Raines Law Room

Bar in New York

Prohibition-Style Speakeasy Cocktail Bar

Raines Law Room, a prohibition-style speakeasy in Manhattan, is just the kind of place that conjures images of money laundering, adultery, secret meetings and illegal multi-million dollar deals discussed over stiff drinks and lovely ladies of the night.

The only thing missing are the sliding bookshelves into hidden passage ways.

You’ve been waiting a few moments at the bottom of steps leading to an unmarked door under a small, black canopy after ringing the doorbell. Left alone with your thoughts, you wonder if you’re at the right place, if you’re too early or if you’ve accidentally rang a neighbor’s doorbell. There’s no sign indicating you’re at Raines Law Room, but then again, where would the fun be in that?

A moustached gentleman with slicked hair in a black tux finally cracks the door peeking at you suspiciously. “Yes?” He catches you off guard and you’re mind goes blank. “Um… we’d like to have a drink,” you finally muster the courage to say, wondering if that’s the correct answer.

He scrutinizes you for a few seconds, which feel like uncomfortable minutes – then quickly closes the door without a word. You and your guests look at each other confused, insulted, embarrassed, nervous, afraid to say anything. Before you have a chance to process and suggest going to another bar, the moustached man cracks the door again. “How many of you are there?”

You tell him and he quickly slams the door shut again. You and your guests are still confused, but hopeful. After a few more moments, the moustached man returns, his character softened. You’re allies now. “Listen, we’re a bit busy tonight,” he says cautiously, almost whispering, “but we have standing room in the kitchen until a space opens up. Is that OK? Please, come inside.”

Inside, a vintage lamp dimly lights the small hallway and a beautiful girl dressed in a red flapper-style dress, complete with a feathered headband. She helps you with your coats and hangs them before you step through curtains into a world full of velvet secrets, mysterious strangers, bubbly cocktails, stiff drinks and sexy wallpaper. Welcome, to Raines Law Room.

The speakeasy is named after the New York State Raines law passed in 1896 restricting establishments, except hotels, from selling alcoholic beverages on Sundays. The law was later modified mandating hotels to either serve a meal with alcohol or to serve the alcohol in hotel bedrooms. Consequently, many saloons soon added small bedrooms and applied for hotel licenses to sidestep the law.

The parlor area features big and comfy, dark velvet couches and tiny tables with space enough to sit about six to eight groups of three or six people comfortably, or several couples if you don’t mind sitting across strangers. It also highlights extendable curtains so your party can have more privacy, or practice voyeurism in peace.

Every sitting area, near the small table, has a discreet vintage light switch made with a small chain rather than an actual switch. When pulled the tiny dime-sized light directly above the chain lights up, notifying a waitress you’re ready to order. Pull the chain again to turn the light off once you’re done ordering.

Once through the parlor’s narrow walkway and into the well-lit and tiled kitchen, the fresh smell of citrus, mint and ginger instantly greet your nostrils as bartenders busily make fresh cocktails. The menu is an entire book filled with drinks with eccentric names like Spyglass, Paper Plane, Kentucky Buck Fifty and Chet Baker. They range from fizzy cocktails made with champagne and rums, to stronger drinks made with fine bourbons, scotches and rye whiskeys served with one large ice cube. The drinks in the shaken collection include vodkas, tequilas and gins mixed with simple syrups, fresh juices, fruits, mint sprigs and even cayenne peppered rims. Raines Law Room also has a selection of wines and international beers, as well as a few nibbles, like cheese, olives and soppressata, Italian dry salami.

The lounge area is bedecked in Chesterfield sofas and a wood-burning fireplace modeled after a 19th century English townhouse and reminiscent of the murder mystery game Clue. You half expect Colonel Mustard to waltz up for a drink after murdering Ms. Scarlet with the lead pipe in the conservatory.

When the cocktails have gone straight to your head, step beyond the kitchen into a quaint garden with a white wooden trellis for a quick breather or a cigarette break. The romantic candlelit sitting area is also where the herbs for the drinks are grown.

The bathrooms are also a treat, adorned with vintage oval mirrors, brass fixtures, a vintage basin, soft lighting and prurient wallpaper reminiscent of artist Kara Walker’s paper silhouettes.

The best time to go to Raines Law Room is during the week, where the wait for a table is about half an hour or less, which goes by quickly as you flip through the thick book of cocktails, admire the decoration and make up stories about the people behind the curtains. The wait for a table on weekends can be up to two hours, and you’ll have to wait at another bar until you’re texted to return.

So put your fedora and trench coat on and head to Raines Law Room for an intriguing evening full of mystery and aromatic cocktails. But promise to keep this location a secret. Shhhhhhh….

JoAnn DeLuna is a Brooklyn based travel writer and reporter

Raines Law Room on Urbanspoon

Photos courtesy of William Taylor

Reviewer's Rating
Ambience Hidden Gem
Late License Yes
Clientele Trendy Manhattanites and business men/women

Additional Ambience Information

Raines Law Room strives to keep an intimate atmosphere and therefore limits groups to six people. The speakeasy is low-lit making it an ideal place to have an informal meeting, whether business or pleasure. On weekdays it’s quiet enough for conversation, but it can get loud on the weekends. The seating is spacious for your own group, but there is limited seating, which is great for intimacy. It’s not really a place to meet new people, but more suited for catching up with members in your own party.

Additional Price Comments

Cocktails begin at $13, beers start at $7 and a glass of wine is about $11 depending on the wine. Nibbles are from $15.

Last updated on 23-03-2013

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