One Constitutional amendment that most everyone still celebrates was passed on December 5, 1933. The 21st amendment repealed the 18th, putting an end to America’s thirteen-year dry spell known as Prohibition. The years of alcohol outlaw prior to that historic “Repeal Day” weren’t totally dry, though. Prohibition actually fueled a vast underground culture of “speakeasies,” so called because one had to speak easy about them in public so as not to alert the neighbors or the police. Here, bootleg booze, lively jazz, swing dancing, short skirts, pinstripe suits, and multi-cultural revelry were the norm and the rage. Before Prohibition, women were not allowed in bars, but during? It was all illegal, so the women joined the men and everyone was criminal together. Speakeasies were places of new fashion, roaring dance, progressive ideas, and overall comradery. Throw in craft cocktails, secret door codes, an element of danger, and you’ve got a scene to be desired. The repeal of the 18th amendment is one of the only holidays written into our Constitution. Consider it your civic duty to celebrate. Today, December 5th, is the 85th anniversary of Repeal Day, and, luckily, you can celebrate with style and a nod to the past at one of Manhattan’s best speakeasies.
The Back Room
120 Norfolk Street
Lower East Side
Hidden in the back of Ratner’s, The Back Room is not just a throwback to the 20’s, it is an actual relic, a speakeasy that thrived during Prohibition and still thrives today. The entryway is hidden, the decor archival, the bookcases more than what they seem. Ghosts of the past include actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age as well as notorious gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. On Monday evenings, expect live jazz and door codes (find the passwords on their facebook page).
Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store
The Ragtrader, 70 West 36th Street
Dimly lit and swankily adorned, Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store lies hidden beneath The Rag Trader in Midtown. Formerly a tailor’s fitting room, this piano bar pays homage to a time when intimate gatherings mattered and things were meticulously crafted by hand—and it shows. Cocktails such as the Zoot Suit Riot, featuring scotch, yuzu, caramel, sesame, and egg whites pour from astute barkeeps’ hands. Eats such as Sriracha Deviled Eggs and Pork Belly Pizza are not to be missed. The main attraction, of course, is the magic that spills from the deft fingers of Skip Brevis on piano, six nights a week. Often accompanied by guest pianists and vocalists, Mr. Brevis at Bo Peep transports even the most modern among us to a simpler, swankier, and more intimate time of old.
8 Stuyvesant Street
Hidden upstairs at Village Yokocho, the only thing truly secret about Angel’s Share is its entryway. With cocktails so exceptional and decor so beautiful, it’s hard not to have heard about it—even Vogue held its 125th anniversary bash there last year. That said, Angel’s Share is strikingly intimate. So intimate, in fact, that they won’t let you in if your party is more than four. So, plan accordingly—impress a special someone or woo a reserved client, at most, plan a double date. You may have to wait to enter, but once inside, your party will be dazzled by the ethereal murals and sophisticated setting, and rewarded with Japanese takes on classic cocktails. With a no-standing policy, bartenders in formal attire, and concoctions such as Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (served in a smoking glass), Angel’s Share is a cultivated hideaway for an enchanting evening.
532 West 27th Street
Within the McKittrick Hotel lies two shrouded gems: 1. Nightly interactive performances of Sleep No More, Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy with a film noir spin (if you’ve already seen it, it’s a great time to revisit); and 2. The Manderley Bar, a concert hall and cocktail lounge featuring jazz- and ‘20’s-inspired nightly performances, which opens up to the public after Sleep No More performances. You don’t have to have tickets to the show to get in, but you might want to consider it: the award-winning Sleep No More’s many reputable reviews include words such as “brilliant,” “insane,” “mind-bending,” “transformative,” “amazing,” and like “living inside a David Lynch film.” If you do miss the show, no worries—grab a Green Beast (Absinthe, lime, and cucumber), sit back in the dim red hue, and enjoy the transporting sounds of performers that take you back to a bygone era.
This list is just a nudge. Like the actual speakeasies of the Prohibition, you’ll have to discover the others for yourself. Hints include PDT, The Office, Bathtub Gin, Employees Only, Little Branch, and Dear Irving. Find your own scene, settle in with your preferred spirit, and remember —no talking politics at the bar. Unless, of course, it’s about the 21st amendment, in which case, speak (easy) away.
After a night out celebrating the 21st amendment in 2018, you may crave some NYC foods. Check out our guide to Eating Like a New Yorker where you’ll find all the best spots for recovering from a night of celebrations.