Maybe it’s the logical next step now that the supper club and pop-up restaurant trends have played out. But the secret restaurant and bar is alive and well in the Big Apple. Shhh. Unpublished phone numbers, unmarked entrances – it’s like Prohibition all over again. Only this time, there’s no danger of a raid. The fun is good, clean and delicious.
Premium Meats is a Japanese butcher shop by day, known for its rich Kobe beef and other specialties. But at night, patrons hungry for an unexpected dining experience walk down a hallway past the darkened shop and buzz themselves into Bohemian, a Japanese restaurant with a Mediterranean-inflected menu and an unpublished phone number. It’s not that they don’t want you, it’s just that they don’t want too many of you. The lounge seating and bright lighting make for an unusually authentic Japanese feeling, if only because of its eccentricity. And the food – garlic shrimp, shiitake salad, tender duck breast, paper-thin slices of that ethereal Kobe beef – is delicious, too.
PDT, short for “Please Don’t Tell,” has to be the most famous secret bar in the world (a recent world ranking of influential cocktail bars picked it as number 1.) It’s always been reservations-only, but getting one is just half the challenge. Then you have to find the place. First you walk into Crif Dogs, a divey East Village hot dog joint, and from there you enter an old English phone booth. Lift the receiver to buzz the hostess, and suddenly the back wall of the booth swings open to reveal master mixologist Jim Meehan’s den. The cocktails are superb – they make their own bacon bourbon infusion. The thrill of being inside makes your drinks doubly satisfying – need we say more?
Hard to find for a different reason, the clubby restaurant Hudson Clearwater looks like an abandoned construction site when you arrive. That’s because the published address is on Hudson Street, but the real entrance is on Morton, where there is neither a number nor a sign, just a green door that leads to a garden in the back, through which you enter the restaurant. The payoff is the simple, satisfying American fare prepared by chef Wes Long. Think spice-rubbed pork tenderloin and gnocchi with kale and butter clams.
Of course, the best-kept secret in New York is the James Beard Foundation, where I work. In a small townhouse on a quiet, residential block of Greenwich Village, just about every night of the week some great chef from somewhere in the world is cooking a special dinner for 80 guests, and you could be one of them if you call and book in advance.
Why is everything so hush-hush? New Yorker’s love a good meal, but even more, they love to feel like they know something others don’t. The secret’s in and now it’s out. Spread the word.
57 Great Jones Street
Unpublished number, but if you go into the butcher shop, they might tell it to you.
113 St. Mark’s Place
T: 212. 614.0386
447 Hudson Street
James Beard House
167 W. 12th Street