a swanky and glamorous lounge that’s all chandeliers and champagne. The food is delicious- think various tartares and carpaccios, lobster tacos, squid ink pasta- and the cocktails creative and strong. Prices are steep, but free champagne in the ladies room is a beautiful perk that will keep you coming back to powder your nose.

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Bathtub Gin

132 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

Inside Stone Street Coffee Company in Chelsea is an unmarked door hiding an after-hours surprise. There are no cappuccinos in sight in this 1920s-style speakeasy lounge, just elaborate cocktails and creative takes on gin. The namesake bathtub stands in the center and provides for cheeky amusement and selfie backdrop for tipsy patrons. Patterned wallpaper, plush seating and cozy booths, and a dim, intimate atmosphere give Bathtub Gin a definite speakeasy vibe, but it’s the popular live jazz shows and burlesque nights that make this a secret worth keeping.

Little Branch

22 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014

It’s easy to miss this one walking down Seventh Avenue in the West Village, as Little Branch lies behind an unmarked metal door. The only tip off is the bouncer before it, and perhaps a patron or two waiting to imbibe. This dim subterranean bar is all hushed, mellow ambience, cozy booths, pressed tin décor, and live jazz on certain nights, but the real stars of the show are the artfully and meticulously crafted cocktails. The suspender wearing mixologists tending bar are prone to alchemy, and if you want something besides the menu selection, tell them what mood you’re in and they’ll whip up a tailor-made concoction.

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Employees Only

510 Hudson St, New York City, NY 10014

A bright red neon sign advertising a psychic means that you have arrived at this West Village clandestine drinking den. And there really is a tarot card reader whose services you can chance in the foyer, but there are other things to absorb first, namely cocktails that will leave you weak in the knees. The space is dominated by an impressive bar manned by white lab coat-wearing bartenders who shake, stir, and swirl boozy brews of perfection. Try the Billionaire Cocktail, which involves bourbon and absinthe bitters, or the not-to-be-missed scrumptious Mata Hari, which blends cognac and pomegranate juice with chai-infused vermouth and is topped with a dried rosebud garnish. Food is delicious and a late night menu served until 3:30am makes this a place not to be missed on nocturnal adventures.

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Raines Law Room

48 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011

This Gatsby-esque drinking parlor holds all the marks of a speakeasy: elusive, exclusive, with a cocktail game to match. A ring of the buzzer and most often a bit of a wait will grant you access to this Prohibition-era lounge named after a NY law curbing alcohol consumption in the 1900s. The space is everything you would imagine a speakeasy to be- lots of dark wood, velvet ottomans, patterned wallpaper, tin ceiling. A pull of the string of your tableside buzzer will summon a waitress who shall deliver impeccable cocktails once you finally decide on one of the many to choose from.

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Angel's Share

8 Stuyvesant St, New York City, NY 10003

This one’s an adventure to get to, which is just part of the fun. Head to Japanese restaurant Village Yokocho in the East Village, where you will find an unmarked door tucked at the back. This will grant you entrance to another world, one that impresses with a giant angel painting above the bar, huge windows overlooking street life below, and the distinct atmosphere of a private club. Jazz quietly tinkers away and Japanese bartenders concoct novelty cocktails at the bar. The rules are strict and strictly adhered to- no standing allowed, no raised voices, no groups of more than four- but help to maintain the intimate ambience of this hideaway.

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Nitecap

151 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002

This underground cocktail bar resides in the basement of Schapiro’s restaurant in the LES. Cozy, dimly lit, with lots of exposed brick and a massive menu chock full of playful cocktails, cheeky jokes, games, and tutorials, Nitecap is like your easy-going, fun friend on this speakeasy landscape of the upscale and often contrived. Expertly crafted boozy concoctions are de rigueur and expected from the people behind cocktail kingdoms Death & Co and Maison Premiere. Food is, of course, courtesy of Schapiro’s upstairs. Perhaps the only debatable thing about it is the name, because with drinks this good and a menu this vast, you’ll want to spend more than just the tail end of your night here.

The Garret

2nd Floor, 296 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014, United States

On the corner of Bleecker Street and Barrow in the West Village is a much beloved fast food institution- Five Guys. But the second floor of this red brick-faced establishment hides a surprise. The Garret is a bar accessed via staircase tucked into the back of the burger joint, a loft-like space that was once home to a sports pub. The space has been transformed into a beautiful bar that’s more art house than frat, featuring exposed brick walls, glass chandeliers dangling below vaulted skylights, a brick fireplace, and a medley of eclectic décor including vintage hourglasses and a taxidermied rhinoceros head. The specialty cocktails are spot on and creative (think egg whites, chocolate bitters, chili infused vermouth, seaweed garnishes, etc.) and food includes off-the-menu Five Guys burgers that you will find nowhere else.

Last updated at Mar 15, 2018