What’s one of the joys living in my favorite bustling metropolis? I have my pick of an array of speakeasies when I’m not feeling quite the urge to rage. For those of you who are not familiar, speakeasy was a name given to underground bars during the era of prohibition. Secret entrances behind store fronts or alleyways led to the hottest parties of the time, stocked with contraband goodness of course. Albeit prohibition has since passed but this new “it” concept has been reinvented for modern times; reborn in where else than NYC.
With its reckless extravagance, height of unbridled America ambition, and place at the cusp of a social and cultural revolution, I love everything about the idea of recreating the best of the 20s in the 21st century. Many of the NYC speakeasies strive to mirror the ambiance of the 20s – secretive, gilded, and somewhat exclusive. Although they don’t all try to embody this 20s ambiance, they all do possess an appeal,offering patrons more than a sup-par G&T. Whether it’s through a coffeeshop store front, a sushi restaurant, or a nondescript unmarked door, NYC speakeasies succeed maintaining a certain intrigue with drinks bringing back bitters, egg white cocktail and gimlets back into the vocabulary of millennials.
Yes the cocktails are expensive but we live in NYC. If you’re paying 9 dollars for that Stella, then I sure as hell don’t mind paying 14 for a strong yet beautifully executed cocktail. I find that most run-of-the-mill bars offer one-dimensional, often sugary-sweet cocktails. But the best speakeasies strive to wow patrons with unique ingredient combinations, innovative names and concepts, with clean, bold flavors.
So why don’t I start by reviewing one of my favorites:
2nd Floor on Clinton – The Rundown
Speakeasy Allure Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Now this speakeasy surely has one of most interesting entrances, tucked in a side street in the LES. The entrance to the second floor speakeasy is through another bar! While downstairs the bar “Barracuda” is your standard downtown bar, go passed the bar and go through an unmarked (“PRIVATE”) door, and you walk up the stairs to a dichotomous atmosphere. Upstairs the speakeasy is furnished tastefully with comfortable seating and bookcases. The layout is airy and small bites of food are available to accompany your drinks. Looking out on Clinton Street, you feel as though you still are in the LES though no one really know that you, or the bar, is there from the outside.
Drink Rating: 4/5 stars
The drink selection here is quite expansive both for those who prefer sweet and savory drinks. I would say that sweet drinks can hinge on a tad bid too sweet and overall the drinks here don’t pack as much of an alcoholic punch as some of its rivals. However they are well executed and the wait staff is quite attentive. The cocktail menu changes with the seasons. Some favorites are listed below from a recent visit:
Black Forest – If you like Brandy, as it is my current aperitif of choice, you can’t go wrong
Obstler (Apple and Pear Brandy) Aperol, Buddha’s Hand House Infused Vodka, Moscato d’Asti, Rose, Elderflower, Lemon, Rhubarb & Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters
Saint Basil’s Pear – Spicy yet floral – a rejuvenated, old-fashioned drink
Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, Velvet Falernum, Persimmon, Cardamom, Elderflower, Lemon, Old fashion & Bergamot Bitters
The Flu – Potent for those who like the bold flavor of rye, or for those just looking to get max bang for their buck. Also a great drink for ginger lovers who love a little spice in their cocktail
Whistle Pig Rye, Ginger Brandy, Lemon juice, Ginger Syrup, Hot bitters
Overall Impression: 4.3/5 Stars
For me this is a great speakeasy for a date or catch up with a small group of friends. The lights are dim and the ambiance is not at all pretentious. As one of the more under-the-radar speakeasies, it’s never too crowded and unlike some of the bigger names (Raines/Death&Co) you don’t have wait too long to get a table on most occasions. As for all speakeasies, it’s not ideal for a big group but they do have space so calling ahead could help with that.
With speakeasies in general, for me, it’s the allure – doing something out of the ordinary and feeling exclusive, knowing something secretive apart from the masses. Some may balk at the staged nature of the “speakeasy” ambiance, and it’s true that some fall short in authenticity. However, when done right, speakeasies lend themselves to a night that feels special – as I like to say, something we all ironically seek to find in this city of excess.
http://www.2ndflooronclinton.com/ – 67 Clinton Street – 212-529-6900