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During the 1920s, Congress passed the Volstead Act, which made the sale of alcohol illegal in America. However, this law did nothing to abate the American people’s craving for alcohol, and “speakeasies”, secret bars that sold alcohol, sprung up across the country. In New York City alone, there were an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 of these establishments. In 1933, after the American ban on alcohol created more problems than solutions, the Volstead Act was repealed, and the thrill of secret passwords, false storefronts and lawlessness that characterized Prohibition was gone. But in the past ten years or so, the idea of unmarked “secret” bars and strong cocktails has captured the imagination of New Yorkers, and such establishments have reappeared across the city. I recently came across an article that discusses the top speakeasies in New York, and what they have to offer.
A line of people wait outside of Doyers Street, hoping to get into Apotheke.
In the heart of Chinatown lies Doyers, a tiny, boomerang-shaped street one block long lined with Chinese barber shops and sketchy-looking storefronts. During the first half of the 20th century, Doyers street was the site of Chinatown’s bloody gang wars, when Chinese criminal organizations known as “Tongs” fought one another for control of the area. On this street lies a former Chinese opium den, which has since been converted into a speakeasy, “Apotheke”. This unique spot offers over 250 specialty cocktails (mostly between $15 and $18). There’s live music on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays. On “Prohibition Wednesdays”, there’s a house jazz band, and a password is required to enter (don’t worry, they post the password on their Twitter page).
In 1896, New York State passed “Raines Law”, which prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays. While the law was meant to stop workmen from spending their days off in a drunken stupor, there was a major loophole: alcohol could still be served in hotels. Because of this, saloons began offering makeshift rooms so they could qualify as hotels. In the Flatiron District, on west 17th street between 5th and 6th avenues, lies “Raines Law Room”, a speakeasy named in honor of the famous “Raines Law”. Here, you can sit down in a train compartment-like room, and when you’re ready for the staff to take your order, you tug a pull-chain. While you sit down, you should take a look at the wallpaper, which is a twist on the atmosphere of most modern speakeasies.
During Prohibition, the Volstead Act wasn’t always enforced. Authorities who enjoyed drinking frequently turned a blind eye to speakeasies in their area, and therefore, bars often opened their doors and poured drinks without fear of being arrested. The Richardson, in Brooklyn, is meant to be a nod to this laid-back attitude. The cocktails are reasonably priced ($9-11), the snacks are all good, and the patrons are all laid-back locals.
Bartenders at Angel’s Share mix drinks.
Angel’s Share, located in the East Village, is a lot older than a lot of the other establishments on this list, having been opened in the mid-1990s. The establishment is located above a Japanese comfort food joint. With its jazz and Suntory whiskey cocktails, this bar is Prohibition with a Japanese twist. With no standing and no parties greater than four admitted, it’s also a perfect spot for couples. Also located in the East Village is Death + Company, a craft spirits joint that offers exceptional cocktails, such as the Javanese Daiquiri, made up of lime cordial, fresh curry leaves and generous amounts of rum. The bar doesn’t take reservations, operating on a first-come, first-serve basis. If the place is full, then they’ll take your number and give you a call when there’s room.
Manderley Bar, at the McKittrick Hotel, allows patrons the chance to enjoy a cocktail and live music. Thanks to plenty of red velvet and literal smoke and mirrors, the bar is strongly reminiscent of a jazz-age venue. The Candy Shop Boys, a band that performs tunes popular back in the 1920s and features singer Sophia Urista, regularly perform here.
In Chelsea lies “Bathtub Gin”, a hopping gin joint named after a cheaply-made alcohol that was popular during Prohibition. The spot is hidden behind a trick door at Stone Street Coffee Company. Here, you can enjoy gin in numerous forms (shaken, stirred, on the rocks or in cocktails). In the middle of the place is a large copper bathtub; you’re more than welcome to hop in if you’d like.
One of the first places to kick start the return of the speakeasy was Hotel Delmano, located in Williamsburg. The ceilings here are high, and big shop windows let in the setting sun. This place gives a real old-timey feel, and offers reasonably priced specialty drinks, which typically range between $9-14.