These retro-style bars bring legit cool to cozy gatherings.
If you’re trying to help your team bond, impress a client or show your colleagues that you’re still cool, hold your next intimate gathering at a secret speakeasy. Some of these establishments have been around since Prohibition and others replicate the illegal bars from the 1920s.
Speakeasies are known for their high-end cocktails, unique atmosphere and secrecy. While they’re no longer illegal, often you can only get in if you’re clued into the discreet location (sometimes with an unmarked entrance), the rules or the password. And, speaking of rules, it’s a good idea to check current COVID protocol before venturing out.
There’s no sign at this mysterious Chinatown speakeasy, just an iron gate and a doorbell. Finding it and getting in are tough, and staying in can be challenging, too. Guests who pull out a phone get banned for life. The dimly lit bar has widely spaced tables topped with elaborate candelabras, brick-exposed walls, a nickel-topped bar and a wall of hard-to-find liquors.
Le, the single-named proprietor, will occasionally do buyouts for up to 50. Bring a group of up to 10, but if anyone doesn’t follow the dress code (no flip flops, baseball caps or shorts) you’ll all be turned away. No reservations. You’ll have to wait in line, but it’s worth it.
Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles
Get a cut, a cocktail and a sense of community at Blind Barber, a barbershop and speakeasy. The first one opened in New York City’s East Village in 2010. In the decade since, more have opened in Moxy NYC Times Square (barbershop only), as well as in Philadelphia, Chicago and two in Los Angeles. No two are the same but each offers a drink and more with a haircut at the attached speakeasy. The concept is a real hit, even for those who don’t know that Phillies star athlete and uber groomer Bryce Harper is a partial owner.
Full and partial buyouts are available. Book just the barbershop, only the bar or both for the full Blind Barber experience. The two-story Philadelphia bar can hold up to 200, while the East Village location has space for up to 100. For groups of 10 or more, make reservations for a table and bottle service. Walk-ins welcome.
New York City
The Back Room on the Lower East Side is one of only two speakeasies in New York City that actually operated during Prohibition and are still in existence. In the 1920s it was known as “The Back of Ratner’s” and was frequented by actors and gangsters.
The Back Room continues to attract celebrities, and it still serves cocktails in teacups, as it did when Bugsy Siegel and his cronies drank there. To find it, look for a waist-high gate with a Lower East Side Toy Company sign. On Mondays, there’s live jazz, but guests need a password (which is found on the bar’s Facebook or Instagram page).
Reservations are available for drinks (there’s no food). The entire lounge, which holds up to 150, is available for a full buyout. Groups of 20 to 30 can rent the smaller private room with an open bar, which is behind a bookcase door.
The building that houses Ordinary in New Haven’s historic downtown has reportedly been a bar since the 1600s. Its extraordinary history includes an overnight by George Washington. The building was converted into a hotel in the early 1900s and is now apartments. The current owners spent nine months renovating the space and preserving the carved woodwork, intricate plaster ceiling and fireplace, which is topped with Gunther, a mounted moose head gifted by the owner of a bar formerly located at the property.
Enter through the intimate cocktail museum to learn about Jerry Thomas, a New Haven native known as the “Godfather of Cocktails,” and to see antique bitters bottles and Prohibition-era prescriptions for alcohol. Then ring the bell of the inner door, which looks like a bookcase.
Ordinary takes reservations and walk-ins. Full buyouts for up to 80 are available, as are partial buyouts of the back room for up to 50.
There’s a steakhouse with a speakeasy tucked beneath it just 20 minutes from Newark Airport and 30 minutes from New York City. The New Jersey establishment is three stories; while all stories share a menu, they have dramatically different vibes, offering lots of flexibility for business gatherings.
Rails Steakhouse has a wine list that has won accolades from Wine Spectator and is on the main floor. It’s topped by Rafters, which has a more casual lodge feel. And beneath them both is Thirty3. The lower-level bar is reminiscent of a cozy Prohibition-style bar specializing in cocktails that are made with hand-squeezed juices, fresh herbs, house-spiked single barrel bourbons and single malt scotches.
Thirty3 is available for buyouts and can hold 40 for a seated meal or up to 100 for a cocktail party.
If the walls at the century-old Omni William Penn Hotel could talk, they’d tell of being the birthplace of Lawrence Welk’s original bubble machine, the founder’s grandfather distilling whiskey for the hotel five years before the grand opening, and a speakeasy nestled beneath the lobby during Prohibition.
Over the decades, the speakeasy became storage space. Then in 2012, 79 years after Prohibition was repealed, it reopened. Today, it’s a dark, sexy lounge with plush scarlet seating, a tin roof reminiscent of the 1920s and historical artifacts such as Prohibition-era prescriptions for whiskey that were discovered at a local pharmacy and whiskey brewed by the grandfather of Henry Clay Frick, the American industrialist who built the hotel.
The speakeasy is walk-in only, and buyouts are available with a food and drink minimum. The room can hold up to 45 people, and the meeting space next door can be used for overflow.