New York City’s Top 10 Underground Bars

by | May 6, 2016 | Dining, Downtown Living

Underneath the hustle and bustle of New York City is an intriguing world of subterranean drinkeries. These spaces are non-touristy, visually interesting, offer more than just a libation, and are just as varied and surprising as Manhattanites themselves.




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425 West 15th Street, New York, NY 10014

A stone’s throw from the Highline, in the fashionable Meatpacking district, is The Tippler. The entrance is marked by a large marquee-style open sign and a small, understated metal plaque on the south side of Chelsea Market, one of the greatest food halls in the world. A 1920s-style mural adorns the stairwell which leads down into the bowels of this former warehouse. Exposed red brick, cast iron embellishments, and plush oriental rugs immediately beckon the visitor to sit down, have a tipple, and forget that it’s the 21st century. The Tippler offers a decent selection of mainstream beers and liquor, but the real joy is in their cocktails such as the Chelsea Smash (vodka, lemon, mint, honey, Branca Menta) or the Something Wicked (fennel seed-infused tequila, grapefruit, lime, crème de mûre, ginger beer). Or go all out and try a Lushie, a frozen blended cocktail. Go early to get a table and enjoy a little corner of the past.




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43 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003

This surprisingly spacious basement bar in the East Village is warm and inviting, both in atmosphere and clientele. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable, the crowd local and unpretentious. Long oak tables can accommodate a large group or saddle up to the bar and make some new friends. Owned by chef, restaurateur, and social entrepreneur Jimmy Carbone, this pub reflects Jimmy’s love of beer and gregarious personality. Jimmy’s stocks over 50 different beers (mainly German, Belgian and local brews), and the rotating draught selection features rare, hard-to-find beers in New York City. Not a beer fan? Don’t fret; the cidre list is just as long as the wine list. This gastropub also has an amazing rotating menu and a farm to table philosophy, serving the best of what’s in season from local farmers. One menu staple is their non-to-be-missed bratwürst.




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113 St Marks, New York, NY 100009 Enter through Crif Dogs

PDT, short for Please Don’t Tell, is a hidden gem in the East Village. PDT is the secret cocktail lounge annex of Crif Dogs, a hot dog joint serving deep fried New Jersey-style franks. Accessible only through a vintage phone booth within Crif Dogs, this sexy speakeasy is a sharp contrast to the diner-style restaurant at the fore. Exposed red brick, low, wood paneled ceilings, and a taxidermied deer head on the wall only adds to its charm. Libation offerings include a thoughtful selection of beer and wine as well as expertly crafted classic cocktails. An abbreviated menu is available at the bar or patrons can order from Crif Dog’s full menu next door. Very popular is the New Yorker, the only grilled, all-beef frank on the menu. This secret speakeasy is actually not so secret. The wait for a table can be as long as an hour, so reservations are recommended.




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240 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10003

A small red and white sign is all that alerts the thirsty traveler to its existence in this Japanese pocket of the East Village. A flight of rickety stairs and a tattered door lead to a somewhat sketchy reception area. Sake Bar Decibel is what some would call a ‘hole in the wall’ – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Low ceilings, dimly lit, and sake bottles occupying every available nook and cranny do not scream posh but the crowds do confirm good food and drink. They carry a modest but delicious selection of Japanese whiskey, good beers, and over 80 different rice wines, offering something new for even the most seasoned sake sipper.



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643 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 Enter through Bleecker Kitchen and Co.

An unmarked, black door inside Bleecker Kitchen and Co. leads to the ultimate Man Cave, complete with shuffleboard, a fußball table, a pinball machine, and an enormous television for sports viewing. The oriental rugs and leather sofas give the space a basement family room vibe. With its exposed brick and subway tile, this bar truly embraces its subterranean-ness. Sweetwater Social draws big crowds for American football, hockey, basketball, and baseball games. When it’s quiet, it’s a great place for a bourbon and a chin wag.




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281 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012 Near Prince Street

Pravda is an underground vodka and caviar bar in Nolita. Named after a popular soviet newspaper in the U.S.S.R., Pravda means true. With cream-colored plastered walls, fixtures modeled after Russian street lights, Manhattan chairs, and curved, red banquettes, the Cold War has never looked so hot. With over 70 vodkas in stock and two pages of cocktails – not to mention the beer and wine list – the only question is, with or without caviar.




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92 West Houston Street, New York, NY 10012

A half dozen steps down from busy West Houston Street is The Folly, a nautical-themed bar from the creators of The Brooklyneer (a gastropub serving artisanal food and drink that is made in Brooklyn). Its rustic, pirate ship décor may sound pastiche, but its tasteful restraint and execution works in its favor; the rope chandelier, a steamer trunk table, and sketches of old medical anatomy as wallpaper are swashbucklingly chic. A boat’s ribs and keel line the ceiling, further enhancing the feeling of being inside the hull of a ship. The Folly offers a modest but well selected list of beer and wine (including Old Speckled Hen on draught, impossible to find in New York City) and a food menu of mostly seafood dishes, including Kombucha Oyster Shooters (Mombucha Ginger Mint, Pink Peppercorn Rim) and Grilled Octopus and Potato Confit Skewers.



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48 West 17th Street, New York, NY 100011

Not far from Union Square is The Raines Law Room, its entrance marked only by a small gold plaque and doorbell. The rather plain, unassuming façade is a stark contrast to the rich, Victorian-chic interior. The barmaids make black lace modern and sexy again, and elevate the cocktail to something much higher than just a drink. Raines Law was a legislative attempt to reduce alcohol consumption in New York State in the late 19th century by limiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays to hotels. The state defined a hotel as a business with a minimum of ten bedrooms for lodging that served sandwiches with its liquor. Saloons quickly exploited this loophole and soon hundreds of saloons were operating as “hotels.” Many of these “Raines Law Hotels” were used by prostitutes and unmarried couples, skyrocketing the state’s prostitution rate by the early 20th century. Some saloons served “brick sandwiches” (an actual brick between two slices of bread) or fake sandwiches used for display only, to comply with the law. The Raines Law Room can get very busy, so reservations – allowed on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays only – are highly recommended. Also, in order to maintain the bar’s intimacy and serene mood, parties are limited to six people.



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675 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10012 Enter on West 13th Street

Below Bill’s Burger, two blocks from the High Line, is the catacomb-like Troy Liquor Bar. This cavernous space is filled with alcoves and private tables, soft chairs and coffee tables. As a change from the posh bars with high covers and pricey cocktails that litter the Meatpacking District, Troy Liquor Bar is unpretentious and relaxing. Equipped with pool table, Pac Man arcade, fußball, and a giant black horse, there is plenty to amuse even the most ADHD-afflicted guest. Weekends are usually very busy, but weeknights are a bit calmer, perfect for chatting into the wee hours.




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11 Doyers Street, New York, NY 10013

Down a flight of steps and behind a turquoise door is something quite unusual; a Mexican bar in the heart of Chinatown. No sign, no indication that delicious tacos and great happy hour specials are concealed within a sea of dumplings and dim sum. Pulqueria offers a staggering variety of tequilas and mezcal in a modern, Mexico City-esque space. Pulqueria is on Doyers Street, a curved, 200 foot-long stretch named after the pub-owning Dutchman, Hendrik Doyer, who lived there in the 1790s. In the 1930s, Doyers Street was nicknamed ‘The Bloody Angle’ after rival Chinese gangs massacred one another with hatchets in front of a theatre, which used to be next door to Pulqueria. Some gang members escaped through secret tunnels underneath the theatre, which are rumored to still exist. Doyers Street has seen many brawls and conflicts; in fact, a 1994 study revealed that more people had been murdered on Doyers Street than on any other street in America. Today, however, it’s a quaint little byway with a barbershop and United States Post Office, revealing little evidence of its sordid past.

-by Heather Shimmin

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