Illegal New York Nights (2008)

the vices didn’t go away; they just went underground after hours

Like those revered party capitals Sodom and Gomorrah, New York City is a town of vice. But since we're a city of cynics too, we revel in declaring this place totally over—a shtick as shopworn as Cindy Adams's chirping "Only in New York, kids, only in New York!" with the morning coffee. But don't toss the schmeared bagels just yet. The vices are still here. Like the homeless, they never went away, they just went underground.

Remember when Giuliani installed all those cops and cameras in Washington Square Park and everybody balked? Well now you can score hydro straight outta High Times with names like Blueberry, G-14, and Government Issue. And you don't even have to leave your apartment. Who wants to score a dime bag of shwag weed from some sketchy park dealer in the midst of a booming home-delivery industry? (We can't supply the phone number—but feel free to ask one of the guys in your IT department.) Thanks, Giuliani!

These days, most smokers are crowded on sidewalks or stooped over on dancefloors or having high school flashbacks in bathroom stalls. They're the inhalers of the legal stuff we used to innocently refer to as tobacco. But believe me, there are plenty of people flouting that law too. I recently witnessed patrons puffing their brains out at a meatpacking district club. In front of the bartenders and the bouncers and anybody else who cared to watch. And pals who live in Brooklyn say come midnight, more than a few watering holes turn a blind eye to the latest class of petty criminals.

Of course, Brooklyn isn't Manhattan. Quality-of-life crackdowns are almost always enforced for the benefit of affluent Manhattanites, suburban commuters, and deep-pocketed tourists. Yet it would be folly to write off the entire island as one lame testament to mall culture. More than a couple resourceful entrepreneurs are taking cues from the tenacious lawbreakers of the last great prohibition by opening up speakeasies in the spirit of the 21 Club (21 West 52nd Street, 212-582-7200). These are not Williamsburg's roving loft parties and warehouse one-offs. We're talking honest dens of disrepute and, umm, dishonesty.

One such club is cleverly disguised as a Pakistani restaurant. At least it was one before it shuttered shortly after September 11, 2001. Now the sneaky spot is open to anyone who knows the password. Much like famed Lower East Side bar Milk & Honey (134 Eldridge Street, unlisted phone), you need to know somebody who's pals with the owner to gain admittance. But this is no swanky juke joint. You buy your beer from whoever's behind the counter. Then you drink it at one of the stools or booths or under one of the old halal menu boards or even standing in the partially gutted kitchen. By a giant fat fryer. Making you feel rather like a drunken short-order cook.

And it gets better. According to local lore, the previous tenants virtually vanished the day the planes hit. Cash-still-in-the-tills vanish. Word has it they were photographing the Manhattan monument located less than a block away. To illustrate their evil intentions, the owner likes to show his guests a twin towers poster he found hanging on the downstairs wall. Eerie even if it is mere coincidence. It's no wonder he's dubbed this shady shop the Cell (unlisted address, unlisted phone).

That Red Alert now connotes more to New Yorkers than hip-hop DJ legends has undoubtedly nudged the city's renewed sense of late-night joie de vivre. Then again, feisty New Yorkers have never needed much of an excuse to party. The night of the big blackout might as well have been Mardi Gras. Of course, some never want the party to end, especially at 4 a.m., which is when the bars have to kick you out. Some places skirt the law by discreetly allowing V.I.P.'s to drink for free, often with cheap beer they keep on hand just for such occasions (we're not making any promises, but we'd try the Irish dive on the nearest corner).

Some capitalists are even modeling their businesses on infamous after-hours like Save the Robots (now Guernica, 25 Avenue B, 212-674-0984), where a lot more than liquor got served. You'd be hard-pressed to find such an all-out chemical orgy in Alphabet City these days, although I'm sure the locals have a gambling den or two they keep secret from the new kids on the block. A big roulette wheel occupies the corner of one midtown after-hours, obviously for patrons who haven't already spent their paychecks on powders, pills, and who knows what else (we'd give you the address, but then we'd have to kill you). Such places—there's a similar establishment in Chelsea—are definitely not for the squeamish. Guys with walkie-talkies stalk the sidewalks on 5-0 patrol while big burly men pat you down upon entry. Did I mention it wasn't for the squeamish? Because this is New York, and it still is what it used to be.


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