With the release of The Great Gatsby movie, era-inspired clothes have popped up in retail stores, themed soirees are being held (check out Governor’s Island), and the original book sales have soared. Given the recent, dramatic spike in the interest of the 1920s, visiting a New York speakeasy seemed timely.
Despite the drop of the alcohol ban and the dissolution of most hidden drinking dens, there are still some underground-styled bars scattered across the city, and they are known for a mock-up of the era’s famous culture, excellent specialty cocktails, and some for pure exclusivity.
I went to Raines Law Room on 17th Street, a bar known for its expertly made drinks and its clandestine entry procedure. The sign is nearly impossible to see, as the door is down a flight of steps of a building close to 6th Avenue. Once – and if – you find it, you’ll see a small plaque next to the black door that reads “Raines Law Room” and a small doorbell that needs to be rung in order to get any possible service.
After ringing three times, a woman popped her head out of the door, barely revealing its interior components, asked for my name, the group number and my phone number. 45 minutes later and two blocks away, we received a phone call saying we had a spot.
It was so dark inside not a single picture would turn out. Small lamps on the walls dimly lighted the room, and the furnishings were plush and reminiscent of an earlier time. To order a drink, we had to pull a small chain that also hung off of the wall, and magically a server, dressed rather elegantly in all black, appeared.
The drinks were amazing- smooth and well balanced. Many of them were based on gin and whisky, although champagne and tequila also made the list with a variety of other mix-ins. And although they call their bartenders, “mixologists” and the price of the cocktails ranges from $12- $17, it was an impressive place. The lack of windows and darkness created a musky, sensual atmosphere that was only confirmed with soft jazz music and a gentle roar of the people around us. It was relaxing and exciting simultaneously.
Would I go back? Definitely. My visit was on a Monday so it was particularly easy to get inside; the later in the week, the more difficult it becomes, but reservations can be made for Monday and Tuesday nights.
If Raines Law Room doesn’t work out, there are a number of other speakeasy-styled bars around the city. Just to list a few…
The Back Room
Look for a toy company, and then follow a string of steps and alleys to a posh, red velvet-furnished interior, with drinks served in teacups and beer in brown bags. 102 Norfolk St.
PDT – Please Don’t Tell
Whenever anyone in college mentioned visiting one of the city’s speakeasies, this is usually the one they tried for. It’s infamous, and subsequently difficult to get into. The entrance is through a phone booth in a hot dog restaurant- pick up the receiver and hope they have space. (Or make a reservation by phone). St. Mark’s Pl.
An old opium den-turned-cocktail-lounge, they boast a huge list of drinks that can “cure” whatever ailment you feel. Doyers at Bowery.
The Vault at Pfaff’s
This joint has been running since the 19th century, so of course today it’s as historical for a modern speakeasy that you can get. 643 Broadway.
A hidden door inside of the Stone Coffee Company will lead you to a bar decked out like it’s the 1920s: from the waitresses, to the actual bathtub, it’s made to be a blast from the past. Especially with the gin-inspired infusions. 132 Ninth Ave.
Death & Company
Pretty traditional in terms of the speakeasy-style, but its LES location makes for a cool crowd, first-come-first-served, all headed for the same end game: some of the best cocktails in the city. 433 E. 6th St.
So with all of the options NYC offers, it’s time to get your Gatsby on.