The Secret Bars Of The East Village

CienfuegosSophie Hoeller Cienfuegos, 443 East Sixth Street.

The Volstead Act prohibiting the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol from 1919 to 1933, may be a thing of the past, but secret bars (many of which are in our own backyard) are here to stay. These tucked-away little corners offer visitors a haven away from a city and a neighborhood overrun with bars and people. The allure of a clandestine bar lies in the thrill of the chase, the effort of finding the place, landing a reservation and actually getting past secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) entrances. Once seated and sipping old-school drinks without fear of arrest, comes a feeling of being in the know, an insider, and being able to make other New Yorkers feel like tourists.

Here’s our guide to the East Village’s most happening “secret” bars of today. Of course, we can’t guarantee access.

PDT entranceSophie Hoeller PDT, 113 Saint Marks Place.

PDT (Please Don’t Tell)
113 Saint Marks Place (at Avenue A)

Though PDT is no longer secret, its coolness factor and appeal have never once waned. Many keep PDT’s number on speed-dial to obtain an elusive reservation in the tiny, dimly lit, wood paneled and taxidermy-strewn bar, once the phone lines open at 3 p.m.

Few can resist the surreptitious way of entering the bar — through the innocuous hot dog joint Crif Dogs, further through a vintage phone booth within the restaurant, behind which the host/ess lurks whom you have to call by using the rotary dial phone.

PDT, phone booth, entranceSophie Hoeller The phone booth entrance to PDT.

Once you’ve made it, feel like you’re doing something illegal in the quiet and dimly lit speakeasy, sprawled in an old-school leather booth, as you enjoy innovative but pricey ($14) cocktails mixed by expert mixologists, or snack on tater tots or hot dogs from next door.

The Clincher: Reservations are essential to avoid being the sad patron munching on a hot dog outside the phone booth while smarter guests sashay on by. Phone lines open at 3 p.m., yet it is common for PDT to be fully booked by the time you finally get through a 3:07 p.m.

Cabin Down Below, entranceSophie Hoeller Cabin Down Below, 110 Avenue A.

Cabin Down Below
110 Avenue A (at Seventh Street)
The entrance is at 132 ½ Seventh Street

An edgier version of PDT, The Cabin Down Below, named after a Tom Petty song, is the product of three East Village scenesters: Johnny T, the owner of Niagara and Bowery Electric, Jesse Malin, from the bands Heart Attack and D Generation (now solo), and Matt Romano of The Strokes.

This is a doubly secret bar. Since the pizza joint through which one previously entered closed, you now have to climb down a few stairs in a somewhat sketchy back alley on Seventh Street. Having recently visited at 11 p.m. on a Thursday with three friends in tow, the bouncer ushered us to a small, dark, unremarkable and unfamiliar bar. Having been to CDB before, I shook my head and told him I wanted the real deal. A quick somewhat condescending scan of my friends and me later, he grumpily jerked his head towards an even more hidden back door.

Cabin Down BelowSophie Hoeller Inside Cabin Down Below.

Celebrity sightings are common at this chill, hipster-friendly bar that is sometimes more mom’s basement than speakeasy, with various nooks and crannies, affordable, no-frills drinks at the tiny bar, mellow music, antique mirrors, white-washed walls, bookshelves, exposed brick and wood-beamed rooms with cozy tables, booths and couches. The cabin-y feel comes from the fireplace, wooden swordfish, and paintings of bears and mountains.

Though it starts out as a chill lounge to have simple drinks and good conversation, as the night progresses it turns into a packed, club-like joint.

The Clincher: Enter through a somewhat sketchy back alley on 132 ½ Seventh Street and face the menacing bouncer to receive the once-over.

CienfuegosSophie Hoeller Cienfuegos, 443 East Sixth Street.

Cienfuegos Above Carteles
443 East Sixth Street
(Between First Avenue and Avenue A)

This bar offers a taste of Havana in the middle of the East Village. The giant boom box is set to La Mega, blasting salsa and Hispanic music, setting the mood as you walk in. Bottles of rum line the bar, next to stacks of yellow Bustelo coffee tins. The floor, the bar, even the walls and ceilings are covered in a mosaic of mint green and lemon yellow tiles, giving the place a wholly tropical vibe.

And this is just Carteles, the tiny (just nine bar stools!) and ridiculously cute bar and sandwich shop below Cienfuegos.

Cienfuegos is clandestinely located around the bar and just past the espresso machine: one would never guess that there is a whole different world up there. After a 25-minute wait and with no idea what to expect, we are finally allowed up the rickety wooden stairs, underneath foil-wrapped pipes and vents, and past an altar of sorts with candles and mirrors. When we emerge, we are suddenly standing in a drinking parlor circa 1950 Cuba rather than 2010 East Village.

CienfuegosSophie Hoeller A selection of beverages at Cienfuegos.

The large and high-ceilinged restaurant (about 25 tables) and rum bar with 57 types, is coated in bright turquoise paint with white shuttered windows, the tables enclosed by white metal gates. Tufted white chairs and couches illuminated by candelabras, chandeliers and lanterns give the restaurant a loungey vibe.

The tables are canvas, seemingly made of old suitcases smeared with paint and studded with rivets, adding to the rustic feel of the place. Fun gimmicks include metal punch bowls from which patrons can serve themselves with a giant spoon, and cigar boxes in which the bills arrive. The unusual, rum-based drinks are around $13, and there is a full menu of delicious Cuban food.

The Clincher: though the space is large, you may have to wait.

Angel's ShareSophie Hoeller Angel’s Share in Village Yokocho, 8 Stuyvesant Street.

Angel’s Share in Village Yokocho
8 Stuyvesant Street

As I stand on the last stair of the second floor Japanese restaurant Village Yokocho, innocuously looking around for the “secret” door to Angel’s Share, a waiter catches my not-so-subtle glance and waves me towards him. “Bar?” he asks, and as I nod discreetly he throws a thumb to the left, towards an unmarked and nondescript door.

On the other side, a baroque, renaissance palace awaits, with giant windows overlooking Stuyvesant Street, floral gold and burgundy wallpaper, heavy, fringed curtains, leather booths and couches, and, the pièce de résistance; a giant painting of blond chubby cherubs (and a crying angel with horns) over the heavy wood bar.

In contrast to the loud and bustling sushi bar on the other side of the thin door, Angel’s Share has a wholly non-Asian feel to it, and with it’s candlelit vibe and soothing jazz, is quiet and much like a traditional speakeasy.

Angel's ShareSophie Hoeller Inside Angel’s Share.

A wide selection of unusual drinks can be had for around $14 each, some made with intriguing ingredients such as dragon tears, mixed by bartenders in traditional speakeasy attire — ties, white shirts, vests, and those rubber bands around their forearms.

Angel’s Share also has 10 pages of bourbon, scotch, whiskey, wine and sake to choose from and a few random appetizers ranging from sashimi to chicken wings.

The Clincher: No standing at the bar and no parties larger than four.

Mapping the Secret Bars of the East Village

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