Chumley’s, an authentic former speakeasy and current bar and restaurant in Greenwich Village, is one of those not-secret-at-all secret places New Yorkers love to show off to visitors. Dating back to 1922, it was once a favorite of writers and other bohemian creative types (portraits of Hemingway and his ilk line the walls), but today it draws a much more mainstream crowd.
During busy hours, which describes any time other than very early and very late, buttoned-down banker types fill the dark wooden booths and drain shots of Makers alongside neighborhood firemen, while midwestern guidebook-toters discover to their dismay that debit cards are useless here. While far from undiscovered, I do heartily endorse a carefully-timed visit to Chumley’s, if only for a pint of one of their numerous signature beers (which are nothing to write home about, but do the job) and a few precious moments in bygone New York. The main (unmarked) entrance is at 86 Bedford Street, which may or may not be the origin of the term “to 86” something, but you’ll get exactly four extra credit points for coming in the super-secret entrance in an alley off Barrow Street around the corner.
Breathe in the atmosphere (just not in the restroom, with its otherwise delightful historical graffiti-adorned walls), enjoy your drink, and imagine what this place was like back when it was actually necessary to “speak easy” to convince the doorman you weren’t a cop or government agent. And if you squint your eyes just so, the dude with the Office Depot nametag looks just like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sort of.
UPDATE: A reader notes:
As a former West Villager who only went during Christmas — the fireplace and decorations were always quite nice — I was pleasantly surprised that they do take credit cards now (as of December).