On a particularly ambitious Thursday, my friend Carrie and I decided to hit all the West Village bars on the list. Out of the six we visited, two of those included speakeasies and we threw in one of my favorites in the area just for fun.
After my first stop at Pinch Chinese while Carrie was shopping, we met up and headed over to Employee’s Only. Don’t be expecting a hidden door at this not-so-secret, super-popular speakeasy, it has a completely visible storefront. The only thing that threw us off was the lack of sign with the name, but rather signs and an awning with their key-shaped logo instead. We got there shortly after it opened so there was no line and plenty of space at the bar. I read beforehand that apparently, “every bartender here has the Employees Only logo tattooed on them, and even barbacking is a coveted position”. That’s a pretty big reputation. The inside is bright and gilded, with a long bar that swings back towards a seating area in the back. The bartenders were attentive and friendly, I talked for several minutes with one about our mutual love for a diner in the Ukrainian Village. Carrie settled on the Lazy Lover after a little debate over ingredients we didn’t know anything about (Leblon Cachaça & Jalapeño-infused Green Chartreuse Shaken with Benedictine, Fresh Lime Juice & Agave Nectar). Served up, the martini glasses are embossed with the bars logo in tiny, frosted font. I got the Beets by Ale (Redemption Rye shaken with Beet & Rosemary Syrup, Velvet Falernum, Angostura Bitters & Fresh Lemon Juice) which I chose immediately after seeing it. Both were great, but mine was especially amazing. It actually tasted like beets, but in the best way. I would go back for that drink alone, though this was the first bar I’ve visited from the list that I would go out of my way to come back to.
Next we stopped in at Little Branch, which has a completely different vibe. The entrance is a relatively unmarked door, other than a sign that you would never stop to read unless you were looking for it. Once through the door (and past the bouncer) you walk down a flight of stairs that was so poorly lit I had to turn the flashlight on my phone to save myself from falling. In fact, the entire bar is basically a cave. It’s described as having “an elegant 1920s feel” accompanied by “candlelight that lends a sexy glow to the cozy, leather-lined booths”, though it was so dark I honestly couldn’t even make any of that out. Even the bathroom has a single candle flickering on the sink. Minimal lights make for a cool ambiance for some, I supposed; maybe if you were on a date or were a vampire, but for me I just felt claustrophobic and slightly uncomfortable as it was still fully daylight outside.
It’s cash only, so if you don’t have time to stop ahead of time you can cross the street to an Asian restaurant that appears to be the only place on the block with an ATM. We stood at the bar, there aren’t seats but standing is encouraged, or you can try for one of the few tables in the back. Carrie asked for a ‘Bartender’s Choice’ and was presented with a sweet drink, spiced with ginger and garnished with a candied ginger on a toothpick. She was happy with it and it was nicely presented. I ordered a gin daiquiri, which they had on the menu, and was good. But again, the ambience really threw me off so I’d be hesitant to return.
Finally, we ended up at The Garret, which I’ve written about before. A speakeasy hidden in an atticyou enter through a Five Guys and walk back until you find a bouncer waiting at the bottom of steep stairs. It’s surprising to me that you can never hear the loud music upstairs in the Five Guys below. Or that more people don’t catch on when they see people disappearing behind a wall and returning buzzed an hour later. A quick note, the space is tiny. Especially during peak hours when everyone is pressed up against each other. But it’s an adorable space with chandeliers hanging from large skylights accompanied by fun décor and upbeat music. And it’s such a cool place to bring your friends.
The last West Village bar we went to that night was Blind Tiger. While not a speakeasy, I’ve past it so many times on my way to the Garret that I had to include it in this post. Blind Tiger is a craft beer bar “before craft beer bars were a thing”. It looks like you stepped into a hunting lodge with its wooden floors, wooden bar and exposed rafters. They offer over 30 taps with a lot of local options to choose from, and most were around only $7. Though it was packed, the ambience was friendly and inviting. The crowd included everything from people coming from work to regulars from the neighborhood. Despite how busy it was, the bartender was cheery and happily answered any questions, including recommending me an Other Half IPA. I would definitely come back here if I was in the area, but would like to try it when it was a little less busy to try a new beer and maybe some of their bar food.
9 bars down, 41 to go.