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 (Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson)1/6
Photograph: Caroline Voagen NelsonVintage New York: retro hangouts & their modern equivalents Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade
 (Photograph: Donald Yip)2/6
Photograph: Donald YipVintage New York: retro hangouts & their modern equivalents The Ear Inn
Photograph: photobytone.comVintage New York: retro hangouts & their modern equivalents Down & Derby Roller Disco
Vintage New York: retro hangouts & their modern equivalents Nuyorican Poets Cafe
Vintage New York: retro hangouts & their modern equivalents Bathtub Gin
 (Photograph: Rick Ochoa)6/6
Photograph: Rick OchoaVintage New York: retro hangouts & their modern equivalents Brooklyn Swings

Vintage New York: Retro hangouts and their modern equivalents

It’s easy to forget that you’re in the 21st century at these NYC venues, inspired by vintage New York hangouts like speakeasies and poetry clubs.

By Rebecca Fishbein

It is possible to time-travel to past decades in New York City—well, sort of. To immerse yourself in the retro NYC scene, head to one of these throwback venues, inspired by vintage New York hangouts like 1920s-inspired speakeasies, poetry clubs, roller-skating rinks and more.

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Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

The hangout: Video arcade

Where to go now: Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade
Though the golden age of pinball machines and hulking Pac-Man consoles has passed, the allure of video arcades remains strong. (See for yourself at Barcade in Williamsburg on a Friday night—there’s nary an available game in sight.) Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade, which opened on the Lower East Side last winter, offers plenty of vintage titles (including Raiders of the Lost Ark–themed pinball, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter and Tetris), and games range in price from 25 cents to a buck. Unlike the strip-mall arcades you may have frequented in high school, Two-Bit’s also serves beer (including $3.75 cans of PBR), wine and sake, so you can have an adult beverage while you do your best to evade Blinky and Pinky. 212-477-8161,

The Ear Inn
Photograph: Donald Yip

The hangout: Saloon

Bars Dive bars West Village

Where to go now: The Ear Inn
In the 19th century, seafaring men who ended up on New York’s shores frequented saloons, where they could sate their eating, drinking and gambling needs all at once. The Ear Inn was one such establishment, though it was initially unnamed—and open only to men—and has also served brief stints as a brothel and a smugglers’ den. Now the landmarked Soho spot is on the up-and-up (and serves ladies, too). It’s retained some of its original decor, including signs from the 1800s, and displays vintage artifacts like apothecary bottles and pots for beer-making. Order a Guinness ($6.50) and the joint’s sirloin burger ($9.50), and if you’re lucky, you’ll be joined by ghostly dinner guests—the Ear Inn is rumored to be haunted by sailors left behind by their ships.

Down & Derby Roller Disco

The hangout: Roller rink

Where to go now: Down & Derby Roller Disco
Although the number of roller rinks in NYC has dwindled greatly since their ’70s and ’80s heyday, the multicity Down & Derby Roller Disco party’s been trying to bring the spirit of those spots back. The group has held pop-up roller-skating bashes throughout the city, most recently in Gowanus; each event draws hundreds of partygoers decked out in leg warmers, neon and other period-appropriate costumes. Rent a pair of quad skates for $5, then get down to a selection of hits curated by resident DJ Rok One and a rotating roster of spinners (including local legend Justin Strauss). Next party: SRB Brooklyn, 177 Second Ave at 14th St, Gowanus, Brooklyn ( Date TBA; $10, with R.S.V.P. $6.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe
Photograph: Courtesy Time Out New York

The hangout: Poetry reading

Theater Performing arts space East Village

Where to go now: Nuyorican Poets Cafe
Poetry cafés have roots dating to post-WWII New York, when budding underground writers would stage group readings in apartments or salons. This East Village institution, founded in the 1970s, was frequented by local literary heavyweights like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and hosted the city’s first poetry slam, in 1989. Today, Nuyorican is still a major presence in New York’s cultural scene, holding nightly readings and open mikes, theater performances and other diverse events. Newcomers should stop by for the popular Friday night poetry slams ($10–$20), when local talents take to the stage to show off their wordsmithery.


The hangout: Speakeasy

Bars Cocktail bars Chelsea

Where to go now: Bathtub Gin
After booze was banned in 1919, drinkers were driven to speakeasies stocked with black-market beverages and home-distilled alcohol. Long after Prohibition was repealed, the allure of these exclusive, illicit spots made a comeback, and this Chelsea bar—hidden behind a coffeeshop—evokes that era with dim lighting, old-timey fixtures and classic cocktails. Try the citrusy Sloe Gin Ginger Sling ($15), which combines the bar’s namesake liquor with cherry Heering, lime juice, apricot liqueur, ginger extract and Perrier. Get into the hotsy-totsy spirit with Wasabassco Burlesque’s salacious weekly shows (Sun 8:30pm, Tue 9:30pm; free).

Beginner and Intermediate Class at Brooklyn Swings
Photograph: Rick Ochoa

The hangout: Swing-dancing club

Where to go now: Brooklyn Swings
During swing dancing’s midcentury heyday, clubs and ballrooms from Harlem to the Lower East Side hosted Charleston competitions. Brooklyn Swings helps the curious re-create that atmosphere during its biweekly lessons, geared toward novice dancers. Each session kicks off with an hour of Level 1 dancing led by founder Jenny Sowden, who has trained as a dancer for more than two decades; that’s followed by a half-hour open practice. By the end, your moves will put even the fastest Lindy Hopper to shame. G&S Loft, 255 Douglass St between Nevins St and Third Ave, Gowanus, Brooklyn. Mon 7pm. • The Muse, 32D South 1st St between Kent and Wythe Aves, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tue 7pm. •; $17, month series $50.


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