The beauty of New York City is that there is a place for every occasion, taste and mood. But there is something to be said for imbibing somewhere that isn’t for everyone—a place that requires more than a wad of cash in your wallet and dapper clothes on your back. Sometimes the best bars are harder to find. They’re exclusive, they’re mysterious and they’re often tucked away in unexpected locations. Endeavor to peek behind the curtain, you’ll never look at the local pub the same way again.
Please Don’t Tell
113 St. Marks Place
If you can find Crif Dogs then you’re halfway to PDT (Please Don’t Tell). No signs, no flamboyant entrances, just pure mystery and maybe some frustration. Once inside the hot dog joint, under the sign that reads “eat me,” you’ll see an old-fashioned, bi-fold telephone booth. Pick up its red phone, dial 1—no quarter necessary—and give the voice on the other end your name and cell number. Then hang up and wait…for up to two hours (we said it was frustrating) before you’re called back and invited to enter PDT through the phone booth’s back wall. Dark strips of wood line the ceiling, bricks line the walls, accentuated with the occasional mounted deer and bear heads, raccoon and owl. The lights on the mirrored liquor rack brighten an otherwise purposely dim spot filled with a bar, stools and four black, semicircular booths. Alternative rock music hums subtly through the speakers and the list of rules on the front door—including no phone calls at the bar and no hitting on strangers—keeps everyone in line.
339 East 10th Street
Even if you don’t make it to this barbershop’s hidden speakeasy, you can still have a drink and a trim from the chair. Behind the large, plate glass windows and spinning barber pole across from Tompkins Square Park sits this two-chair barbershop that celebrates the grooming habits of a 1920’s gentleman. Hipsters make appointments for $40 haircuts or $30 shaves that come complete with a cocktail. But that’s just a façade. At the back of the barbershop is a sliding barn door that glides open, revealing a dimly-lit, speakeasy-like bar that comes to life after the shop closes at 9. Checkered tile flooring, button tufted leather couches, a dark, bronze bar and funky lanterns contribute to the vintage vibe here—the DJ playing in a raised cove is one of the few signs you’re not in the Roaring 20s. For larger parties, a room at the back of the lounge, called Grandpa’s Den, sports yellow wallpaper, bookshelves and comfortable seating including a large leather chair. Nicely pickled after your fresh cut you’ll leave through a side door, exiting onto 10th a few doors down from the barber’s entrance. Your next shave and haircut will never be the same.
The Back Room
102 Norfolk Street
When you first arrive you hesitate, look at your phone’s GPS and wonder why you’re standing at what looks like the service entrance to the Lower East Side Toy Co. But just through the metal gate and down a sketchy alley that seems to lead to nothing but murky water and eerie noises awaits a bouncer. Relieved, you cross the threshold between present day and a place you never knew existed. The bones of the building date back to a legitimate speakeasy named after Meyer Lansky, who worked for the likes of Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Here cocktails come in oversized teacups and bottled beers are handed across the bar in brown paper bags, while the tap versions are poured into mugs. Guests relax in a room with rich tapestries, plush rugs, tin ceilings, vintage seating and period-appropriate chandeliers. Dim illumination complemented by tea lights scattered on the bar and the lounge tables convey a gentle, sensual atmosphere and trendy DJs are replaced by classic and contemporary rock. To add another layer to the mystery The Back Room has a back room, tucked behind a moving bookcase, a space strictly for VIPs.
40 West 8th Street
The discrete entrance isn’t hard to find but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get through. The temperamental doormen are known to split up groups of women (based on looks) and fellas should come well dressed and with a date for any chance to get in. The Pink Elephant does not practice restraint, but it does promote a jetsetting scene with locations in the US, Brazil and Mexico. This is the place where bottle service is the norm, with the house-brand French vodka starting at $400. Inside, the décor succeeds at confusing guests in a blur of loud house music, mirrors, LED lights and a maze-like floor plan. DJs rule here as you enter the retro-glam, Studio 54-esque club down a black and silver staircase into either of the two rooms. The main room fills with 20-30 somethings dancing in a flurry of sound and lights. VIP tables and plush booths make up the Memphis room where the music encourages ordering more superfluous bottles of champagne.