Best speakeasy bars and restaurants
At Peachy’s, you’re bound to break half of the rules. NO PHOTOS, NO FIGHTING, the hot-pink neon-lit sign commands as you descend below Doyers Street into the Chinese Tuxedo–owned cocktail bar. While nothing stirred us to brawl (the edict is a shout-out to the street’s historic gang violence), it’s harder to resist snapping pics of the cool-kid cavern with its Gucci tiger-print wallpaper, flickering candles and flower arrangements that could be plucked straight from a wedding at the Plaza. Indeed, the bar is all #vibes, right down to the cocktails.
Most speakeasies are dark and cavernous but The Hidden Pearl, from the team behind Donna, is anything but with skylights and airy interior design. Located in the the back of Wanpaku Ramen, tropical Japanese cocktails and sake are complemented by small plates like salmon skin chicarron, fried baby octopus and uni shooters.
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.
The whimsical spot is stacked with Middle Eastern decor and tea-based drinks, all behind a hidden entrance. Well, “hidden.” The unlabeled bar does sit behind the back wall of the East Village’s Mediterranean restaurant Local92, but its bright-teal keyhole door, illuminated by a gleaming spotlight, isn't that hard to find. Once you push past it, you’ll find an intimate, pint-size cocktail bar that’s outfitted with blue-tiled tabletops, dangling Moroccan pendant lights and exposed brick walls dotted with antique mirrors.
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.
Enter through Saxon + Parole's restaurant and let them know you're looking for The Poni Room. The name is the secret code word to enter a subterranean seated bar and restaurant, with a totally separate menu from the upstairs East Village mainstay. The Poni Room is loosely aquatic-themed, with seashell decor details, napkins that look like sails, and water and wine served from fish jugs.
Doing laundry is... fun? at this Greenpoint laundromat that fronts an arcade bar behind a two stacked "dryers." Play dozens of pinball games while sipping on one of eight rotating draft beers at the playful dive bar.
Pass three spiral staircases inside the newish Italian restaurant Gran Tivoli to get to this semisecret cocktail lounge. Practically lifted from the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Peppi’s is all retro cool, with deep, intimate booths, antique lights and a tiny stage for lively jazz combos.
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.
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.
Beneath the Brooklyn Heights bistro Chez Moi, sits this much-less-quaint, Marie Antoinette–inspired speakeasy designed after the her private chambers at the Château de Versailles.The bar channels its audacious queen with silver-plated chalices, neoclassical paintings and even a doorknob lifted from Marie’s actual bedroom. Created by Franky Marshall (the Dead Rabbit), cocktails err on the side of excessive, but what else would you expect?
To explore Antarctica, Sir Ernest Shackleton had to live on floating ice sheets after his ship was trapped and eventually crushed by an ice pack. To get to Banzarbar, a Lower East Side speakeasy inspired by those 20th-century expeditions, one has to wander through a graffiti-tagged alleyway and wait on some floral couches. Same difference. The intimate bar is tucked inside the second floor of Freemans and feels like a formal yet comfortable 18th-century seaside tavern, thanks to the olive-green paneling, seafaring paintings and burning candlesticks.
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.
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.
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 and revamped the historic space, slightly tightening the room and dividing it into a front restaurant and back barroom.
This Restaurant Row gem serves dual symbiotic purposes: Whether you’re an actor in need of a stiff drink, or a Great White Way fan looking for a dose of backstage gossip, swank watering hole Centrale is just the place to get both. The elegant space comes alive after curtain call (around 11pm), when folks like Nathan Lane start to roll in. Drinks—such as pricey martinis and Manhattans—are competently made and ample, if a bit fussy in presentation. Despite this grievance, Bar Centrale succeeds because it exudes a quality that often escapes the geeky world of theater: It’s cool.
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.
The conceit of this saloon may seem a bit tired: Yes, it's another hidden Prohibition-style speakeasy, this one showcasing a copper bathtub at its center. But the drinks list was created by fresh talent on New York's cocktail circuit. To eat, find comfort-food small plates—braised beef short rib sliders and truffle mushroom ricotta cavatelli have been featured.
"Turn left at the ketchup dispenser,” a red-capped burger flipper will tell you after you’ve spent 10 minutes lost and confused at the West Village Five Guys. Yes, tucked in back of the patty joint is a clandestine staircase leading to a second-floor loft, rigged with glass chandeliers, a fireplace mantel tumbling with dusty hourglasses and a well-stocked bar. With its art-house crowd and equally creative cocktails, this clearly ain’t your average burger bar.
The bad news: This covert Japanese-influenced restaurant, which sits beyond a butcher shop on Great Jones Street, has no published phone number. And the only surefire way to reserve a spot at this 25-seater is to get its digits from a previous diner. (You can also try your luck by emailing email@example.com with the subject line “Visit Enquiry” for a chance to be selected for a reservation.) The good news: Getting into the super-exclusive space, which was once home to Jean-Michel Basquiat, will give you bragging rights for months.
The live piano music of this underground bar is reflective of its overall triptych: cozy, cultured and curious. The Moulin Rouge motif of tufted red-velvet banquettes and flirty fringed lampshades, and the performative speakeasy style, have been wildly overdone. Thankfully, Bo Peep’s winking bedroom eyes easily shift their gaze, widening at the liquid riddles of its lavish cocktail list, or playfully eye-rolling when an oldie-but-goodie ballad tickles the ivories, or just smizing at the comfort of being both fancyfree and formal (well, formal-ish).
You’ll have to work to find this midtown sake den, but the reward is worth the effort. First, go through the unmarked lobby of an office building, then down some stairs and along a basement corridor. There you’ll find a quiet room done up in understated bamboo and blond wood, where 200 types of sake, categorized by grade, await.
For access to this ersatz speakeasy, look for a sign that reads THE LOWER EAST SIDE TOY COMPANY. Pass through the gate, walk down an alleyway and up a set of stairs to find a dimly lit den fitted with a gleaming bar. Cocktails are poured into teacups, and bottled beer is brown-bagged before being served. A trick bookcase leads to the real “back room,” a VIP-only lounge.
There's much more that meets the eye at this ice cream shop on the Upper East Side (get it?). Head to the back of the pint-sized store, ask to see the "storage room," and enter a secret cocktail bar with uptown-inspired drinks, like "Gossip Girl on the East" and "Absolutely Bradshaw." If nothing else can get you to head all the way to the Upper East, let booze and ice cream be your carrot and stick.
Adding to La Superior and Cerveceria Havemeyer, Felipe Mendez completes his trinity of Mexican concepts with this storefront deli-cum-mescal speakeasy. Accessible through a freezer door in the deli is the 25-seat, reservation-only agave bar and “listening room,” where guests are treated to raw mescals, tequilas, ceviche and live DJ sets. (The room sports a vintage jukebox and floor-to-ceiling wood paneling for top-notch acoustics.)