We Need One of These

ON a nondescript block in Williamsburg, not far from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a new bar and restaurant called Rye opened last week.

Try to find it.

There’s no sign out front. The facade, an artfully casual assemblage of old wooden slats, gives the place a boarded-up, abandoned look. It does have a street number, painted discreetly on a glass panel above the front doors, but that’s it. Like a suspect in a lineup, it seems to shrink back when observed.

There are a lot of bars like this right now. They can be found all over the United States, skulking in the shadows. Obtrusively furtive, they represent one of the strangest exercises in nostalgia ever to grip the public, an infatuation with the good old days of Prohibition.

Their name is legion: the Varnish in Los Angeles; Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco; Speakeasy in Cleveland; the Violet Hour in Chicago; Manifesto in Kansas City, Mo.; Tavern Law in Seattle (scheduled to open later this month). Everywhere, it seems, fancy cocktails are being shaken in murky surroundings.

The ultimate in speakeasy mystification takes place at PDT (Please Don’t Tell) on St. Marks Place in the East Village. Patrons have to enter through Crif Dogs, the hip hot dog place, then step into a phone booth and identify themselves by speaking into the receiver. A buzzer opens a secret door, revealing a strange, twilight world where artisanal cocktails are consumed under the watchful eyes of a stuffed jackelope and raccoon, and a bear wearing a bowler hat.
And it should lead to an underground bar, accessible through a Shanghai tunnel. Someone needs to get on this.