5 of NYC's Greatest Speakeasies

Prohibition may long be over, but these cool speakeasies live on in the Big Apple

Gotham has a love affair with the speakeasy style of bar: creative craft-cocktail spots hidden behind unmarked doors or false storefronts such as laundromats and fortune tellers, appeal to a New Yorker’s sense of mystery and intrigue. More and more, though, you can also find a bar in hidden spots behind (or below) regular city restaurants. Call it a “practical” speakeasy, or perhaps “added value,” a restaurant should have a bar. But instead of putting it front and center, why not tuck it into an unused space and have some fun with it?

Coffee shop by day, bar by night. That sounds like a winning combination in anyone’s book. Probably the most speakeasy-ish of the bars on the list, the new Patent Coffee/Patent Pending doesn’t rely on a makeshift espresso counter to hide the bar—the daytime spot is legit. A stylish blond wood-and-tile espresso bar greets NoMad visitors with carefully sourced, single-origin coffees and tasty pastries.

At 5 pm, the coffee shop closes. Ring the buzzer out front, and you’ll be led through a secret door in the coffee shop, down winding stairs to a 30-seat “cocktail cave” with vintage turquoise banquettes and original brick walls. The drink menu changes regularly, but the popular Radio Wave (tequila, mescal, agricole rhum, basil, Thai chili, lime and cucumber) will likely be available. The menu and cocktail names pay tribute to the fact that the building used to be both home and laboratory to famous inventor Nikola Tesla. 

2nd Floor’s Upper East Sider cocktail

Taking a different tack, the owners of the Upper East Side branch of NYC’s iconic 2nd Ave Deli decided to build up, rather than down when they opened 2nd Floor, a new bar and small-bites space.

“The owners wanted to bring in a new group of people who maybe aren’t so familiar with New York Jewish delis,” says Beverage Director Jason Jeffords, who cut his bar teeth managing the iconic downtown cocktail bar Pegu Club.

You can enter the large space via an outside stairway, but it’s more fun to come up through the service stairs, “Goodfellas” style, from inside the deli. The cocktails are well-crafted and balanced, but Jeffords notes, “We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously,” thus offering drinks that riff on both the location (The Upper East Sider) and the deli (Man-O-Manischewitz). You’ll also find a high-quality selection of Israeli wines on the menu. The early evening music is smooth jazz, but things pick up as a young crowd fills the spot on weekends.

Sidepiece’s Trenchtown cocktail

The Meatball Shop is one of those “only in NYC” success stories, now with seven locations serving up chef-driven, Instagram-worthy “balls” to hungry pilgrims from around the world. Meatball Shop Hell’s Kitchen opened last year, and Chef Daniel Sharp says the unused former kitchen in the space they took over made the perfect spot for a slightly hidden bar, now dubbed Sidepiece, tucked in behind the stairwell.

Sharp notes the “tongue-in-cheek” menu reflects the fact "that we’re able to experiment on new food and drink here, then roll what works out to all of our locations. The bar was half for the customers, half for the cooks and bartenders to have some fun.” Try a Bobby Ballbanger (vodka, cara cara orange juice, vanilla syrup, cherry bitters) with an insanely good meatball fondue featuring bacon strips, mozzarella cubes and mini-chicken meatballs.

At the back of some Mexican groceries in town, you’ll find ladies cooking up tamales. At the back of La Milagrosa (which carries tasty house-made chorizo, salsas and and moles), you’ll find Mezcaleria La Milagrosa, the latest cool-kid party destination in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Built to resemble the interior of an old-time railcar with a Mexican vibe, the bar (which you enter through what looks like a large freezer door at the back of the shop) specializes in agave spirits (tequila, mescal, sotol), killer vinyl playlists and margaritas. You must call for a reservation, but even then, there most likely will be a wait. Go often enough, and you may score a secret phone number that gets you in faster.

Speaking of lines, there are still lines nightly to get into the decade-old Please Don’t Tell or PDT. Hidden in the no-nonsense (but delicious) Crif Dogs, founder Jim Meehan initially bristled when people called PDT a “speakeasy” (this despite the fact you enter through a hidden door in the back of a phone booth), but over the years he learned to appreciate the trend the bar helped kick off. In the tiny, wood-paneled and taxidermied space, highly skilled bartenders craft elegant cocktails from an ever-changing menu.

Start with an Old Fashioned, because you should. Then move to something like the Shipshape (a gin-and-citrus highball) while noshing on artisanal Crif Dogs designed by celebrity chefs like David Chang and Andy Ricker. How popular is PDT these days? Bar Director Jeff Bell and his team recently helped open a new branch in Hong Kong.