New York City’s 15 Best Hidden Bars and Restaurants
If you’re looking for a truly unique night out in New York City, you’ve come to the right place. For my new book, New York: Hidden Bars & Restaurants, my co-author Michelle Young and I scoured the city for Prohibition-era speakeasies, underground drinking dens, and restaurants concealed behind unmarked doors. These places may be hard to find, but trust me, they're worth the effort. The book—which comes out on October 7th—contains nearly 100 exciting locales spanning from the Lower East Side to the outer edges of Queens. Need a quick recommendation? Here are 15 of my favorites.
The Back Room
Of all the hidden bars in the city, the Back Room is one of the few that actually served as a speakeasy during Prohibition. (It was run by notorious gangsters Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky.) The only indication of it is the Lower East Side Toy Company sign on the street. Go through the metal gate, down the stairs into a dark alleyway, and on the other side, you’ll find another set of steps leading to a door. Inside you’ll be amazed to find a gorgeous ‘20s-inspired bar with red wallpaper, portraits in gold frames, a fireplace, and velvet sofas. Bartenders serve cocktails in teacups and the place fills up on Monday nights for live jazz.
Raines Law Room at the William
Enter through the Shakespeare Pub in the lower level of Midtown’s William Hotel and you’ll be led up to this sophisticated cocktail parlor run by the same talented team as the original Raines Law Room in Chelsea. The Midtown location is larger than the original, with two rooms and a small menu of bar bites in addition to the same classic cocktail program run by Meaghan Dorman. Sit at the bar if you want to chat with the bartenders or make yourself at home in one of the intimate seating nooks. The second room may resemble a plush library, but take a closer look at the risqué wallpaper and you’ll discover it isn’t so bookish after all.
When the owner of the Japanese restaurant Village Yokocho came to New York, he missed Tokyo’s quiet cocktail dens so much, he decided to create one of his own. Enter through the unmarked door inside the second-floor restaurant and you’ll find yourself in a civilized cocktail bar that feels a bit like your grandparents’ 1960s salon, with two-toned, diamond-patterned wood behind the bar, cut crystal tumblers, and heavy brocade curtains. Angel’s Share has some of the most unique cocktails in the city thanks to the crazily inventive infusions. Where else can you get Earl Gray-infused gin and white truffle and pear-infused Grey Goose?
You have to walk through a Lower East Side art gallery and through the unmarked door in back (easily mistaken for a supply closet) to get to the bar called Fig. 19. Owned by the guys who run the subterranean dance spot Home Sweet Home right below the gallery, Fig. 19 was originally their private clubhouse, but is now open to anyone who knows how to find it. Inside, beaded chandeliers hang above the bar and tables, candles glow softly in the fireplace, taxidermy adorns the walls, and tufted leather banquettes form cozy seating nooks. Cocktails like the Midnight in Paris are creative riffs on the classics.
Only a neon psychic sign marks the entrance to this award-winning cocktail bar and restaurant in the West Village. Inside, the details are all Art Deco. Wall panels are curved mahogany, pendant lights hang from a three-tiered ceiling, shelves on the backbar glow green, and museum-style lighting illuminates framed ‘20s and ‘30s reproductions from artists like Man Ray, Tamara de Lempicka, and Juan Gris. Bartenders dressed in white shake and stir the classics and take on originals like the delicious Mata Hari, which features Cognac and is garnished with rosebuds. At a dining room in back, guests perched on pale yellow leather banquettes indulge in bacon-wrapped lamb chops and truffled grilled cheese with parmesan fries.
The Lodge at Gallow Green
Perched on top of the McKittrick Hotel, home to the interactive play Sleep No More, Gallow Green is a haven from the hustle and bustle of the city. In spring and summer, it’s an open-air rooftop bar that resembles a Provençal garden circa 1940 with wisteria-lined trellises and rustic tables. In fall and winter, the space becomes the Lodge at Gallow Green, inspired by Scottish bothies—cabins where hikers can find refuge from the wilderness. Sofas and chairs are draped with plaid blankets, boughs of dried flowers hang from the ceiling, and a bedroom with a writer’s desk covered in vintage maps and postcards. This is the perfect place to warm up with a mug of mulled wine or rye-spiked cider on cold winter nights.
In Brooklyn’s hip Greenpoint neighborhood, the world’s only Michelin-starred restaurant without a wine list is concealed behind Tørst craft beer bar. Chef/owner Daniel Burns—an alum of Noma and Momofuku—curates beer pairings to go with his Nordic-inspired tasting menu. In the tiny dining room, guests can watch as chefs prepare and plate dishes like cod head on knackbrød or squab with salted plum puree. Luksus only seats 20, so reservations are essential, but you can order bites from the kitchen while you sip on craft beer in wine glasses at Tørst.
Cellar at St. Mazie Bar & Supper Club
With its vintage vibe and live gypsy jazz, St. Mazie is a neighborhood favorite in Williamsburg, but you could easily hang out upstairs without ever knowing about the hidden dining room below. Downstairs you’ll find a dimly lit cellar with walls carved by Italian stonemasons in the 1880s. Owner John McCormick, who has designed many of the neighborhood’s best vintage-inspired spots, brought in rustic wooden tables, gold-framed paintings, and antique lamps to complete the look. The space was a speakeasy and gambling den during Prohibition. Sipping wine with mushroom risotto paired with the sounds of guitar stands reverberating from above, you can imagine what it must have felt like to be here then.
Upon first glance, this unmarked Williamsburg watering hole appears to be gated up, but an entrance around the corner reveals a gorgeous, weathered bar. Despite the name, there’s no hotel here, but owners Alyssa Abeyta, Michael Smart, and Zeb Stuart were inspired by hotel lobby bars. They stripped the wallpaper, revealing the original plaster, constructed the bar and cabinets, added marble bistro tables, and hung a 19th-century oil painting and black and white photos. The result is a romantic hideaway where cocktails include house-made syrups and infusions, and offerings from the raw bar arrive on antique platters.
There’s no dining room inside this unmarked Japanese brasserie in Williamsburg. Instead, guests sit in private booths separated by bamboo shades, as is common in Tokyo, where privacy is highly prized. Husband and wife team Motoko Watanabe and Shaul Margiules wanted to make Zenkichi as authentic as possible, from the design to the omakase menu. Instead of sushi, feast on dishes like oysters, monkfish liver, yuzu-glazed black cod, silky tofu, and Washu beef.
Look for the neon "Bar" sign on a rather forlorn stretch of Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, Queens. Inside you’ll find a moody, old-school tavern that seems to transport you back to pre-Prohibition New York. The late Sasha Petraske had a hand in this bar, and the cocktail program reflects it. All the drinks are prepared with the highest quality liquors and fresh squeezed juice and served in the appropriate glassware. Dutch Kills is the perfect combination of unbuttoned saloon and sophisticated cocktail bar.
Hidden behind a nondescript townhouse door in the Theater District, Bar Centrale is the secret bar you’re not supposed to know about. Broadway actors like Alessandro Nivola come here for a nitecap after their shows. The décor pays homage to the neighborhood: tables decorated with ticket stubs, vintage photos of Times Square, and old movies like Sabrina playing on a TV above the bar. In addition to wine and cocktails, a menu of bar food offers oysters, shrimp cocktails, Chinese dumplings, and quesadillas.
Hidden inside Grand Central Terminal, the Campbell Apartment is one of the most gorgeous spaces in all of New York City, yet only a fraction of the people who pass through the station know about it. Originally outfitted as the office of tycoon John W. Campbell (a friend of Commodore Vanderbilt, who built the station), the space was restored to its former glory in 2007. A soaring ceiling, leaded glass window, huge stone fireplace, Oriental rugs, plush sofas, and porcelain vases add authenticity to the ambiance. Don't miss the fishbowl-sized Prohibition Punch with rum, orange liqueur, passion fruit juice, and champagne.
On 44th Street—also known as Club Row because of all the opulent private clubs that line the block between 5th and 6th Avenues—there are a few historic hotels, including the Iroquois Hotel. Savvy imbibers know that if the lantern on the hotel’s façade is lit, they can go inside and have a drink. Off the lobby, Lantern’s Keep is a hidden gem resembling a Belle Époque salon, with powder blue Louis XIV chairs, Impressionist-style paintings of ballerinas, and a bar serving excellent cocktails.
On first glance, you might think this corner spot is just a takeout taco counter, but look again. You’ll want to make a reservation for the brasserie downstairs. Descend the stairs and walk through the kitchen, and you’ll emerge in a dimly lit den decorated by blue-and-white tiles, rustic wooden tables, and candles dripping wax. Bartenders shake some of the best margaritas in the city and guests dine on taquitos, queso fundido, and more Mexican street food while pop hits set a festive tone.