In the past few years speakeasy bars and restaurants have popped up all over the New York City. The various locations offered up clandestine drinks and bites in hidden basements, treatment behind phone booths, link through kitchens, cardiology and behind boarded up windows of otherwise seemingly deserted locations. For the majority of these secret spots patrons had to make a reservation, or swing by hours before they’d like to sip on their cocktails to put their names on a list, but I’m going to let the cat out of the bag. My secret that I’ll share with you is that one of the best speakeasies in Manhattan lacks any pretension and if you go with a small party, you usually don’t have to wait or fiddle around with any reservations. That speakeasy is Employees Only.
While the idea of a speakeasy seems almost tired and overdone at this point, Employees Only feels fresh and lively. From the street there’s the standard lack of signage denoting a bar. Instead, you’ll find a pink glowing neon sign for a psychic. Walk in and duck behind the velvet curtains to the right and the dark wooden bar opens up in front of you. If you see a seat at the bar, snap it up – that’s the best place to watch the bartenders mix your cocktails, and believe me you’ll want to. Notice those Employees Only tattoos on some of your bartenders? That means the A-team is in house that night. There’s a secondary team and an apprentice team, as you can see by the backs of their jackets, but they mix a mean cocktail as well.
Order up a Vesper ($15), made with Tito’s Vodka, Hendrick’s Gin, & Cocchi Americano to start things out light, then move on to something a little smoky and spicy with the Ready Aim Fire ($16), made with Mezcal, lime, house-made Honey-Pineapple syrup, and Bittermans Hellfire Bitters to up the ante. Not seeing anything on the menu that’s striking your fancy? Don’t worry, just tell the bartender your likes and dislikes and they can create something for you on the spot. See? I told you sitting at the bar was the place to be.
Your next goal is ordering food. If you’re standing, find the host and ask for a table. You can’t leave Employees Only without trying their umami-laden bone marrow poppers ($11) or the best steak tartare in the city, served with house-made hot sauce ($17).
The bar draws everyone from suits to Brooklynites who’ve ventured over for the night. Towards the end of the week things tend to get a little more cramped, but the cocktail bar is good on any night. If you’re lucky you might even be treated to an impromptu burlesque show or complementary late night bite if you’re one of the last patrons to close the place down. So while you might think the speakeasy trend is done and over, sidle up to the bar at Employees Only, order a cocktail and the tartare, and tell me you don’t want the trend to last a little longer.
Great for: Dates, one-on-one time, grabbing a drink by yourself, or going with a small group of friends
What to order: Any cocktail. Any. And the bone marrow poppers and steak tartare.
When to go: Earlier in the week and earlier in the night if you prefer things a little quieter. Like a little liveliness? Thursdays through Saturday, late night is your best bet.