In his 13 years as an New York City concierge, Keoni Boyer—who currently works as chief concierge at the newly opened Knickerbocker hotel in Midtown Manhattan (6 Times Square, 1.855.86KNICK)—has filled all sorts of requests, often with guests’ inquiries reflecting the current season and any special citywide events. “Travelers definitely want to be ‘in the know’ and attuned to what is happening and exciting in the city,” Boyer says. Right now, New Yorkers and visitors alike are pretty enthusiastic about a popular and somewhat recent trend to the city’s nightlife scene: the speakeasy (unlicensed establishments that illegally sold alcohol during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 30s). Although enjoying a bubbly beverage or creative cocktail is no longer a crime, Boyer shares several of his top picks for discreetly hidden watering holes in NYC—many of which exude an early 20th-century vibe, with one even dating back to that historic period.
Tucked away behind a false wall at a Stone Street Coffee Company café in Chelsea, Bathtub Gin is “a beautiful turn-of-the-century decorated room with a bathtub in the middle of it,” Boyer says. The space features carefully crafted cocktails, including the Negroni Bianco, a mixture of Botanist Islay Dry Gin, Cappelletti Aperitivo Rosso and Dolin Blanc Vermouth, and the namesake Bathtub Gin Martini. Several events also take place at the venue.
On the Lower East Side, The Back Room Bar is one of two speakeasies still operating that existed during Prohibition. “You enter by going through a metal grate that reads ‘Lower East Side Toy Company,’ down a back alley and up scary metal stairs,” Boyer describes. “Once inside, you feel like you have been transported to an upscale ‘20s entertainment parlor.'” To add a touch of rebellion, cocktails are served in teacups “to further hide your libations.” The venue also boasts an even more discreet space—a private backroom hidden behind a false bookcase.
Fans of bubbly brews can head to 124 Old Rabbit Club (124 MacDougal St., 212.254.0575), a small subterranean bar in the West Village where you can’t grab a cocktail but you can toss back a number of beers from all over the world. “From street level, you literally have to go down into a ‘hole’ to get to the Rabbit Club,” Boyer says—noting that once you get to the space the establishment stocks everything from pilsners to stouts and sours. “The staff is always helpful in finding something to drink as you listen to a punk rock soundtrack,” he continues.
In the East Village, a night of drinking and grooming are combined at The Blind Barber, where visitors can get a haircut, shave and creative cocktail. “Head here where everything is done old-school—from a trim, to a straight-razor shave and bespoke cocktails long after the shears and trimmers have been put away,” Boyer says. The best reason to go? “Every haircut or shave comes with a drink,” he continues.
Also in the East Village, “the perennial classic speakeasy P.D.T. (short for Please Don’t Tell) is as popular as ever and a definite forerunner on the crafted cocktail movement,” Boyer says. The annex to the hot dog eatery Crif Dogs, “imbibers enter the restaurant and make a call to the host utilizing a turn-of-the-century telephone booth located inside to gain entrance,” Boyer says, adding that reservations are taken day-of only and go fast.
“Long after those looking for designer knockoff bags have fled Chinatown, walk down a narrow elbow-shaped block to find Apothéke, a hidden bar with an opium den feel,” Boyer says. The speakeasy serves its libations in the form of “prescriptions,” made with local and organic produce. The space “has a great date-night ambiance and features live jazz four nights a week.”
Mulberry Project, an unmarked establishment in Little Italy, “has a chalkboard with the freshest ingredients of the day listed to help in your cocktail choice,” Boyer says. “Because of this, the drinks here change often and you can discover new flavors every time you visit.” As an added bonus, the place even boasts a backyard—the perfect hangout in warmer weather.
Located above Village Yokocho—an East Village izakaya (a Japanese watering hole that serves food)—Angel’s Share (8 Stuyvesant St., 2nd fl, 212.777.5415) is accessible by a secret door in the restaurant and “keeps things intimate by only allowing parties of up to four,” Boyer says, adding that the establishment serves cocktails with high-quality ingredients and also boasts “a fantastic whiskey selection.”
“A corner in the West Village is the door to a fantastic subterranean lounge, Little Branch (22 Seventh Ave. So., 212.929.4360),” Boyer says. “This speakeasy, from the creators of Milk & Honey, has a fun and non-pretentious vibe, serving amazing drinks with ingredients that are hand-prepared daily. The low ceilings add the intimate feel and there is often a cool jazz trio playing music to up the vibe quotient.”