This post was last updated on March 8th, 2015
In the 20’s, when booze was outlawed in the States, people had to go underground to get their fix. Now that liquor is legal, you’d think that hiding your establishment would be bad for business. Turns out that’s not the case in New York City.
The Origin of the Speakeasy
Traditional speakeasies were established between 1920 and 1933 during Prohibition. During this time, alcohol was illegal in the United States; but that didn’t stop bars from bootlegging the booze and selling it for massive profits. People used these hidden safehouses as places for secret meetings and rendezvous points. It was even a place where people of different color could come together and mingle.
Speakeasies were special for the fact that they were underground establishments that were only spread by word of mouth. You only knew about them if someone told you where to go. Under some circumstances you even needed a password to get in and grab a drink.
We didn’t even know that Speakeasies still existed until we arrived in the city and were recommended to them by a friend. After a bit of research, we learned that there are several of these ‘secret’ bars scattered around New York City. Some, of course, are more well known than others. Since part of the fun is discovering them on your own, we won’t spill the beans on all of them. But if you are spending any amount of time in the Big Apple, a stop at a speakeasy is highly recommended. Some of the more fantastic speakeasies include:
2nd Floor on Clinton
We decided to visit the mixologist at 2nd Floor on Clinton (67 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002). This classy establishment is hidden behind a door marked ‘private’ in the back of an unassuming restaurant. After climbing the small staircase up to the second floor, we were greeted by a small but smooth 20’s style lounge. There was a smiling waitress who greeted us at the top of the stairs and guided us to a vacant cozy couch. It’s a good thing this place is so hard to find as there are only about 15 seats in the whole speakeasy and drinks are served by seating only.
All of the drinks on the menu were custom blended cocktails that we had never heard of before. With ingredients like elderflower, mezcal, activated charcoal and apple puree, we knew our taste buds were in for a treat. What was even more surprising than the cocktail selection was the knowledge with which the selection was explained to us.
Being a whiskey fan, I opted for a drink called the Marie Laveau. The drink is an elegant combination of Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, averna, elderflower, cardamom and orange bitters. One sip took my mouth on a journey of a lifetime. The flavors started off smooth and gradually moved into the more punchy and firey flavors. This is how cocktails were meant to be made! From this moment on, I knew ordering a rum and coke would always leave something to be desired.
Casey decided to go for the Topsy-Turvy, a gin-based drink that includes Uncle Val’s Gin, Pimm’s, mezcal, grapefruit, lime, agave nectar, grapefruit bitters and sal de gusano. With just the right balance of sour to sweet, this cocktail was beautifully blended and hard to set down.
After sipping our savory specialties and chatting it up in the cozy space, we decided that we couldn’t help but indulge in one last splurge. We split the William Blake, a noble creation of Elderberry Infused Beefeater London Dry Gin, Quinquina Compass box “The Peat Monster” Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey, bay leaf and cardamom. The mix of the gin and whiskey created a flavor that could only be described as sipping a campfire.
While we only visited the one speakeasy, here are a few others that were recommended to us:
113 St. Marks, New York, NY 10009
This secret space can only be entered by calling the hostess from a special telephone booth inside the hot dog shop next door. This is possibly one of the most talked about ‘secret’ bars in the city, so don’t be surprised if it gets a bit crowded.
9 Doyers St, New York, NY 10038
Apotheke is inspired by the apothecary in Europe and absinthe dens of 19th Century Paris. The bar is more of a chemistry lab than your traditional watering hole. Their cocktail ingredients come from local greenmarkets and their own rooftop garden.
132 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011
As the name might suggest, this bar specializes in its gin cocktails. Gin was a popular alcohol to bootleg during prohibition, though a dangerous one. Distilling the alcohol in large bathtubs was a popular practice, but done incorrectly it could lead to a poisonous concoction. Thankfully the drinks are all safe here. The only danger is that if you have one too many you may find yourself passed out in the bathtub, the bar’s centerpiece and main attraction.
Be warned these are not your typical cocktails. These drinks pack a punch, so if you plan on spending some time sipping cocktails, please don’t drive. Cabs are everywhere in New York and it’s easy enough to stand on a street corner and flag one down. If you’d like to spend your night in true 20’s fashion, you can hire a driver or limo from Blacklane. We recently used the chauffeur service in Charlotte, NC and can highly recommend the service.