Uncovering the Hidden Gems: Exploring the Best Speakeasies in New York City

Uncovering the Hidden Gems: Exploring the Best Speakeasies in New York City

New York City, renowned for its culture and vibrancy, boasts a thriving nightlife scene. When you think of NYC nightlife, bars, and pubs, one word comes to mind: speakeasies. The fascination with these hidden gems continues to captivate people, particularly in the age group of 20-35. For beer enthusiasts, casual socializers, and travelers looking for unique experiences, speakeasies offer a distinct charm that remains unparalleled.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the best speakeasies in New York City, so you can relive the allure of the prohibition era while sipping some fantastic drinks accompanied by gritty ambience.

Table of Contents
1. A Brief History of Speakeasies
2. NYC Speakeasies: What to Expect
3. Tips for Enjoying Your Speakeasy Experience
4. Five Must-Visit Speakeasies in New York City
5. Honorable Mentions
6. Conclusion

A Brief History of Speakeasies

The story of speakeasies starts with prohibition in the United States, during the early 20th century, between 1920 and 1933. The production, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages were illegal, leading to the rise of a clandestine market. Speakeasies served as secret and disguised bars that were hidden from law enforcement. These establishments were nicknamed “speakeasies” because people had to “speak easy” or speak softly while discussing these illicit venues.

Criminals stepped up to satisfy the American public’s demand for alcohol, which led to the rise of influential mob figures, such as Al Capone. These speakeasies were secret spots, often hidden behind seemingly ordinary storefronts, or accessible through inconspicuous entrances. Despite the risk to their patrons, speakeasies became popular spots amongst flappers, bootleggers, and rebels alike.

Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, speakeasies went extinct – or so it was believed. In recent years, the interest in secret and exclusive venues has reignited, and with it, the speakeasy has resurfaced as a beloved NYC nighttime attraction.

NYC Speakeasies: What to Expect

Modern speakeasies are as elusive, hidden, and fascinating as their historical counterparts – but with a contemporary twist. The new generation of speakeasies blends the nostalgia of the prohibition era with modern-day quirks and refined, innovative cocktails.

So, what can you anticipate when visiting an NYC speakeasy?

  • Hidden Entrances: The charm of a speakeasy lies in its hidden nature. Access often requires navigating secret passages or finding disguised doors. For instance, one speakeasy may be hidden behind a telephone booth, while another requires walking through an unmarked entrance in a fast-food restaurant.

  • Exclusivity: A speakeasy fosters a sense of exclusivity by maintaining an inconspicuous façade. This mystique brings an air of sophistication to the bar and entices patrons who appreciate feeling like they’ve discovered a secret locale. Reservations are often required or recommended.

  • Cocktails and Craft Beers: Speakeasy bartenders are masters of their craft, concocting innovative and often customized drinks. Expect a delightful selection of cocktails and craft beers, with exceptional attention to detail in their presentation.

  • Ambience: The interior of an NYC speakeasy reflects a bygone era, with dim lighting, intimate seating, and Prohibition-era décor. You can expect a cozy, inviting atmosphere that often incorporates live music, such as jazz or piano performances.

Tips for Enjoying Your Speakeasy Experience

To make the most of your speakeasy adventure in New York City, here are a few tips to bear in mind:

  1. Do Your Research: While the allure of speakeasies lies in their hidden nature, you can discover their locations with a bit of online searching. Read up on reviews and recommendations, and make note of entry specifics.

  2. Dress the Part: Speakeasies provide an upscale atmosphere, so dress accordingly. You may not need a 1920s-style flapper dress, but respecting the dress code will ensure you blend in and make the most of your experience.

  3. Make a Reservation: Many speakeasies will require a reservation or at least appreciate advance notice of your arrival. Plan ahead to avoid disappointment.

  4. Embrace the Journey: Find joy in the journey of navigating a hidden passage or discovering an unmarked door. Embrace the experience and relish the ambience of these unique, clandestine venues.

  5. Be Mindful of Noise: Keep the conversation level light and avoid unnecessary noise to respect the speakeasy’s atmosphere and its neighbors.

Five Must-Visit Speakeasies in New York City

Now that you know what to expect and how to prepare, let’s dive into five of the best speakeasies in New York City. These clandestine bars are sure to captivate you, making you feel as if you’ve stepped back into the Prohibition era, but with a modern flair.

1. PDT (Please Don’t Tell)

This hidden gem located in the East Village is concealed behind a vintage wooden phone booth within a hot dog joint. Dial the secret number and wait for the wall to swing open, revealing a sleek, intimate bar. The cocktail menu features inventive options, alongside a selection of fine-quality hot dogs.

2. Attaboy

Housed in a former tailor shop, Attaboy is an unmarked, inconspicuous bar on the Lower East Side. The minimalist design and lack of a menu might surprise you – but that’s where the bartender’s prowess comes into play. Tell them your preferences or mood, and they’ll concoct a personalized drink suited just for you.

3. The Back Room

Located down a hidden alleyway adorned with a “Lower East Side Toy Company” sign, The Back Room transports patrons back in time, with velvet couches and a cozy fireplace. This speakeasy still adheres to the prohibition-era gimmicks, serving cocktails in teacups and beers in paper bags.

4. Bathtub Gin

Camouflaged behind an operational coffee shop in Chelsea, Bathtub Gin features a copper bathtub as its centerpiece. Luxurious seating, a warm atmosphere, and a wide range of gin-based cocktails and unique concoctions make this speakeasy a must-visit.

5. Employees Only

Don’t be fooled by the “Psychic” sign in the window – this speakeasy is a charming establishment masquerading as a psychic reader storefront in the West Village. Enjoy the Prohibition-style setting and sample their award-winning cocktails, accompanied by delicious bites.

Honorable Mentions

  • Dear Irving: Inspired by classic movies and hidden behind an unassuming door, visitors can enjoy a trip through time with the bar’s themed rooms.

  • Le Boudoir: Accessible through a secret passage in a French bistro, this speakeasy evokes the luxurious ambience of Marie Antoinette’s private chambers.

  • Sugar East: A true ode to the prohibition era, this Upper East Side speakeasy hides behind a candy shop façade.


New York City’s rich speakeasy scene is an enchanting blend of history, sophistication, and innovative mixology. If you’re a beer enthusiast, a casual socializer, or a curious traveler, a visit to these clandestine bars, steeped in Prohibition-era nostalgia, is a truly unique experience that shouldn’t be missed. So gather your friends, step back in time, and uncover the hidden gems that New York City has to offer. Cheers!

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