Speakeasy-style bars are getting all too easy to find in New York–aren’t they supposed to be hidden? Fortunately, finding The Back Room — an actual speakeasy that has been in operation since Prohibition — is just as difficult as it should be. So grab your most adventurous friends and wander down Norfolk Street until you see the rusty gate with a small, white sign that reads, “LOWER EAST SIDE TOY CO.” Pass through the gate into a dark alley, the perfect way to start your evening with a frisson of danger. Then, head straight up the stairs to the bar, where classic cocktails and a funky, clandestine ambiance will transport you and your crew to the Roaring Twenties.
As you enter the space, the color seems to suddenly drop out, and for a minute, you’re in a sepia-toned flashback. The interior, with its long, wooden mirrored bar, epoch chandeliers, and pressed-tin ceiling, achieves that rare balance between classy and cozy. You kind of want to go up and pet the velvet wallpaper, but resist. After all, you don’t want to lose the illusion that you’re at some rich bootlegger’s party. With a little imagination, you can even start to see flapper dresses on your fellow patrons, instead of this season’s take on the cocktail dress.
Pick out a plush red couch for you and your friends. If you get there early enough, maybe you can nab a seat near the brick fireplace. Give your server a knowing wink as she hands your cold, crisp Stella Artois in a paper bag, Prohibition-style. And when your friend is drinking her dry martini out of a teacup — another 1920s bit of subterfuge, made necessary by the Volstead Act — make sure you Instagram it.
If you’re not already totally overwhelmed by the coolness, have your most charming friend make nice with the bouncer and see if he’ll let you in the VIP lounge. If this somehow works, he’ll lead you to a little bookcase and push it aside, revealing a secret cocktail lair beyond. Once you’re in the back room of the Back Room, there’s no telling where the night will take you.