This one's too easy—after two apple crumb tarts at Tides Seafood, we walk two paces out the door, turn right and descend into a seemingly sketchy passage to enter the Back Room. Once we say hi to the garrulous Tom watching over this speakeasy's door, we come upon a spacious split-level bar and lounge, opened by Johnny B. Lots of dark wood and rock on the stereo. An eclectic mix of Lower-East-Siders and their friends relaxing over strong cocktails served in oversized tea mugs and beers in paper bags. Now—why all the mystery?
Back in the "Roaring 20s," this space was home to a speakeasy (whose front was a successful local Kosher restaurant!). Now, the front is "The Lower East Side Toy Company." Inside, the joint is historically (though perhaps not politically) correct, down to the Mutoscope movie viewer (a precursor to a movie projector) in the corner, antique bottle openers, chandeliers and even something hidden behind one of the bookcases. Why do I find an immediate attraction to this place? Perhaps because it is in my 'hood, yet even on a Friday or Saturday, it is free of the maddening crowds that descend on the LES. Or perhaps because, while exclusive, it is not high on the velvet-rope pretense of, say, most places in the meatpacking district.
And by the way, before you run down to Norfolk Street, I caution that the Back Room is not really "open." As Johnny says, he hopes not to open for another five or six years or so. Meanwhile, swing by for a drink.