In these lean times, the nourishing, properly utilitarian Waverly Burger is my meal of choice whenever I dine among the caterwauling media celebrities at Graydon Carter’s semi-private dining club, The Waverly Inn. But if you can’t get past the dour doormen, I suggest you follow the rest of the would-be hipsters to the unmarked basement entrance of that other West Village faux speakeasy, Bobo. The kitchen of this stylish hot spot is still a shambles, but it’s a pleasure to sit at the pocket-size upstairs bar and anesthetize yourself with posh cocktail creations like Bobo’s Meade, made with Plymouth gin, lime, and lavender-infused honey. From there, our Village pub crawl proceeds to Rusty Knot, Taavo Somer’s raffish yuppie dive bar, near the banks of the Hudson River. Late in the evenings, the nautically themed space can be chaotically crowded, but $20 buys a whole array of rib-sticking bar-food specialties, like good Depression-era meat-loaf sandwiches made with ketchup and white bread, baskets of pork ribs gently simmered in Coca-Cola, and, for $4, the best salty fresh-baked pretzel dog in town.
The Zombie Punch is the name of my favorite mind-bending libation at Akhtar Nawab’s little 8th Street restaurant, Elettaria, although to my dismay, the combination of absinthe and three varieties of rum is so potent that the bartenders limit their customers to one drink per sitting. Happily, that’s not the case at the granddaddy of all retro speakeasy joints, Freemans, where raucous crowds of revelers were, on my most recent visit, knocking back a dizzying new cocktail called Death in the Evening (Cointreau plus Champagne with an absinthe wash) between bites of surprisingly good rabbit rillettes and platters of deliciously smoky pork stew cooked up by the restaurant’s talented new chef, Michael Citarella. There are also plenty of decent bar snacks available at Madam Geneva, the spacious, dimly lit gin joint in the back of the new Anglo-Asian restaurant Double Crown, in the East Village. Order the steamed buns laced with ground duck, or the little canoes of sizzling bone marrow streaked with miso, then chase them down with a strangely addictive house specialty cocktail comprising Plymouth gin, orange-juice spritzer, and a spoonful of cardamom-spiked marmalade.
The geniuses behind Employees Only serve up similar faux East-West treats at their ornate new speakeasy hot spot, Macao Trading Co., in Tribeca, and if mezcal is your drug of choice, then perch yourself on one of the lime-green stools at Junior Merino’s cheery Latin-themed barfly destination, Macondo, and commence knocking back glasses of the signature velvet-thick avocado-and-mezcal creation, mixed with Cointreau, agave nectar, and a teaspoon of honey. If you prefer to get blotto in luxurious speakeasy style, book a table at Apothéke, which opened not long ago behind an unmarked dungeon door on Doyers Street in Chinatown. With its decorative curtains and glowing marble bar, noted Viennese “cocktail chef” Albert Trummer’s new lounge-lizard venture looks like the stage set for a cockeyed, slightly threadbare production of The King and I. But there’s no doubting the potency of egg concoctions like the Mata Hari (rye, egg whites, Indian bitters, absinthe, lime) or the cool, smooth, gin-infused Seven Herbs, which tastes way better than absinthe and packs a similarly devastating punch.