Speak Softly and Sip Deeply at This Sultry Speakeasy
November 18, 2010
NEW YORK, USA – After alcohol was banned in New York in the twenties, speakeasies seemed to sprout up on every street corner and back alley (much to the delight of the working class and business elite, who made sinking into darkness and getting a taste of prohibition an easy habit of their after-work hours). Though the age of Prohibition has far since passed, speakeasies, especially in Manhattan, remain very much in vogue. Legality, however, has allowed seediness to transform into sumptuousness, sketchiness to sexiness. And none can fit the bill better than Raines Law Room, a bar hidden on a nondescript stretch of 17th Street in the Flatiron that, in short, pays zero heed to the 1896 New York liquor law it was named after (thank goodness for that).
Once found (this may be harder than it seems unless you know what you’re looking for), duck past the black doorframe, walk down a narrow flight of steps to an unmarked door, and ring the doorbell. In a moment’s time, a tall and sallow-cheeked man with a thick accent and suit from an era long since past will poke his head out to inquire.
“Seats for three, please,” you might pronounce, and he will look your party up and down before allowing you to slip inside. Given there is space, of course, as the bar is sit-down only.
Discover a dimly lit subterranean room littered by antique accents and the distinct romanticism of the Roaring Twenties. The walls, covered in provocative paisley-patterned wallpaper (look closely and prepare to blush), are spotted with sepia-colored and aging portraits of upper classmen from the era, while a sooty fireplace mantle displays old trinkets like jewelry boxes and ornate picture frames. A trending-slightly-older clientele, dressed to the nines, sip classy cocktails from their places at strategically placed velvet armchairs and wraparound banquettes separated by gauzy black curtains. My favorite detail, once I got past the absolute beauty of the interior, was the doorbell-esque buzzers located beside every seat. Guests simply pull the chain, which lights up a bell, to alert their waitress that they are ready to order. Talk about personal attention.
The gold tin ceiling was a bit amiss-slightly tacky when compared with the rest of the room’s dark décor-but I was able to look past my misgiving once I had a try of the mixology (the tasteful menu was constructed by Michael McIlroy of Milk & Honey fame). I opted for a rum-inspired number named Chet Baker (I confess, my love for the jazz trumpeter may have originally inspired my choice), but any of the whiskey-based concoctions are equally right on the money.
And don’t be afraid to release your inner Gloria Swanson. Here, cloche hats wouldn’t be unfitting. Judging from fellow schmoozers, dressing up is actually more of a requirement than an excuse (my friend arrived in a suit and tie and looked positively perfect for the role).
Keep in mind that Raines, in true speakeasy style, offers no phone number and accepts parties on an as-space-permits basis (don’t give up too easily: you can always leave your number and wait for an opening). But after all the secrecy, it’s too hard not to fall head over heels in love with this sultry bar, especially when it plays hard to get.
Read more about Raines Law Room in Our New York Guide.