It's a New Era for Hidden Bars in New York City

Make the rounds at these five New York City spots for an "underground" cocktail experience—no passwords required.

Hidden doorways and muttered passwords were almost always billed as part of the experience when it came to getting a quality cocktail in the early-to-mid-2000s. Cocktail bars like PDT in New York City, The Varnish in Los Angeles, and Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco offered libations with an attention to detail that we'd never had before. (At least not in our lifetimes.) Bartenders—excuse us, mixologists—ushered in a new wave of drinking culture where everything from the spirits to the glasses, and even the ice mattered—and guests happily lapped up their drinks in their exclusive environs.

The speakeasy trend ultimately fizzled once everyone realized they were all whispering about the worst-kept secrets in town. The enigmatic bar policies suddenly felt gimmicky and stifling. Remind us why we have to jump through hoops for an $18 drink? Eventually the passwords faded, but thoughtful cocktails remained the standard.

Nearly a decade later, the cocktail hideaway has evolved into something that feels just right. Here are five New York City bars that deliver a tucked-away experience without the cloak-and-dagger effect.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


The late cocktail legend Sasha Petraske is often credited for singlehandedly sparking the entire speakeasy craze by paving the way for craft cocktails when he opened his Lower East Side bar Milk & Honey in 1999—long before classic cocktails were in the repertoire of most of the city's bartenders. Before his untimely death in 2015, Petraske was working on a bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. His trusted protégé Lucinda Sterling saw the project through, and opened Seaborne exactly the way Petraske would've done it. Simple riffs on classic cocktails—like a Palma Fizz with vodka, ginger, lime juice, seltzer, and rose water—can be found behind an unmarked door on a sleepy street in Red Hook; and the unfussy, industrial decor seals the deal on this destination bar.

228 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Slowly Shirley

Getting to Slowly Shirley can be a challenge, because this subterranean, Hollywood-inspired, 1940s cocktail den lives beneath The Happiest Hour in the West Village. And if you've ever been to The Happiest Hour, you know that the retro-tiki bar offerings (and a seriously addicting In-N-Out-inspired burger) make it hard to leave your bar stool. But, we promise, if you venture downstairs, you'll be very pleased with Slowly Shirley's Art Deco Hollywood decor and equally elegant cocktails, including the Dorian Gray with Louis Royer Force 53 cognac, Calvados, yellow chartreuse, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Jerry Thomas bitters.

121 W 10th St (inside The Happiest Hour), New York, NY

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Le Boudoir

In search of a cocktail fit for royalty? The owners behind Brooklyn Heights bistro Chez Moi turned their basement into Le Boudoir, an opulent cocktail bar modeled after Marie Antoinette's private chambers. The plush red velvet banquettes and free-flowing goblets filled with over-the-top cocktails like the Dauphin, featuring absinthe, chile liqueur, almond milk, coconut, and cacao nibs, will have you feeling appropriately spoiled.

135 Atlantic Ave (inside Chez Moi), Brooklyn, NY

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Tico's Tequila Bar

Located beneath Asian-Mexican mash-up restaurant Tijuana Picnic on the Lower East Side is Tico's Tequila Bar, a self-proclaimed "Tulum-style dance party" with more than 70 varieties of tequila, 30 types of mezcal and, importantly, a DJ booth. Their late-night dance parties are fueled by equal amounts of soft-shell tacos and agave-based cocktails, including the Smoke on the Beach with blanco tequila, mezcal, green chartreuse, pineapple, and sage.

151 Essex St (inside Tijuana Picnic), New York, NY

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Up & Up

This intimate cocktail oasis is housed in what used to be Gaslight Cafe, the famed beatnik hangout of New York City's Greenwich Village. Despite an illuminated arrow beckoning passersby from MacDougal Street downstairs, you're likely to walk right by without knowing what lives below: the perfect neighborhood bar for a much-needed cocktail respite from the hectic streets above. The space comes equipped with the prerequisite vintage wallpaper and sprawling leather banquettes like so many other NYC cocktail bars, but the eclectic cocktail menu stands apart. Patrons can choose from large-format classic cocktails, bottled cocktails, and Up & Up originals like the Dreadlock Holiday with Blackwell Rum, Ransom Tom Gin, yellow chartreuse, lime juice, and Angostura bitters.

116 Macdougal St, New York, NY

More from sweet: