Over the past five years, speakeasies have become well established in New York nightlife. Venues like Milk and Honey, PDT, Little Branch, and Flatiron Lounge combine fresh ingredients, exotic recipes and a reserved atmosphere to create an experience reminiscent of Prohibition era nightlife.
The mood and the service in a speakeasy are different than other bars, clubs or lounges. The music is often subdued so conversation is the dominant sound. The dress code is sometimes more formal. Reservations are encouraged, if not required. The bartender, or mixologist if you will, creates cocktails using precise measurements. He or she can often explain the drinks, their origins and their ingredients in detail. They take their time with their creations, often engaging in conversation with the customers to educate and expose them to drinking experiences that might be new to them. Although some of them can be dry and pretentious, an evening in a speakeasy with an attractive woman is a great way to spend an evening after work.
A new speakeasy recently opened up in the Village on Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street. At first glance,Su Casa has all the outward trappings of a modern speakeasy. The cocktail menu is unique, leaning heavily on tequila and various Mexican flavors. The bartenders are veterans of well known venues like Milk and Honey. It’s perched above the street, with huge windows that allow you to gaze down at the scurrying students and commuters while you drink the night away. Halfway through your first Paloma, you’ll feel like the speakeasy trend is alive and well.
But then you’ll realize something isn’t right. Su Casa opens itself up for college parties. Su Casa offers bottle service on the weekends. The DJ booth and flat screen TVs discourage conversation. The veteran mixologist spends more time stuffing lime into Corona bottles than he does muddling haberanos and he doesn’t look to happy about it. These are not the hallmarks of a speakeasy. Once the crowd fills up the room it’s hard to distinguish Su Casa from Mixx Lounge, Fat Black Pussycat or other Village lounge.
It could be that the speakeasy trend has run its course in New York City. New venues might feel the need to offer specialty cocktails without the other semi-exclusive trappings that decrease potential revenue. Su Casa might represent the tail end of a movement, but if you go there do yourself a favor. Skip the Corona and ask the bartender to make you something special. You might be pleasantly surprised.