America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, was founded upon the principles of hard labor and toil in pursuit of success and a better life. Of course, after a long day of work in the fields, factories, or what have you, the common working man asked for nothing more than to enjoy the simple pleasure of a cold, stiff drink. Work hard, play hard.
So when the government instituted Prohibition in 1920, and the nation’s mantra became something along the lines of, “give me booze or give me death,” in accordance with the American way, our ancestors did what they had to in order to salvage their happiness. And thus the religious visitation of speakeasies was established.
The speakeasy has been a part of the US nightlife scene since the 1890‘s and began merely as an illicit or unlicensed establishment that dispensed alcoholic beverages. But by the time 1933 brought the end of Prohibition, speakeasies had become something entirely different. With lavish veiled interiors, burlesque dancers, and an elite clientele, speakeasies became an underground sumptuous nightlife affair.
Today, only a few places throughout NYC still retain the grandeur and mystique of these old world speakeasies, where one could only gain entrance by presenting a personal invitation card. So we decided to invite you through the nondescript doorways and thick velvet curtains ourselves, and present you with our personal list of the must see speakeasy bars in the city.
True to speakeasy-form, Apotheke, located in Chinatown, merely looks like an abandoned building from the outside. But once you head in, you are taken into a place that is just looking to indulge your every guilty pleasure. As the name suggests, the bar acts like a naughty apothecary looking to sooth your every ailment. The bartenders are dressed in white lab coats, and the "concoctions" behind the bar are displayed in beaker type containers. Termed the “Prescription List,” the drink menu is split into categories: Health & Beauty, Stress Relievers, Pain Killers, Stimulants, Aphrodisiacs, Fruit Extracts, Euphoric Enhancers, and Therapeutic Treatments. Each cocktail is totally creative and brewed to perfection. Just sit back and enjoy the sultry atmosphere as the model-esqe waitresses hand you your drinks and invite you to forget all your troubles.
From the moment you enter Madame Geneva through their back entryway (located in the Double Crown restaurant) you can feel the exclusivity and style of the speakeasy in its early-20th century heyday. With leather banquettes, exposed brick, dim lighting, and lace panels, all smartly accented in red and blue, Madame Geneva offers a cozy chic setting in which to enjoy one of their specialty cocktails. Their drinks are infamously strong, and while you’re there you should definitely try one of their creative gin-infused cocktails (the gin-and-jam for example). And they don’t lack in the food department either-go for a taste of the duck buns or braised pork belly. Madame Geneva tends to get crowded, and unfortunately closes around 2AM, so try and get there on the earlier side.
21 Club has been around since 1917, and had an elaborate security system to protect against police raids that made it one of New York’s most successful speakeasies during the Prohibition. 21 Club was a fortress, featuring a series of alarm buttons used to alert imbibing patrons of trouble, in addition to five separate liquor caches, reachable only through secret doors. Having proven its worth earlier in history, today, this esteemed venue commands a strict dress code and a pocket full of cash. But it’s definitely worth a night out, and you will be among New York’s finest. 21 Club is known for having incredible food, beautiful decor, and hypnotizing drinks. So definitely check out this restaurant that has survived the test of time.
Raines Law Room
If you're looking to be thoroughly transported through time, come to Raines Law Room. When you locate the building, look for the plain black door a few steps down from the street, adorned only by a single charming lamp and a small metal plate with the establishment's name. Ring the bell and wait for someone to answer. Once you're inside, you'll find yourself in a dimly lit '40s French deco styled living room, filled with velvet couches and Sinatra music. Take a seat and get your drinks by ringing a service bell, or choose to have your cocktails made while you stand in the kitchen located at the end of the room. Raines has a bunch of different drinks to choose from, placed on the drink menu under different categories like Tall & Fizzy, Short & Shaken, or Stirred & Potent. When you come, we absolutely suggest you make a reservation, otherwise you probably won’t get in.