The undercover drinking dens that host the City’s oft-whispered-about nightlife scene are out there—you just have to know where to find them. As friendly dives with florescent signs unabashedly welcome bar-goers, clandestine little nooks with cocktails for sipping await. Prepare to feel a little naughty when you step through their unmarked doors, and expect to get hooked on the intricate elixirs their A-list mixologists concoct, among other things.
By night, Chinatown’s Doyers Street is seemingly deserted, with the exception of a few fashionably dressed, shadowy figures perched over a nondescript stoop. That stoop’s unmarked door is the gateway into Apothéke (German for “apothecary”), a windowless and dimly lit drinking lair. It’s much more spacious than the entrance suggests, and the seating is plush and often reserved. The real attraction, though, is the long bar presided over by mixologist Albert Trummer and his team of liquid pharmacists. Tell them your spirit and flavor of choice—or what ails you—and they’ll select fresh ingredients and various fermented creations from endless rows of vials to devise a drink tailor-made for your palette and mood. You can also choose from a set drink list, which is crafted daily depending on what’s in season and gaining popularity. Note: No guzzling here—Apothéke puts so much TLC into their drinks that savoring is a must.
Choice cocktail: Whatever the apothecaries prescribe to cure your woes, but the fennel-infused vodka with crushed strawberries is a good start.
If you like Sasha Petraske’s Milk & Honey bar, the latest venture from the king of the neo-speakeasy should be the next stop on your list. Absinthe is the main player at this candle-lit drink sanctum on the Lower East Side, and the eerily calm bartenders handle sugar cubes and slotted spoons with unmatched proficiency. Don’t expect to get a seat here—unless you arrive early enough to cozy into the one booth located on a raised landing in the back. Though it’s neither windowless nor unmarked, White Star maintains an aura of mystery and intimacy equal to that of its hush-hush bar counterparts.
Choice cocktail: Death in the Afternoon (absinthe and champagne)
With its dark mahogany walls and Victorian decor (take a peek behind the plush curtain in the back), Clover Club exudes an air of a 19th-century drawing room—so much so that you’d expect to join Edith Wharton here for tea and talk of literary pleasantries. The creation of rising mixology star Julie Reiner (Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club), Clover Club offers a robust selection of indulgent bites like steak tartare and fried oysters and a drink menu—swizzles, fizzes, highballs and more—that would blow away even the pickiest of cocktail aficionados. But perhaps Clover Club’s most standout trait is the TLC its vest- and tie-clad bartenders put into their creations. The Bermuda Swizzle (dark rum, velvet falernum, pineapple, limes and bitters), for example, is jam-packed with crushed ice, then shimmied to perfection with a swizzle stick.
Choice cocktail: The Clover Club, of course: gin, vermouth, lemon juice, real raspberry syrup and egg whites (for froth). And for the holidays, the Masala Daquiri is a must-try: chai-infused rum made in-house, lime, egg whites and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
The name stands for “Please Don’t Tell,” but since you’re reading this, obviously someone couldn’t keep news of this covert drink den to himself. Located within Crif Dogs—the East Village hot dog dive where the wieners are deep-fried and classed-up with fixings like avocado and grilled onions—PDT can’t be entered from outside. Instead, patrons have to call through Crif Dogs’ vintage phone booth, reserve a spot and wait to be called in. Inside, under a pressed tin ceiling, mixologist Jim Meehan and company serve up seasonal concoctions like bacon-infused bourbon. And the best news of all? Once guests are good and tipsy, the ultimate late-night munchies are just a phone booth away.
Choice cocktail: Try the Witches Kiss (tequila, lemon juice and apple butter) from the seasonal apple menu.
Meet Williamsburg’s answer to Milk & Honey. A converted tattoo parlor, Hotel Delmano’s unmarked door gives way to an antique-feeling, chandeliered interior where sophisticated hipsters drink gimlets and converse in hushed tones. Green walls treated to look aged, plush forest-green booths and mahogany windowpanes (although you can’t see out of these windows) make for a vintage atmosphere, while the framed portraits of 19th-century men in suits add just enough quirkiness to remind you you’re still in Williamsburg. A selection of creative (but not cheap) cocktails make Hotel Delmano worth the trip, but be careful—they’ve been known to intoxicate rapidly.
Choice cocktail: Corpse Reviver No. 2: gin, Cointreau, Lillet, lemon juice and Pastis
A inconspicuous door adorned with a barely noticeable “Little Branch” plaque marks this West Village basement bar. Another Sasha Petraske brainchild, Little Branch offers potent drinks with classic flavors and unexpected treats like honey and candied ginger. Live jazz on select nights is an added touch, but Billie Holiday and Air tracks on off nights complement the sexy setting as well. Ideal for both one-on-ones and group gatherings, Little Branch has a healthy amount of booth seating to choose from. Sip slowly, be sure to abide by the rules posted in the lavish bathrooms (“No name dropping” and “No hollering,” to name two) and expect the conversation to intensify as the night draws on. These drinks have a tendency to sneak up on you.
Choice cocktail: You won’t find it on the menu, but ask for the Gold Rush—bourbon, honey and lemon juice drizzled over a miniature iceberg.