The days of prohibition ended in 1933, yet there are people who feel a bit nostalgic for this time in US history. It is not the illegality of alcohol that these individuals are pining for, but the glamour and mystery of the speakeasy bar. During the days of prohibition, only the elite got to enjoy these watering holes. However, if you know where to go, New York still has venues that recreate this experience of clandestine exclusivity. And if you are in New York for a week or so, you can hit more than one bar while you are there.
The owners of the Apotheke have worked hard to create an authentic speakeasy experience. This venue is hidden away at 9 Doyers Street. It would be easy to miss the discrete sign on the door if you weren’t paying attention. Plenty of customers manage to find their way here though, and it is worth the effort because the interior is completely convincing – it really is like stepping back in time. On Wednesday nights, customers can only gain admission to this speakeasy by providing a password (this changes each month but it can be found on the @apothekenyc Twitter account). The cocktail drinks are referred to as ‘prescriptions’ and there hundreds of these to choose from – mostly ranging in price from $14 to $16.
The Hotel Delmano can be found on Berry Street in Brooklyn. One of the nice things about this place is that it doesn’t try too hard to prove its speakeasy credentials, but it somehow ends up appearing more authentic as a result. This is also one of the cheaper places to spend the night with cocktails prices starting at $9. There are also some secret rooms in the back of the bar where the clientele can enjoy a bit of privacy.
Angel’s Share deserves the distinction of being the most innovatively designed speakeasy bar in New York. It manages to combine the sophistication of the thirties with some Asian exoticism – not to mention a bit of jazz. This venue can be found Stuyvesant Street above a Japanese Restaurant. The Angel’s Share offers a good range of cocktails starting from $15.
The Richardson can be found on Graham Street in Brooklyn. The decor is definitely reminiscent of the prohibition era, but it also has the feel of regular bar. One of the nice things about this venue is that it attracts plenty of regular customers, so it is not just a novelty place. Cocktail prices start here from $9, and this venue also offers a nice selection of snacks here as well.
And while you are in the area, you can pop around the corner to Westlight, which has one of the best views in New York.
The Bathtub Gin speakeasy bar can be found on Ninth Avenue. It is tucked away inside of a coffee shop. One of the most popular drinks during the prohibition era was a poor quality gin that was mixed with other ingredients in a bathtub to make it more palatable – this venue is named in honour of this process. The gin that is on sale here these days is of much higher quality, and this venue also offers a wide range of cocktails with prices ranging from $15 to $18 (as of mid-2013).
Death + Company
The name of this speakeasy conjures up dark images, and this is exactly the atmosphere that the owners of this bar are trying to create. Death + Company aims to attract customers who love the night because these are the type of individuals who found their way to the original speakeasies. Customers are admitted here on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, so it is best to come early as the place can get busy. There is a nice range of cocktails available here, and the average price for something simple is $14. Death + Company speakeasy is located at 433 East Sixth Street.
A night out at a speakeasy bar in New York means that customers get to enjoy a feeling of being somewhere exclusive. There is no longer any penalty for being caught at one of these venues but visiting these watering holes can be a thrill nevertheless. Just remember to drink responsibly and don’t get too carried away! There are some great prices on flights to New York these days, so there’s never been a better time to get out there and experience the city that never sleeps.
Clive Allen is a freelance travel writer.