I think I’m about to be mugged.
It’s nighttime in Manhattan. We’re walking down a sketchy alleyway that cuts under a dilapidated building. Dirty rainwater drips down the graffitied walls as we sidestep puddles and cigarette ends.
Just when we’re thinking of turning back, and old man leers at us from the shadows, points a gnarled and crooked finger and grumbles, ‘That way.’ We follow his directions, covering our
nerves terror with laughter. I make a slightly-too-flippant remark about how we could turn up dead in the Hudson in the morning.
Ahead of us is a flight of flaking metal steps. We start to climb…
Think ‘New York’, and somewhere down the line (perhaps after the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building), your mind will turn to the roaring twenties: prohibition, bootleggers, and a wild nights in a secret speakeasy.
It’s an era that grips the imagination: F Scott Fitzgerald; flapper fashion; and the setting for my absolute favourite, Some Like It Hot.
The hidden glamour and secret lives of the 1920s have always fascinated me. So when I heard from a friend that you can still visit a speakeasy in Manhattan, I knew I had to try it.
Backroom Bar is located at 102 Norfolk Street, Manhattan.
You need to take a note of the address, because there are no signs announcing that it’s there. The only way to do it is to find number 100 and number 104 and then to position yourself between the two.
The only sign to let you know you’re in the right place is a grubby white board tied to a gate, with the letters individually and roughly stuck on: ‘Lower East Side Toy Company’.
Go through the gate, down the steps and along the alleyway. It may not feel like it, but you’re going the right way.
As you climb the metal stairs at the end, the model cars on display here are your first clue that all is not as it seems. At the top of the stairs is an unmarked door. This is the secret entrance to the speakeasy. Go through it and you’re transported to another time…
1920s decor abounds. Chandeliers grace the wooden ceiling above the bar. Cozy tables surround a roaring fire, and vintage books pepper the space. So do vintage globes, though these are all hinged fairly close to the equator, so they open to form wine coolers / alcohol stashes.
The music adds to the atmosphere, and the cocktails are served as they would have been during the prohibition: in teacups.
Just another reason to brave the alleyway that leads to the secret bar…