Plan A Prohibition-Style Bar Crawl For Your Next Visit To NYC

The glitz and glam of the Roaring Twenties, and the first three years of the decade-long economic hardship known as the Great Depression, lay bare to one of the strictest and most memorable bans on the manufacturing, importing, transporting, and purchase of alcohol there has ever been: Prohibition. Lasting 13 years, Prohibition had become a constitutional law implemented within the 18th Amendment, which led to what was notoriously known as bootlegging throughout the country, and the illegal purchase and consumption of alcohol by millions of Americans.

Within the city of New York, residents saw this as a fast money-making opportunity — albeit an illegal one — and according to the New York Post, the law known as Prohibition created chaos on the streets of the Big Apple, prompting New Yorkers to illegally produce, sell, and consume alcohol in secret, with over 30,000 illicit liquor establishments known as speakeasies opening up in the city alone. The rise of speakeasies across the country also gave way to women's rights taking on a whole new meaning. Not only did women begin producing and selling alcohol, but they also became the new and quite frequent patrons of these hidden secret bars popping up all over America, as reported by The New York Times.

From iconic to modern: the nostalgic revival of the speakeasy

Back in the day, speakeasies were hidden in plain sight. Tucked inside faux-named storefronts, secret back rooms, underground, and even behind bookcases, they often required secret passwords to enter. During the Prohibition era, many notable speakeasies were at the forefront, as documented by New York Magazine's subsidiary Intelligencer, with most of them disappearing out of sight after it ended.

However, there were two in New York City that withstood the test of time, remaining open well into the 21st century. Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one infamous speakeasy bar that opened its doors on January 1, 1930 — 21 Club — was forced to close forever, as reported by CNN, ending the 90-year era of this magnificent icon.

1999 saw the opening of a new bar with a Prohibition-styled theme, prompting the revival of the New York speakeasies: Milk & Honey, according to LoopNet. That resurrection witnessed a resurgence of hundreds of similar bars appearing throughout the city, influencing us to take a crawl through some of the best speakeasies in the Big Apple, starting with an original that is still standing strong.

The Back Room

An iconic speakeasy has been open since 1920, The Back Room prides itself on being one of the original Prohibition-era bars still standing in New York City. Patrons will first have to make their way down a dark alleyway following the crude sign announcing all to be silent, keeping an eye out for another roughly made sign that advertises LES Toy Company, then enter through the original hidden secret entrance used 90 years ago. Once inside, patrons find themselves immersed in vintage décor from the 1920s that provides the perfectly cozy old-world gentleman's club feel with its dark mahogany furnishings, stairs and bannisters, wooden floors, tin ceiling, chandeliers, velvet and upholstered seating, an open fire, and low-lighting ambiance.

Serving cocktail drinks from teacups and beer in paper bags — just as they were served during Prohibition — The Back Room also provides sultry jazz music and swing dancing for its patrons. What's even more special about The Back Room is the authentic additional secret room hidden within its structure. Completely concealed by a bookcase, it can only be accessed if one's been invited. Walk-ins are always welcome to The Back Room, and for groups of five or more, reservations are required.

Patent Pending

Patent Pending is an intriguing speakeasy establishment that opened its doors in 2018. Distinguished as a New York City landmark, the Radio Wave Building is where Nikola Tesla lived and performed his mysterious experiments. Now, it has a Prohibition-style bar tucked within its old cellar.

Patrons enter the establishment via a hidden door in the unassuming Patent Coffee, finding themselves inside a dimly lit bar screaming industrial elements. Once inside, electric-themed décor, leather stools and seats, and a dark red brick interior greets you. There's even a separate room called The Lab for private parties only, which exudes that speakeasy feel as well. Not to mention the long list of curiously named cocktails, wine, beer, and appetizers that await you when you arrive. Coffee shop by day, discreet speakeasy bar by night — one can't go wrong visiting Patent Pending. Seating is first-come, first-served, and reservations are optional.

Employees Only

Established in 2004 by five friends heavily experienced in the bar and restaurant industry, Employees Only has been recognized as one of The World's 50 Best Bars for 10 uninterrupted years. With the drive and determination to create something spectacular, this very intimate speakeasy-themed bar, which has also been honored with numerous awards, provides everything from a captivating ambiance to exceptional cocktails and fine dining for all its patrons.

From low lighting throughout the establishment to backlit paintings, a curved mahogany bar that accentuates sensuality, and interesting, unique art deco, customers are invited to locate this hidden establishment via a psychic tarot reader's storefront, then make their way through an enigmatic foyer before entering. Bartenders are dressed in dapper white jackets ready to serve you enticing tipples ranging from the classics to modern, seasonal, and downright fancy innovative cocktails. Dinner is by reservation only. However, cocktails and appetizers are served on a first-come, first-served basis.

Dear Irving Gramercy

If you're looking for an authentic-looking speakeasy that exudes the elegance, style, and class that one would experience walking on the arm of the Great Gatsby himself, then make your way to Dear Irving Gramercy. Established in 2014 by the creators of Raines Law Room, this upscale cocktail bar tucked inside a residential building with no name on its door exudes character, charm, and history, and best of all, encourages the act of drinking slowly and savoring every drop while absorbing the ambiance (per The New Yorker).

Dear Irving Gramercy offers patrons four themed rooms that take you back in history, all inspired by Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." The lavish and seductive parlor of Marie Antoinette features dark red velvet couches and exquisite chandeliers. There's also the 1960s-themed JFK room, followed by the Abraham Lincoln room located near the beautiful mahogany bar. Finally, the Great Gatsby room is decked out in 1920s art deco, donned with stunning clear beaded curtains enclosing booths for privacy (per the The World's 50 Best Bars).

Each has its own flair and style of furnishings that complement the era perfectly. And, each table comes with a personal buzzer, allowing you to summon servers when you're ready to order. Just remember to dress to impress when attending this swanky speakeasy. It exudes class, and so should its patrons. While walk-ins are more than welcome, reservations are highly recommended.