NYC best bars – the Back Room
Having visited Washington DC this trip for the first time and seen the great monuments of American history (including the amazing Air and Space Museum), Greedy Girl is honest enough to admit her preferred type of history basically revolves around eating and drinking. So when an opportunity arose to visit one of the original New York City speakeasies from the prohibition era, she didn’t hesitate.
During our NYC sojourn, much of it spent on the Lower East Side, we struck up a conversation at dinner one Saturday evening with a young couple at the table next to us. It was relatively early but they’d just settled their check and were contemplating turning in. Hah. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband put paid to that.
Having already done a bit of bar hopping in the lead-up to dinner, Greedy Girl was determined to drink water over dinner at Dudley’s, an Australian cafe-cum-restaurant in Orchard Street. Starting to chat, that ideal flew out the open window; we did our version of “I’ll have what she’s having” – some refreshing gin and cucumber cocktails. We ordered a round, and another, and another …
The evening got away from us – or so we thought; our new friends suggested heading to a local landmark for a night cap – the Back Room.
The Back Room is accessed through one of the sidewalk grates that are ubiquitous in NYC. On one of the quieter streets in the Lower East Side, the only thing that tells you something is quite different about this basement is the burly security guard sitting out front.
And so, down the rabbit hole we went; the steep metal stairs take you through a subterranean passage, to a set of stairs at the other end and a plain door. Inside is a room that one imagines hasn’t changed (much) since the 1920s. It’s windowless, dimly-lit and a thrill for the senses. Greedy Girl thought of her late, lamented grandmother and the stories she used to tell about going out to do the Charleston.
It’s a large room; large chandeliers swing from various points in the ceiling (although the brilliance of their lights is muted by dimmer switches) and there are loads of couches and plush velvet seats although, this late on a Saturday night, it’s standing room only. We find a spot to prop not too far away from the bar and continued to imbibe.
Cocktails are presented in teacups – as they were in the roaring twenties when the likes of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano held ‘business meetings’ here. We opt for a Moscow Mule cocktail – vodka, ginger beer and lime. It’s addictively refreshing. There’s a range of cocktails and other drinks on offer.
Greedy Girl remembers hearing snatches of music over the constant hubbub of conversation. Despite the crowd, it’s still relatively easy to chat in this environment and we’re soon caught up in other conversations with nearby groups – including a host of Australians.
The speakeasy’s cover, back in the day, was as a toy factory; the signs of this are still visible today at street level. The venue itself is highly sought after by television and movie producers as an authentic example of the period – having been featured in a number of productions, including ‘Boardwalk Empire’.
But it’s fantastic to see the space still be used for its original purpose, rather than become a museum. One Moscow Mule turned into two, or three, or five … Yes, let’s say five.
Any list of NYC best bars should include the Back Room; it’s more than a fun night out, it’s living history – and isn’t that the best kind?
With thanks to Troy Hahn and the Back Room for the use of the photographs in this blog.
The Back Room
102 Norfolk Street, New York City (Lower East Side)