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.