The Secret Side of New York City's Top Dining and Drinks

Tucked-away restaurants, bars with no signage: Half the fun of going to these eateries and watering holes is figuring out where they are.

In a city where everything seems to be in your face, it might be surprising to discover the sheer volume of concealed venues thriving under the surface. Dozens of bars and restaurants beckon visitors to make their way down secret staircases, through unmarked doors and behind hidden walls. It might require a little detective work, but trust us, it’s worth it.

The Best Hidden Restaurants in NYC

Beauty & Essex

In the mood for glamour? You’ll find it at Beauty & Essex, a luxurious restaurant cloaked by a Lower East Side pawnshop hawking antique guitars and costume jewelry. Settle into a booth in the chandelier-crowned dining room for a smattering of small plates, chili-salted shishito peppers and wild mushroom ravioli. Or, ascend the Gatsby-esque staircase to sip colorful, flavorful cocktails, like the Beauty Elixir (Hendrick’s gin, cucumber, strawberry and sparkling rosé), among a well-heeled crowd upstairs. P.S. Ladies: There’s free sparkling wine in the restroom. 146 Essex St., 212.614.0146, beautyandessex.com

Freemans

Freemans

The idea behind Freemans was to create a rugged clandestine colonial American tavern. Indeed, a job well done. A powder-blue door hidden in plain sight down an alley leads the way to hearty American fare. The tavern is cozy to its core, with warm lighting, taxidermy on the walls and rustic wooden tables. As for food, the hot artichoke dip is the stuff of legend, but you can’t go wrong with the lamb shepherd’s pie, five-cheese macaroni or roasted chicken breast. Freeman Alley, 212.420.0012, freemansrestaurant.com

Dinnertable

Most people go to the Garret East to drink, but those with an appetite saunter past the bar and seek out the doorbell marked “Press for food.” That brings you to Dinnertable, a 20-seat eatery that’s as cozy as your favorite aunt’s living room. Because seating is extremely limited, prepare to make new friends at the communal table or nestle into one of the quirky two-seaters, complete with mismatched chairs and topped with pop-culture-inspired prayer candles (think: Dolly Parton in prayer, engraved on a candle). From ham-hock terrine to charred mackerel to roots salad, there’s a little something for everyone on the menu, but we bet Dinnertable’s $17 hot dog beats what you’ll find at the street carts. 206 Ave. A, dinnertable.nyc, no phone

La Esquina a Brasserie

Usually, there’s not much to see in the basements of New York City restaurants, but the one under The Corner Deli on the Lower East Side looks like a film set, with wrought-iron gates, weathered brick and stone walls and art made from Mexican tiles. It’s the home of La Esquina Brasserie, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar that draws models, Wall Streeters and celebs. To check out this exclusive spot, you’ve got to make a reservation, then make your way through unmarked doors and the bustling kitchen. The experience is so distinctive, you might still remember it after downing a few margaritas and eating your weight in tacos, ceviche and tostadas. 114 Kenmare St., 646.613.7100, esquinanyc.com

Decoy

Tucked in a former laundromat beneath trendy Chinese restaurant RedFarm is a dungeon devoted to Peking duck. Decoy cooks just two dozen ducks nightly, supplementing the beautiful birds with shots of warm consommé, sliced cucumber, savory pancakes and three homemade sauces. The bar also infuses drinks with duck, both in ingredients and presentation. The Sitting Down for Dinner, for example, includes Peking duck-fat-washed whiskey and lemon, along with an elegant duck silhouetted in red wine on egg white foam. 529 1/2 Hudson St., 212.691.9700, decoynyc.com


Secret Drinks at Watering Holes and Bars in NYC's Hidden Nightlife

Prohibition made America a dry country overnight. But New Yorkers wouldn’t let the law get in the way of quenching their thirst: During the 1920s, more than 30,000 speakeasies popped up around the city to profit from black-market booze.

You can get a taste of this thrilling time at Bathtub Gin, a Chelsea saloon tucked behind a door in the Stone Street Coffee Company café. The bar’s namesake copper bathtub, displayed in the center of the lounge, pays tribute to the poor-quality alcohol made in (you guessed it) bathtubs during Prohibition. The alcohol has since improved, evident in Bathtub Gin’s gin-focused creations (like the 24-Gun Salute: Beefeater 24 gin, elderflower liqueur, saffron syrup, orange-apple bitters and grapefruit oil). 132 Ninth Ave., 646.559.1671

Bathtub Gin bar in NYC

How do you know if Lantern’s Keep, the Iroquois Hotel’s Parisian cocktail lounge, is open? No need to Google it, just check if the lantern outside the historic hotel is lit. This elegant bar draws inspiration from the Temperance Movement—not with virgin drinks, but with the careful techniques talented American bartenders refined when they fled to alcohol-friendly Europe at the time. The cocktails are beautiful in their simplicity, usually comprised of just a few ingredients mixed to perfection. With dim lighting, a working fireplace, velvet seats and walls flanked by reproductions of Degas’ ballerinas, it’s a romantic spot for lingering over some of the city’s best cocktails. 49 W. 44th St., 212.453.4287

Don’t bother looking for a sign or menu at Attaboy—you won’t find either. The clandestine cocktail den hides behind an unassuming door on Eldridge Street, marked with the letters “AB.” Knock gently and hope that one of the few seats at this popular spot is open. Drinks are a negotiation between you and the bartender: Let him know your liquor preference and whether you like something light and fruity or smoky and strong, and he will craft you a personalized drink. 134 Eldridge St., no phone or website

Drink like a queen at Le Boudoir, a Marie Antoinette-themed bar. Le Boudoir takes its French Revolutionary muse seriously—its bathrooms replicate the queen’s own powder room, a bronze bust of la reine tops a marble bar, red velvet booths make guests feel like royalty and opulent French-inspired cocktails are served in gorgeous goblets. To get in, you’ll need to slip behind a door disguised as a bookshelf at popular French eatery Chez Moi and make your way down the stairs. 135 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, 347.227.8337

Shh: Speakeasy Tours

Whether you’re feeling wary about knocking on random doors or you just want to hit up as many hidden hideaways as possible, speakeasy tours will guide you through a memorable nightlife experience. No need to worry about directions or reservations, and you can leave NYC feeling smug that you checked out some places even natives may not know about.

The Prohibition-Era Bar Experience from The New York Nightlife takes guests to four destinations, including speakeasies and well-preserved bars from the 1920s.

Alex’s Tours runs neighborhood-specific speakeasy tours of the East Village, Lower East Side, West Village, SoHo and NoHo. These walking tours include historical insights on the lead up to Prohibition, as well as the opportunity to sample craft cocktails at several secret bars.

For a luxe experience, let Take Me Out whisk you around the city in a limo on its VIP Manhattan Rooftops & Speakeasies tour.

Joni Sweet
About the author

Joni serves as the New York associate e...