In the Spirit of Prohibition

illustration: Kate Lacey

When it comes to decent food and drink and a little light social intercourse, New York is all about options. Happily, with the 462 zillion establishments serving up refreshment of varying sorts, there's no need for residents to favor ever encroaching chains such as TGI Friday's, Olive Garden, and Applebee's over the homegrown and unique. Though tourists may find their way to Prohibition (503 Columbus Avenue) and be welcomed with open arms, it's unlikely that they'll ever edge out the languorous, well-heeled Upper West Siders who frequent this spot. First off, it's too obscure and unfabulous to attract seekers of "real New York" nightlife; in fact, its worn wide-plank floors, slightly shabby faux-deco decor, and nightly roster of uninspiring musical acts ('80s hair-metal cover bands, tame singer-songwriters) seem almost calculated to keep the ersatz glitterati away (though rumor has it this spot is a post-taping hangout for certain soap stars). The back room features a large, red-felted pool table—the clatter from which surely renders intimate dining unlikely.

But these minor annoyances, planned or not, are eclipsed by the bar's excellent service, food that's a notch or two better than it needs to be, and very reasonable prices. Locals come to savor Prohibition's funky (given its posh location) atmosphere, graze on the bar's delicious mini-cheeseburgers and other snacks, and occasionally sing along with the generic rock bands that grace the small stage.

Recently, we spent an early evening lounging at the bar's coveted front tables, enjoying a delicious spring breeze as it slithered through the French windows that open onto bright, busy Columbus Avenue. I was in the mood for something sweet and slightly absurd, so the "signature" mango mojito ($11) appealed—its minty, opalescent orange tint a perfect reflection of the gathering sunset; the more prudent in my party opted for favorites from the well-stocked imported-beer menu (Stella Artois, etc., $6–$7) and wine list. After this I moved on to the potent frozen strawberry margarita, which resembled the gory remnants of a slasher movie, stuffed in a prettily frosted glass—it tasted like heaven. With a few of these under my proverbial belt, even the surreal, oversize print of Jazz Age diva Josephine Baker—sporting only a perfectly shingled bob and a skirt of voluptuous bananas—looked perfectly natural.

Other low-key bars to shoot some 8-ball at
Highly recommended

Bar Reis Originally opened as a wine bar in 1999, Bar Reis now serves beer and delectable cocktails in a dark, cozy environment. The setting is nothing less than romantic, especially the lofted patio area at the top of a winding wrought-iron stairwell. The spacious ivy-covered garden is perfect for warm weather. 375 Fifth Ave, Park Slope, Bklyn, 718-832-5716

Jake’s Dilemma Jake’s is one of the most comfy and unpretentious bars on the less-than-happening Upper West Side. Ask the bartender to make you a “Deceptacon,” a mysterious and potent blend that tastes like a little bit of every soda from the fountain. 30 Amsterdam Ave, 212-580-0556

Musical Box First, you’ll have to find the place. Multiple trips to the Musical Box, and you’ll still walk up and down that one block of Avenue B, muttering to yourself, “Where the hell is it again?” But persevere and you’ll eventually stumble across the unmarked door. Part the velvet curtains, step inside, and find the pool table in the back room, along with well-worn couches you’ve sat in too many times to mention. 219 Ave B, 212-254-1731

No Idea Want to go where everyone knows your name? At No Idea, each night is assigned a different first name, and anyone so named drinks free. 30 E 20th, 212-777-0100

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