Decades of NYC: The 1920s

The 1920s revival in NYC scales new heights at a dazzling July 4th party. We show you how to live like a bon vivant every day.

  • Archangel Antiques

  • Archangel Antiques

  • Archangel Antiques

  • Clover Club

  • Photograph: Yoni Goldberg

    Dandy Wellington

  • Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra

  • The Minsky Sisters

  • Otto Dix

Archangel Antiques


Anyone with eyes has surely noticed all the Jazz Age--inspired bistros and suspendered bartenders slinging Prohibition-era cocktails around town, not to mention the fedoras and brogues that have become de rigueur attire for any self-respecting hipster. It's indicative of a larger scene at work, one that embraces the fashion, free-spiritedness and culture of the Roaring '20s. "There are so many elements to the scene," says event producer, musician and dapper man-about-town Dandy Wellington, one of the organizers behind The Liberty Belle Spectacular (Empire Hotel Rooftop, 44 W 63rd St at Broadway; 212-265-7400,; 7pm; $25, advance $20), taking place on Sunday 4. "It's a whole lifestyle," Wellington explains. "It's what you eat, what you drink, what you wear and where you go; it's what you listen to; it's how you have fun. It's all those things combined."

The Spectacular offers the curious an opportunity to see the '20s scene in full swing: Party planners Champagne Riot, Wit's End, Dances of Vice and the Salon (all of whom have hosted anachronistic events around the city) have concocted one glorious party, featuring burlesque, tap dancing courtesy of the Minsky Sisters, and old-timey jazz music from Gelber and Manning (see story, for more on them). Even better, you can clutch your nattily attired beloved while watching the Fourth of July fireworks from the rooftop of the Empire Hotel. If your interest is piqued, pop a cloche hat on your head and take a peek at some of our favorite '20s-inspired spots in the city.

Wellington suggests chowing down on a speakeasy-style meal at The Smith (55 Third Ave between 10th and 11th Sts; 212 420 9800,, which he likes for its dark interiors and antiquated atmosphere. "The images on the walls, the wood that they use, the light fixtures... It's almost like you're in a 1920s barbershop," he explains. "And the drinks menu is exquisite—100 percent '20s." Chow down on classic comfort food like a chilled shrimp cocktail ($10) and a Caesar salad ($9)—both popular dishes during the decade—and be sure to arch an eyebrow while you're eating. Linger over an old-fashioned ($11) as you gawk at the vintage photos that line the walls.

See work by one of the era's most interesting Expressionist painters at "Otto Dix," currently on view at the Neue Galerie (1048 Fifth Ave at 86th St; 212-628-6200,; $15, seniors and students $10; through Aug 30). The late German artist captured the so-called "Golden Era" of Weimar Germany—which hit right around the same time as America's Roaring '20s—in brilliantly rendered portraits, including a vivid red painting of performance artist--dancer Anita Berber.

In the old days, folks would dress up nice for church and then hit the park for an elaborate picnic; emulate them by grabbing a parasol and waltzing through the Sheep Meadow in Central Park (enter at Central Park West and 66th St, In the '20s, sheep actually roamed the field, but nowadays you're more likely to see sunbathers catching some rays. Don a vintage swimming costume if you'd like to join them.

In this scene, mixing has nothing to do with records and turntables; a mixologist is the magician behind the bar waiting to fix you a perfect sidecar or a classic Manhattan. There are all sorts of secret haunts around town, like Please Don't Tell ( and Death and Company (, but we dig the vibe and the quaffs at Clover Club (210 Smith St between Baltic and Butler Sts, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; 718-855-7939,, which features exposed brickwork, ornate chandeliers and smartly dressed barmen. "It even smells vintage," Wellington happily notes. Named after a group of Philadelphia journalists who used to meet at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel before Prohibition to tell witty anecdotes and drink each other into the ground, the joint offers a signature cocktail ($12), made out of gin, raspberry syrup and dry vermouth. Other old-timey sips you can sample include a bourbon smash ($12), with mint, lemon juice and Kentucky's favored tipple; or a French 75 ($12), made from gin and lemon juice and topped with champagne.

Stylish duds are a requirement for any '20s fanatic. "This is definitely not a pretentious scene," Wellington says (even though he admits to owning four top hats). "But we want people look presentable." And by that, he doesn't mean throw on a slip and a ratty flapper headband; he means, y'know, show some flair. Ladies would do well to check out 10ft Single by Stella Dallas (285 North 6th St between Havemeyer St and Meeker Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-486-9482), a sprawling den of vintage goodies that run the gamut from cheap scarves to beautiful lace gowns (from $65). Gentlemen should try Archangel Antiques (334 E 9th St between First and Second Aves, 212-260-9313), which specializes in buttons, tie clips, collar pins—the kind of baubles Jay Gatsby might have dreamed of. (Ladies can also find accessories like cloche hats.) Expect to pay $100 for a pair of authentic cufflinks, and be aware that the prices are always negotiable.

Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra ( are justly celebrated stalwarts of New York's '20s-loving crowd, best known for throwing the annual Jazz Age Lawn Party. The 12-piece brass band not only looks the part, but delivers a truly swoonworthy take on hot-dance jazz; catch 'em at their next soiree on Governors Island, taking place July 17 and 18 ($10, advance $7), and again at the end of August. Worried about your two left feet? If you arrive early at most '20s-style gigs, you can polish up your skills at a free dance class. "There's a code to the dance floor," Wellington warns. "The outside lane, the border of the dance floor, is the traveling lane. Be aware of swing-dance etiquette!"

See more in Own This City