Manhattan's Speakeasies: Then and Now

By Raphael Pallais of The Plaza
September 27, 2012 | New York, United States
Manhattan's Speakeasies: Then and Now
Photo: eateryrow.com
The Raines Law Room, a modern-day speakeasy.

During Prohibition, there were at least 20,000 speakeasies throughout the city. And the number may have soared as high as 100,000. Let's face it: Prohibition was probably the best thing to happen to the alcohol industry!

One of the survivors is the famous 21 Club, whose liquor vault was never discovered by the Prohibition police. Why? Because it stood behind a 2.5-ton door disguised as a brick wall, which could only be opened by inserting a long, slender meat skewer into a crack to trigger the bolt. Today the cellar still holds the restaurant's finest vintage bottles. And a long elegant dining table for private affairs.

To relive the thrill of Prohibition subterfuge, you should seek out one of Manhattan's "hidden" bars. And here in midtown, we've got a few. In the tradition of the elegant 21 Club, there's The Raines Law Room, a swanky 20s-inspired lounge behind a nondescript subterranean door. Inside, you feel as though you've been invited to someone's posh pad: the rooms (the parlor, the lounge, the kitchen) are dimly lit and stylishly furnished. The cocktails are at once creative and classic.

Bar Centrale also appears to be a private residence. You climb a set of steep steps to the double oak doors of a Victorian brownstone. Because it's situated in the Theater District, this is a popular place for show-goers in the know.

Just don't be surprised to find a Broadway star there unwinding after curtain call.