Food & Drink

14 NYC Bars That Are Literally Underground

Published On 08/12/2015 Published On 08/12/2015
Courtesy of Sam Oberter

When you talk about NYC’s “underground” scene, you probably think of super-crazy clubs with passwords and gremlin-guarded entryways. Rarely do you think of spots that are actually, um, under the ground.

Well, allow us to think of them for you: here are NYC’s 14 best subterranean bars.

Courtesy of Jess Nash

Jimmy’s No. 43

East Village
Under the streets of the East Village is this brew-lover’s bliss. Jimmy’s No. 43 has a lengthy list of craft beers, but it’s more than just a perfect pint that you can score in this subterranean craft cellar -- be sure to check out Jimmy’s menu of tasty Thai and Filipino street snacks, too.
 

Sakagura

Midtown East
There are very few things worth writing about in Midtown East when it comes to super-cool things, unless your definition of “super cool” involves Citibank and $9 happy hours. But in the basement of an office building on E 43rd between 2nd and 3rd Aves is one of those very few things: Sakagura, a magical Japanese wonderland of food and sake. The menu of sake is pages and pages long and filled with different types from all over Japan. The food is authentic Japanese, as well, so don’t expect to find any California rolls on the menu.

Courtesy of Oscar Lineras

The Tippler

Chelsea
You could be above ground at Chelsea Market, elbowing your way through tourists and sucking down tacos and/or ramen... or you could venture underground to The Tippler. This historic space was kept out of the public eye for more than 100 years. Today, New York-philes will love the recycled decor, including reclaimed water-tower wood and train rails from the High Line. The menu includes cocktails, craft beer, wine, and small cheese plates & toasts.
 

Pulqueria

Chinatown
You might’ve come to Chinatown for the dumplings and dim sum, but you really should stay for the pulque, an ancient Aztec fermented beverage that was thought to be the “nectar of the lightning gods.” That sounds like something we could all use a little more of. But if that’s a little too intense for you, the restaurant/bar also has tacos that’ll make you feel equally god-like.

Courtesy of The Shakespeare

The Shakespeare

Murray Hill
Step into this 14th century-style subterranean tavern if you wanna slug back pints of ale and cocktails in a laid-back ode to the time of Shakespeare from a dude who’s actually from Stratford-upon-Avon, the same English town from which the bard himself hailed. This is a great spot to go and swap sonnets with a few of your closest coworkers.
 

Little Branch

West Village
On the triangular corner of W 7th and Leroy is a random door splashed with graffiti... and of course behind it you’ll find one of Manhattan’s most supremely “cool” speakeasy cocktail bars. Down the stairs, Little Branch invites you into a dark, cozy den of mixology where the cocktails are as lethal as their prices. Still, this is New York cocktail royalty, so it’s worth your dollars.

Courtesy of Robert Jamieson

The Ship

Soho
Hopefully your legs are sea-worthy for this nautical endeavor. The Ship is a maritime-themed nearly secret establishment sunk beneath Soho, whose bar is helmed by alums of spots like PDT and Little Branch. Order one of the signature cocktails, like the Mount Vesuvius with Scotch, orange juice, pineapple, and coconut or go bartender’s choice.
 

Shalel Lounge

Upper West Side
Down some dimly lit steps you’ll find a Moroccan den complete with candles, lanterns, and all the decorative throw pillows you could possibly need, you aspiring sheikh, you. Come here for the dark, private corners and sweet water features, but stay for menu items like lamb meatballs.

Courtesy of Flute Bar & Lounge

Flute Bar & Lounge

Gramercy, Midtown
For those whose style is “casual Champagne,” Flute Bar & Lounge is just that. The bar’s two locations set out to take Champagne out of the VIP room and into a more comfortable underground atmosphere. We certainly feel more comfortable anywhere there’s Champagne.
 

Sake Bar Decibel

East Village
Dark + graffitied + dungeon-esque + damn good sake = this East Village made-to-look-like-a-dive-but-actually-isn’t barstaurant, which takes the art of really good sake and small Japanese plates beneath the streets.

Courtesy of Chris Potter

Mulberry Project

Little Italy
There aren’t too many reasons why you’re going to Little Italy, unless you’re a tourist and/or have no idea what Italian food actually is. But Mulberry Project is a good reason for locals to head to this part of town. Tucked under the intersection of Mulberry and Grand is this speakeasy-style tribute to bespoke cocktails and New York City street art. In addition to tawdry tipples like “Prison Sex” and “Intolerance,” be sure to try the bomb-ass menu of bone marrow with seared uni or pork belly with curried apple. You can also mix your own cocktail with a list of available ingredients.
 

The Craic

Williamsburg
For all those times you just want to crawl underground, pretend your name starts with Sir (or Lady) and drink a proper whiskey, this whiskey wonderland-cum-smoking den of nobility underneath the streets of Williamsburg has you covered. The bar was founded by an Irish and Scottish duo bringing whisk(e)ys from their homelands (plus American whiskeys for good measure) to the mouths of thirsty hipsters.

Courtesy of Shantanu Starick

Nitecap

Lower East Side
From the owners of Death & Co. comes another “hipster chic” cocktail bar underneath Schapiro’s. It’s got everything a seasoned high-end cocktail bar lover could hope for, with dark banquettes, exposed brick, a backlit bar, oh... and booze. A lengthy menu of whimsically named cocktails, including classics and Nitecap’s own, is rounded out with a selection of small plates from Schapiro’s upstairs.
 

Shorty

Nolita
Underneath French bistro Jacques is this new(ish) pink-and-red bordello-themed bar. It’s all about dark lighting and dangerous cocktails here, where anything goes so long as you remember to sing along when any power ballad comes on the jukebox. No seriously, that’s one of the bar's rules.

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Meagan Drillinger is a freelance writer for Thrillist and she prefers to do her drinking in attic bars exclusively. Follow her on Twitter, Instagramand Facebook at @drillinjourneys.

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1. Jimmy's No. 43 43 E 7th St, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

A downstairs joint in one of the most bar-heavy neighborhoods in the whole country, Jimmy's No. 43 has a perfectly sized and approachable craft beer selection without the pretense of being too exclusive. The staff insist that you sample a sip of beer first before committing, and the cozy environment and upscale food cap it off to make Jimmy’s a neighborhood mainstay. It differentiates itself from other beer bars with an Asian-fusion menu featuring Filipino-inspired dishes like chicken wings adobo and pork belly tacos.

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2. Sakagura 211 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017 (Midtown East)

Tucked below a standard Midtown office building, this Japanese izakaya/sake bar offers more than 200 sakes to choose from. The extensive menu is color-coded and cross referenced to give you hints to what bites to pair your drink with, from slices of chilled roasted duck wrapped around scallions to pork shumai. Most dishes are served in small, tapas-like portions, and are meant to be shared. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of options, Sakagura offers almost all sakes by the glass, carafe, or bottle, so you can start slowly while you refine your tastes.

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3. Sake Bar Decibel 240 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

This cozy (i.e. tiny) bar is the place to come for a Sake experience. Sake Bar Decibal has been around for a while, serving up a massive list of stellar Sake options. Order some edamame to munch on between sips.

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4. Shalel Lounge 65 W 70th St, New York, NY 10023 (Upper West Side)

Down some dimly lit steps you’ll find a Moroccan den complete with candles, lanterns, and all the decorative throw pillows you could possibly need. Come for the dark, private corners, but stay for the lamb meatballs.

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5. The Tippler 425 W 15th St, New York, NY 10014 (Chelsea)

The focus at this subterranean den is the cocktails, which include a Tippling Redux section sporting drinks originally created for other bars (e.g., Mercadito's mezcal, Averna, grapefruit & ginger beer Dizzy Oaxacan), and Lushies: kicked-up frozen drinks including Negronis, the Screaming Greenie (absinthe, vodka, lemon, "exploding basil leaves"), and, made with bison grass vodka, cukes, grapefruit, anise, and mint, the Derek Smalls.

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6. Pulqueria 11 Doyers St, New York, NY 10038 (Chinatown)

Pulqueria provides the authentic Mexican atmosphere with blue and white tile floors, woven patterned ceilings, and traditional beverages from fermented agave sap (pulques). Alongside the cocktails, feast on a full menu of eats including eight types of tacos, stuffed masa pockets, and tuna ceviche toastadas.

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7. Little Branch 20 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

Stashed in a hard-to-locate, speakeasy-style basement where the bartenders wear suspenders and the standup piano encourages jazz trios, Little Branch is a Prohibition-style bar doing cocktails like Sidecars and Aviations. The space is dark and candlelit, and if you don't want to squint at the menu in a dark corner feel free to have the bartender whip up something customized for you.

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8. The Shakespeare @ The William 24 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016 (Midtown East)

The Shakespeare is a British pub in every shape and form. They have the classic staples like shepard's pie, fish n chips and loads of other stick-to-your-bones food to keep you full and warm even during the coldest of months.

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9. The Ship 158 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10013 (Soho)

This bar is completely selling its middle-of-the-ocean theme, thanks to multiple "decks" for seating and exposed industrial details. The cocktail menu includes plenty of options, including the Bartender's Choice -- which is exactly that, with the caveat that you can send it back without a fight if you don't like it.

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10. Mulberry Project 149 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013 (Little Italy)

Just for your imbibing needs, the experts at MP've have an urban oasis out back, with cafe-style seating and picnic-y booths surrounded by four installations (concert poster-/ advertisement-themed street art, etc...). Their indoors are serving up delicious 'tails and stellar company.

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11. Nitecap 151 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

This high-end speakeasy (make sure you don't walk past it -- look for a bouncer down a set of narrow stairs) is a dark and moody space with throwback music, exposed brick, and a backlit bar. It comes from the owners of Death & Co., so you know you're getting expertly crafted cocktails with premium ingredients. That said, the extensive drink menu changes with the seasons, but you can expect inventive concoctions like the Play It Cool (which you should do here), mixed with vermouth, jalapeño-infused tequila, cane juice rum, avocado, green bell pepper, and lime juice.

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12. The Craic 488 Driggs Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

This bar beneath the streets of Williamsburg is the spot for all those times you just want to crawl underground, pretend your name starts with Sir or Lady, and drink a proper whiskey. That's right, a whiskey bar founded by an Irish and Scottish duo pouring liqueurs from the motherland.

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13. Shorty 20 Prince St, New York, NY (Nolita)

Located beneath neighborhood staple Jacques on Prince St, this underground cocktail haven is doubling up the awesome with eats from the restaurant above in addition to their amazing craft cocktails.

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