Raising the bar
Written by Tom Franks – Work Placement, Elmwood New York
I’ve loved my stay in New York. The food’s great. The people are incredible. But, being honest, my favourite thing about the city has to be the bars.
There’s just something about the bar culture here that seems way more advanced than the UK. Each one has its own identity with different quirks and idiosyncrasies that make it unique.
Take ‘Don Pedro’s’ just off Myrtle and Broadway in Brooklyn. After sitting down with my pint, I noticed people nipping downstairs with their drinks. As it turns out, there’s a vintage shop in the basement. I love this, not just because the thought of getting people drunk before they buy clothes is a pretty shrewd marketing tactic, but because it’s just so unexpected. It offers something unique.
Through the wardrobe
There also seems to be a real desire for a sense of exclusivity within New York’s bars. Take ‘Please Don’t Tell’, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar that most people wouldn’t have a hope in hell of finding. Hidden behind a phone booth in Crif Dogs, a run-of-the-mill hot dog joint, it’s like walking through a doorway to a Yuppie Narnia. It feels as if you’re one of the only people who knows it exists. Or, at the least, it certainly makes you feel lucky to have been let in.
Then there’s ‘Bathtub Gin’, a local coffee shop that also serves gin cocktails. Or the elusive ‘The Back Room’, owned by Tim Robbins. Simply pass a bouncer, go through a gate, walk down some steps, through a back alleyway, up another flight of stairs, through a prohibition-era door complete with peephole… and voila! You’re there. Keeping up this air of authenticity, all drinks are served in teacups, just in case the cops come busting in. If you’re super lucky you might even catch a glimpse of someone entering through a secret door in the bookcase.
Not only do these bars offer something unique, their clever concepts and sense of exclusivity also lead to lots of self-marketing. Every time someone finds one, they’re so excited to have been let in that they’re immediately bragging on Facebook or Instagramming like there’s no tomorrow.
The main thing I love about these bars, though, is that they’re striving to do something that separates them from the norm. They’re offering an experience, an atmosphere, something to make them stand out and give people reason to show off.
Back in England, for students such as myself (technically I’m an ex-student but I refuse to acknowledge reality), the best bar is usually the one that serves the cheapest drinks. And the closest we get to feeling upmarket is paying double the price for a bit of mood lighting. There’s the odd exception to the rule, but they’re few and far between.
I’m sure in the dark corners of London there are a number of similar bars to New York. ‘The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town’ in London is definitely leading the way, taking direct influence from New York speakeasies and hiding itself behind a fridge door inside ‘The Breakfast Club’. It’s increasing in popularity and is a wonderful example of how daring to give your bar an authentic attitude and a feeling of exclusivity will bring in the punters.
To use our favourite Jerry Garcia quote: “It’s no longer good enough to be the best of the best. You have to be the only people who do what you do.” It certainly wouldn’t hurt to see a few more establishments trying to separate themselves from the pack anyway.
I’m going to miss having all these weird and wonderful drinking spots to look forward to after work. But hey, it’s not all bad. Courtesy of the Chancellor, I can now look forward to pints that are 1p cheaper than when I left.