With the season premiere of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and the return of the flapper mentality we wanted to make an ode to all of the venues in the city that depict the discreet Prohibition days from the 1920s until 1933. These venues symbolize one of the strangest movements in history — the obsession with the good old days and the allure of Prohibition. These venues are hard to find as they usually have no signage in the front and the exterior gives the public an abandoned look.
If you want to go to one of these places you will have to dig up the phone number, search out the streets and adhere to the strict rules of admittance to get into super-secret places like Milk & Honey. Some of them even have fake addresses listed such as Cienfuegos, which fools the public with a fake Avenue A address. The Back Room is the very definition of a hidden hot spot as its entrance is through a gate marked “Lower East Side Toy Company.” They serve martinis in teacups and beers in brown paper bags. A favorite speakeasy in the city, PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in the East Village has a secret door inside the hot dog spot, Crif Dogs. You enter the location with a password through a vintage telephone booth and then a buzzer opens a secret door revealing a speakeasy-type atmosphere.
The Raines Law Room in Chelsea puts the issue front and center with its name. The Raines Law that was passed by the New York State Legislature in 1896 and banned the sale of liquor on Sundays except at hotels where guests could be served drinks during meals. The lounge is accessed with a doorbell at the bottom of an unmarked staircase. Once seated, there is another buzzer at the table to summon the bartender.
Angel’s Share is the best-kept secret in Manhattan. It will truly please the cocktail aficionados as they pass through a Japanese restaurant to get to this hidden Mecca in the East Village. The elegant lounge is tough to get a seat as there is a no-standing room and you can only be admitted once a table opens.
Many people have a fondness for this period of American history as they imagine the allure of ambiguity and the idea of a furtive hideaway. Illegal liquor adds a certain type of thrill to nightlife in a period where nothing is hidden or forbidden.