Hidden Hot Spots
Written by Eve Hyman
Kashish Das Shreshta
A friend told me to meet him for drinks at a restaurant in Soho. When I got to the place it was a taco stand. "Okay, I'm overdressed – and where's the bar?" I thought. I didn't see him so I called and he told me he was there and that he'd be right out. He came out of a door marked Employees Only. I was confused but he was thrilled. He led me down a flight of stairs, past the coat check, through the kitchen, and into one of Manhattan's hottest restaurants and bars - the subversive eatery known as "La Esquina."
Spots in Manhattan that are secret and hidden are the latest craze and make for an extra nightlife challenge. Knowing about a hidden establishment makes the consumer feel special. These places go just beyond the velvet rope. They leave you with the impression that having the secret info makes you feel like a guest - rather than a mere patron.
Employees Only is another example. Located
in Greenwich Village, this bar and bistro is popular
enough to warrant a migration of the Meatpacking
District crowd. It's both popular and hard
to find. EO is hidden behind a neon sign that
reads "psychic." As you move past
the bouncer through the doorway, you encounter velvet
drapes and a woman at a table who offers to read
your tarot cards. Through the curtains behind her
is a beautiful, crowded bar tended by Serbian bartenders
with fancy mustaches and white pharmacists' coats.
They have conquered the science of the finely mixed
cocktail and five of them co-own the bar.
The Back Room
The Back Room is another hidden gem. It's
partly owned by Tim Robbins and it's located in
the back courtyard of an apartment building on the
LES. There's a false bookshelf that hides
the VIP room where Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett
were holding court the night I was there. The downside
of the speak-easy motif is the fact that martinis
are served in thick coffee cups with ice cubes.
Beers come in brown bags (a better alternative).
The experience with the martini reminded me of drinking
from a tiny toilet bowl. The décor,
however, is elegant - 1920's hotel lounge with a
fireplace and parlor wallpaper.
La Esquina impressed me the most. The overall
feel of the decor is Spanish Armada-meets-Tijuana-prison-in-Hollywood.
But getting past the "employees only"
door of the taqueria to the second "La Esquina"
hidden underground is no easy task. I ran
into Questlove on the way to the bathroom and Jimmy
Fallon and Drew Barrymore each had a table while
legions of models lingered in the bar. This
den of the chic is protected - if you ask about
the restaurant that's hidden, you're met with miffed
expressions and little information. The only
way to get
in is to know someone - or to act as if you do. Dining upstairs on tacos and Mexican soda is the consolation prize.
Getting past psychics, tacos, and lobby intercom
systems is all the rage for the slaves of NYC's
nightlife. Next stop - the epitome of hip
dance club hidden behind the neighborhood laundromat.
(But that spot is in Brooklyn where club goers do
their laundry while they party.) Multi-task
partying is so NYC. La Esquina's taqueria
is no mere front - it does good business.
Next time you're feeling reflective you could opt
for the tarot card reading and a cocktail at Employees
Only. Introduce someone to a hidden bar and impress
them with your New York cool.
La Esquina - 203 Lafayette St., NY, NY 10012. 646-613-8880
La Esquina (Taqueria) - 106 Kenmare St, New York, 10012. 646-613-7100
Employees Only - 510 Hudson St. NY, NY 10014. 212-242-3021
The Back Room - 102 Norfolk St NY, NY 10002. 212-228-5098