Are there really still ‘speakeasys’ in NewYork?

5.59pm, Saturday 11th Feb, 39th Street, Midtown, Manhattan, NYC

Yes, folks, there still exist in New York City very low profile, extremely smart cocktail bars that exist, don’t advertise their whereabouts, and generally have ‘secret’ entrances. These establishments pay tribute to the original old school ‘speakeasy’ bars of the Prohibition era where you not only “needed to know” where those places were, but you needed the secret password to get in. Often these bars would be where the socialites of the day partied late into the night, and the top musicians of the day played the tunes. In our Australian world, in the 1920s they would have been called “sly grog shops”. The modern day speakeasys are at the top end of the cocktail culture and often know as much about the spirits they serve as the producers.

Now why would I even bring this up?

Because last Wednesday I worked in the Manhattan trade with John “The Entertainer” Proto from our distributor Winebow. John is part wine man, part New York historian, and part gypsy traveller and storyteller. The main part of our day was showing the wines to several top Japanese and Korean restaurants around the city, but we finished up with our old mates at Eight Mile Creek, the Australian bar and bistro down in Little Italy on Mulberry Street. Actually, with Parm – the neat countertop cafe that’s turned chicken, veal and meatball pram sandwiches into an art form two doors up the street – it’s a hot little part of town.

So after work, John, Adam (one of the Winebow sales folk who looks after The Sunburnt Calf – another Australian wine bar uptown between Broadway and Amsterdam) and I went to ‘PDT’ to show me what a Manhattan speakeasy looks like! What a treat! I didn’t even know these places existed!

Now all I can say is that PDT = ‘Please Don’t Tell’, so if you want to find the place, you must first find a hot dog place that is “somewhere in Manhattan”, and you’ll know you’re in the right spot if there’s a phone booth in the corner where folks walk in, pick up the phone and speak, then the wall opens and they disappear through! I kid you not! It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in America … ever! Thanks John and Yuki – who did a fine job of translating at all the restaurants during the day – and Adam for a fantastic New York experience.

If you want the short list of Asian seasonal and daily menus that are absolutely stellar in Manhattan, use this:

Sushi Zen on West 44th Street – not just sushi and sashimi, but an extraordinary hotpot, tempura fish – just about everything with fins – and slow cooked meat dishes using miso and wasabi pastes. Oh, and for the danger freaks! They have fugu, the famous poisonous fish on the menu, if you want to go right out on the culinary edge!

Aburiya Kinnosuke on East 45th – now this is an interesting daily seasonal menu that’s constantly changing, featuring stir fry, simmered, flash deep fried classic cooking methods – but with every seafoody thing possible, most of the vegetables you can find at the seasonal markets around the traps, and every type and texture of meats – including what I call “the spare parts” or offal – a delicacy for a lot of foodie folks. These boys will have something on the menu tonight that will really knock you over … I promise. And you could go every day for a week and never have the same thing twice.

Jungsik on Harrison Street downtown – ‘Nolita’ I think. (That’s “north of little Italy” folks – I’ve had to learn heaps of these nicknames for small sections of neighborhoods around Manhattan and Brooklyn – so much to know! ) this is fine dining and magic aromatic combinations that are screaming for wines to match. This city is exhausting with how much extremely good Asian-influenced food there is … that’s outside Chinatown, which is the most recognized hotspot for the classic Chinese and dumplings house style of food. But what these three restaurants are doing is right out of the box, and doesn’t actually fit any one ‘theme’. It was an education of a day, and a nice time to have Vermentino, Viognier, Bush Vine Grenache, and the blends of The Strapper (GSM ) and The Scribbler (Cabernet Shiraz) under our arms. Thanks so much again John and Yuki.

OK … I’ll give you a hint about PDT. If you find this picture on the wall, then you’re in Manhattan, and you’ve found the correct hot dog place. The phone booth you need is not far away!

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And if you see this … then you’re in!

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