Discover more from Rat Report
Please Don't Tell
Speakeasy magic in the East Village
When you picture speakeasies in New York City, you probably think of a scene from the 1920's, in some secret location down a back alley with mobsters smoking cigars and wearing fedoras. In reality, speakeasies today bear almost no resemblance to this scene from the past, except that you can still probably spot someone wearing a fedora.
New York City, and Manhattan in particular, is an interesting place because it is so densely populated. With millions of people living on a tiny island, structures were built on top of and around each other with whatever limited real estate was available. Over the centuries buildings were shoe-horned into awkward lots creating a dense, entangled labyrinth of structures containing several bizarre dead-end spaces and rooms without direct street access. The result of this buildup is strangely-shaped apartments, windows facing brick walls, and most importantly, an abundance of speakeasies.
Speakeasies were created as a clever way to wring extra dollars out of tourists and utilize these spaces that would otherwise be confusing or off-putting to access. I imagine speakeasies are created like this:
Realtor: "I found the perfect space for your restaurant, and it's in a prime location! The only drawback is that the only entrance is through a pet shop; guests will have to crawl through a cage of live lizards to get in or out."
Would-be Restauranteur: "Hmmm... Perfect, I'll just make it a reptile-themed speakeasy instead."
Some speakeasies were presumably created this way, to make use of spaces that can only be entered through an art gallery or a laundromat or a Five Guys restaurant. Others, like Raine's Law Room, decide to become speakeasies simply by forgoing signage and locking the door. By forcing you to knock and beg to come inside you get the speakeasy experience without all the hassle, so that when they finally let you in you're thrilled to sit down and spend $30 on a cocktail.
And unlike clandestine watering holes of the past, today’s speakeasies aren’t at risk of being raided by the feds. The biggest risk of visiting a speakeasy today is looking like an asshole as you pace around on the sidewalk, confused, periodically glancing up from Google Maps on your phone before finally spotting the unmarked door or swinging urinal that leads to your destination. For this reason it’s best to visit with someone who has been there before.
A speakeasy called Please Don’t Tell in the East Village has one of the more extravagant entrances that I’ve seen. You walk into a hotdog restaurant, enter a phone booth, and dial a number on the rotary phone which rings a bell inside the speakeasy. If you ring the bell several times in rapid succession the back wall of the phone booth will swing open, revealing an irate hostess. Success!
Once inside, you’re greeted by some great taxidermy pieces, including a raccoon and a bear wearing a hat. A bit sad, yes, but comical none the less.
While the entrance and taxidermy were excellent, drinks did not seem to be this bar’s forte. My friend (a respected veterinarian who has spent lots of time on farms) remarked that my drink smelled like a dairy barn. Another friend (an avid maker of salsas) accurately compared her drink to a fresh salsa verde mixed with sparkling water. A third friend, the most polite of the bunch, simply observed that her drink was “tart and beet forward.”
All in all, it was a fun experience for a mid-week nightcap. While there are other options nearby with better drinks, nowhere else in the East Village can you enter through a phone booth and see a dead bear wearing a hat.
Get Rat Report delivered directly to your inbox: