The Back Room: a modern-day speakeasy

Vintage antiques from the 1920s are used throughout the bar and lounge. They use teacups Photos by Troy Hahn
Vintage antiques from the 1920s are used throughout the bar and lounge. They even use teacups instead of glasses, just the way it was done during Prohibition. Photos by Troy Hahn

Hidden behind the faux facade of a toy store, the world of The Roaring Twenties is well alive. The Back Room in New York is one of only two speakeasies left over from the Prohibition era of the 1920s, when drinking alcohol was forbidden, yet secret bars were popping up everywhere. Velvet paisley wallpaper, original tin ceilings, period chandeliers and sink-into couches, a giant fireplace and a mirrored bar make you step back in time as soon as you walk through the door. Even the drinks are served, Prohibition-style, in teacups. IRMA’s New York guest editor Zoe Warncke had a chat with Megan Bones of The Back Room.

IRMA: Can you feel the history in The Back Room? What does it feel like?
Yes! From the moment you open the door, you are transported to the 1920s and 30s. The alley way that you walk down, is the actual entrance used during prohibition. It is quite a surprise to walk down this scary alley and then open the door to a beautiful room with patterned fabric on the walls, tin ceiling, velvet couches, chandeliers, mahogany bar, and a working fireplace! We have also added vintage antiques from the time period throughout the lounge. And we serve all of our drinks in tea cups—the way people did it during prohibition to hide the fact that they were actually drinking alcohol. With the jazz music, the teacups, people dressed in 20s garb and dancers doing the “Charleston,” you can easily feel the history of the space.

IRMA: Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a guest and why?
There are so many people I would like to meet (most of them spiritual or religious leaders!). But, for the sake of the bar, I would actually love to meet Meyer Lanksy. He was a frequent customer back in the day. There was a kosher restaurant called Ratner’s and he and his company would use the back for their meetings and to drink illegally during prohibition. That is the very spot of The Back Room now! I would love to hear the tales of moments that actually occurred in the space back in the day.

IRMA: Would you like to time-travel? Why?
I would love to time travel. There are so many events in history that I would like to witness. To be able to actually experience them, rather than read about it, would be so amazing. I would love to witness some of the famous speeches of the past. I would love to see and get a feeling of how different times affect how people behave and think.

IRMA: Does The Back Room have a dress code?
We do have a dress code. A lot of people like to dress up in the style of the 1920s, but it isn’t required. We love it when they do, though! It fits in the space so well. We don’t allow baseball hats or team jerseys. We want people to look upscale or casual, but neat.
We have a unique dress code that reflects the trends of today. The owner is an animal rights supporter and, consequently, The Back Room does not allow real fur inside the bar. Fake fur is fine, just no real fur!

IRMA: What is your favorite part/time of your work day/routine? Why?
I do the events for the bar and I love meeting such a wide variety of people and coordinating the best party experience possible for them! We have had parties for Robert Plant, David Beckham, Adele, Pearl Jam, Martha Stewart, Paul McCartney and also holiday parties, weddings, movie wrap parties, liquor launches and simple birthday parties. All of them have been so fun and it makes me happy when the client is happy.… But I also do enjoy that “old-fashioned” cocktail at the end of the shift 🙂

IRMA: Do you play an instrument?
I play the piano. We have a piano at The Back Room and we use it for our Monday night jazz nights. Sometimes when I am alone in the space, I sit down and play a few tunes, but I am not a professional… I leave that to our Monday night musicians!

The Back Room, 102 Norfolk Street (near Delancey St.), New York, NY 10002