In a city as vibrant and storied as New York, there’s no telling how many hidden architectural gems, in-the-know parties and clandestine art galleries lay unnoticed to the greater masses—ditto with NYC’s best speakeasy bars and restaurants. From an unmarked gin parlor slinging serious cocktails to tasting-menu Japanese food served behind an unassuming butcher shop, these are the best restaurants and bars offering great eats and drinks on the down low.
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Best speakeasy bars and restaurants
Walk through an unmarked side door at the front of Japanese restaurant Village Yokocho, and you’ll find yourself in perhaps the classiest joint in the East Village. Angel’s Share remains completely unknown to some of its neighbors; that duality is part of its charm. Standing around and large groups are not allowed—but this is really a date place anyway, offering a stellar view of Stuyvesant Square, tuxedoed bartenders and excellent cocktails, including one of the city’s best grasshoppers.
This Milk and Honey spin-off keeps same bespoke protocol as its forebear: At the brushed-steel bar, suspender-clad drinks slingers stir off-the-cuff riffs to suit each customer’s boozy preference. Wistful boozers can seek solace in Petraske-era standard-bearers, like Ross’s signature Penicillin, a still-inspiring blend of Laphroaig ten-year, honey-ginger syrup and lemon. A beguiling, dust-covered window still reads "tailors M&H alterations," and you'll need to use the old knock-and-buzz system to gain entry.
The entrance to this taxidermy-strewn saloon is hidden behind an old phone booth inside Crif Dogs. Pick up the receiver and a hostess opens the back wall of the booth. Inside, a team of barkeeps offer thoughtful cocktail creations. The staff is happy to talk you through any libation on the menu, or suggest an haute dog brought in from next door. It’s that kind of dedication that makes getting in worth the effort.
Tucked behind a door in the back of their Fort Greene restaurant, Walter’s, lies this windowless Japanese speakeasy, moodily set with midnight-blue walls, wooden kumiko screens and shelves of 1950s jazz records. At a curved marble-and-mahogany bar, the bartenders turn out modern Japanese cocktails in vintage glassware, as well as a curated selection of Japanese sake. Shareable izakaya plates come courtesy of co-chefs Yael Peet (Shuko, Frankie’s) and Elena Yamamoto.
A fortune teller greets patrons at this comfortably-worn reproduction of a prohibition speakeasy. There’s a rousing scene in front, a mix of diehard regulars and industry types who jockey for the attentions of the chef-coat–clad barkeeps. Of all of the city’s craft cocktail joints Employees Only is among the most populist, with enough nerd-baiting tipples on the menu to please aficionados without alienating everyone else.
Yes, through that heavy, unmarked wooden door on Bedford St—the same one that welcomed New York literati like William Faulkner, E.E. Cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay all those years ago—lies the landmark speakeasy, which opened back in 1922. Following a chimney collapse in 2007, the bar was in limbo for the better part of a decade before Sushi Nakazawa restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone partnered with longtime owner Jim Miller last year and revamped the historic space, slightly tightening the room and dividing it into a front restaurant and back barroom.
It’s a scene straight out of Midnight in Paris—or maybe Back to the Future—all golden-age yearning and space-time shuffling. This dapper Gramercy lounge, from Raines Law Room operators is a railroad space divided into period-piece quarters, including a tufted Victorian parlor and an ashtray-dotted hooch den worthy of Don Draper. Spend an hour at this luxe oasis and you’ll completely lose track of time—no DeLorean required.
As befits cocktail progenitor Sasha Petraske’s liquid legacy, the drinks at this clubby, low-ceilinged Village rathskeller are nigh perfect. If you choose to deviate from the menu, just give the neatly attired, polite bartenders a base liquor and a hint of your mood, and they can tailor a drink on the fly. A call for rye got us a spot-on Italian twist on a Manhattan, featuring maraschino liqueur, Carpano Antica vermouth and amaro. Custom-made cocktails—no password or secret handshake required.
There’s a lot to say about the Office. The speakeasy, from the all-star team behind Chicago’s trailblazing bar the Aviary, is in the elevated lobby of the five-star Mandarin Oriental New York. The plush midcentury-modern decor is a cross between a James Bond hangout and a Ralph Lauren catalog. The cocktails are $23 a pop. Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s talk about panache. The bottled tinctures and rare spirits are put to good use in the bar’s “dealer’s choice” option: Imbibers can name a drink, a movie, a feeling—anything—along with a number from 1 to 10—10 being most adventurous.
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Though Ryan’s Daughter only opened in 1979, there has been a bar at the same Upper East Side location since the Prohibition era. Over the years, the pub has maintained the same welcoming feel and today, it still plays host to plenty of neighborhood events. Stop by on the first Wednesday of every month to watch the unofficial UES poll championships. From time to time, the upstairs bar even hosts performances of plays written by local thespians. During the colder months, sip on an Irish coffee to warm up—Ryan’s Daughter offers both the classic recipe and one spiked with whiskey and Bailey’s—or a hot toddy. The bar has an extensive list of beers on tap, including their own house ale ($5), Paulaner hefeweizen ($6) and Six Point “The Crisp” Pilz ($6). The usual suspects—Budweiser ($5), Corona ($6) and Pabst Blue Ribbon ($4)—appear in bottles or cans, but the best deal might be the pairing of a can of Narragansett Del’s Shandy with a well shot ($9).
Venue says: “Join us every Monday night for themed quizzes in our cozy second floor bar. $50 bar tab to the winning team. Prizes for the "losers" too”