THE BACK ROOM
102 Norfolk Street
New York, NY 10002
So it goes like this. Operagirl and I were out and about, having a night on the town, when I suggested walking over to The Back Room for a night-cap. I like my hidden speakeasies as we all know, and what could be more hidden than a place with literally no sign, where the entrance is under the sidewalk and down a dark alley? And yet despite all of these otherwise fantastical things, The Back Room is simply awful.
The Back Room has just about every single thing going for it. High tin ceilings and crystal chandeliers, top shelf liquor and velvet sofas. But it also goes over the top on kitsch, indeed it does so to a damning degree. I want so much to like a place like this. I want to love it. But the music is super loud, it gets super crowded, and the drinks are... well the drinks stink. Where The Back Room excels is in its physical space. There's a large bar area, nude 19th century paintings, sofas in the rear, and a dimly lit, Victorian atmosphere. But it ruins all this with its club music and crowds and the not-so-subtle feeling that half of Manhattan already knows it exists (actually 3/4 of Manhattan). And of course, the drinks have room for improvement.
If you've already arrived and all of the sofas are taken, fear not. I'm sure that if you stand around for an hour, something will open up. Who knows, maybe one of the bachelorette parties that are there will ask you to take photos with them, as happened to me. "We want to be seen with a cute guy!" Flattering, if hollow. When your drinks arrive, they'll be in 1920s speakeasy form: a teacup or a beer bottle wrapped in a paper bag. The teacup, despite being half the size of a normal drink glass, I can forgive, but the paper bag makes me feel like I just bought of forty of Old English at a Spanish Harlem bodega. And with the beer choices including Miller and Bud Light, I'm not far off.
If, by looking at the two drinks above, you think "that looks like weak green tea and Hawaiian Punch" then you'd be right. Hawaiian punch with vodka is about as close to what we were given (for $12 a cup) as you could get at home by spiking Junior's lunch kit. To add insult to injury, apparently some of the people who go here are bitches. "That chick just hip-checked me to get to the bar!" Operagirl said before adding "...if I weren't sober..." I can't envision coming back unless invited to a party, but something tells me that I'd second guess my agreeing to show up.
If The Back Room was a real restaurant where the seating up that small set of stairs was where meals were served, where great drinks were available at the bar, and where they enforced the low-end of the maximum occupancy rules, then it could be, in my humblest of opinions, one of the best places in the city. Instead, it's just annoying.
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