Neo – the choice is yours. Swallow the blue pill and all will remain the same. Your life will go on in the same light beer, frat boy, and rack liquor drink existence. Swallow the red pill and escape into the real world of high end quality cocktails in adult surroundings reminiscent of an old 1930’s speakeasy. Be forewarned that once you stumble down into the rabbit hole you might just want to stay with Alice for awhile and buy her a few luscious libations.
Yes, I took the red pill as I always do when it comes to Speakeasies. Happily I might add, as there is just something that tingles the senses to have your mind and taste buds think that you are entering a secret denizen of prohibited cocktail enjoyment. Hey, we all know that the cat is out of the bag when it comes to these spots here in NYC, but the drink connoisseurs among us still appreciate a well made cocktail, even if it means shelling out a few more clams for it. From the nondescript hidden entrance ways, to the dimly lit rooms, to the small spaces, to the pressed tin roof, to the bartenders wearing bow ties and suspenders, to the unusual liquor lists, to the old-timey music playing quietly in the background, those of us who appreciate a place like Little Branch can sip on an expertly mixed drink in an atmosphere that throws one back to another time and place. It’s the civilized way to drink. Oh, and go into the bathroom and read the list of rules on the wall and adhere to them.
One thing I have learned over my time here in NYC is to try and hit these places up early in the evenings, and on mid-week days if possible. Weekends are usually a mad crush of people, and long frustrating waits. We came to Little Branch on a Wednesday night right around opening at 7pm. I had arrived first and walked right down the narrow stairway to a darkly lit intimate bar with the soft sounds of old jazz being played in the background. I took a spot at the tiny bar area to have a drink while waiting for my fiancee’, and struck up a conversation with the bartender. After a few whiskey based drinks (Get the bartender’s choice. Always get the bartender’s choice. Trust me.) She arrived and we took a spot at a booth in one of the far corners. The place itself is small and a bit claustrophobic, but cozy at the same time. Old piano sits in the corner, and you could feel the vibrations of the passing subway trains underground. Loved it. Our waitress came over and took our orders. I noticed that they will also offer free Bazzini nuts and pretzels when asked and two large trays were placed on our table. Nice touch.
As for the drinks I just have to say they were some expertly made cocktails. Period. We tried many. Maybe a few too many. From old-school Brandy Alexanders, to some bourbon based drinks – a damn tasty Sazerac, a delicious Gold Rush – and some others I can’t recall as things got a bit fuzzy at that point. I think we also had one called a Penicillin. These drinks are strong, as they should be, and don’t skimp on the high octane booze. Also be forewarned that it’s cash only here, so hit up the ATM for a wad before you arrive. By the time we left we were sufficiently inebriated to say the least. Climbing up those stairs on the way out were an execution in teetering and tottering. Again, I loved the drinks and whole experience here and can’t wait to go back.
Expert mixology in a slightly eccentric location with terrific service and a dimly lit quiet atmosphere made for a wonderful cocktail experience. Oh, and always make sure to tip your bartenders well. On the way out I went over to the bartender I met while first waiting and shook hands goodbye. He slipped me a “special wooden coin” that I will treasure as it assures entrance ahead of the line at any time. Worth it’s weight in gold.
When I awoke the next morning hungover and bleary eyed I wondered if it was a dream, or was this reality for real.
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The opinions and views expressed here are solely those of the author.