1/24/2012 11:20:00 AM

9 Secrets of New York Bars and Restaurants

Clockwise from left: Osteria Morini, Limelight, Bridge Cafe, Beaumarchais
Have you ever wondered what your favorite cafe was before it started dishing out tasty bowls of soup and the perfect slice of pie? Or what about that karaoke joint, it can’t have always been there right? From old mobster hangouts to sites of freak accidents to underground sex clubs, this city has a sordid past that easily is told by our bars, restaurants and entertainment joints. We found nine scrumptious stories of such tales and would love to hear any dirty little secrets you know about your favorite spots in the comments.

Apotheke: There is something that makes sense about an old-school cocktail lounge opening up inside what used to be a notorious opium den in Chinatown. Even more appropriate is the bar’s location on Doyers, the curvy street named after a distiller from the 1800s that was also referred to as the "bloody angle” due to mass amounts of gang violence and murders in the early 1900s. Luckily, the only "Devious Path" you'll find in this quaint bar is an option on the drink menu.

Beaumarchais: Before this spot started hosting champagne brunches, it was known for something else - leather and sex. From 1994-2003 the space housed The L.U.R.E., a gay leather bar whose acronym stood for "leather, uniform, rubber, etc."

Bridge Café: Though Bridge Café has only been around since 1979, the Downtown space it resides in is often touted as one of the oldest drinking establishments in New York. The original building on Water Street was built in 1794 as a grocery, and in 1826 it became a saloon and boarding house for rent. Well, you can imagine the kind of crowd that flocked to the venue at that point - prostitutes, “river pirates,” gamblers, alcoholics and other forms of unsavory peoples. During Prohibition it became a place to purchase beer until, finally, it became the charming, clean-cut eatery it is today. So nice, in fact, Ed Koch used to be a regular.

The Limelight Marketplace: Once a church, then a notorious club, and now a mall full of eateries, including Todd English’s Crossbar and branch of Grimaldi's pizza, it was also the place of a freak accident that left a woman dead over two decades ago. A runaway cab drove onto the steps of the club and crushed Ruth Polsky, a popular music promoter in the 1980s. Talk about occupational hazards!

Lenny’s Pizza: Not every restaurant secret involves gruesome murders, hidden rooms or torrid affairs. Lenny’s Pizza in Brooklyn got its claim to fame in the movie Saturday Night Fever when John Travolta’s character Tony Manero saddles up to the window and orders two slices to go in the opening credits. Sure, plenty of restaurants have been used in films before, but how often does the place actually appear as itself? Not only that - the joint has remained there for over three decades.

Osteria Morini: For his Italian hot spot, Michael White snatched up the SoHo space that formerly housed the Falls, a bar that got a bad rap in 2006 when Imette Carmella St. Guillen was found dead in a ditch after a night there. Even worse, the killer turned out to be the bar’s bouncer, Darryl Littlejohn. Presumably, there are no ex-cons working the kitchen at Osteria Morini.

U2 Karaoke Lounge: Once upon a time, bathhouses were the place for men to congregate and bond. In 1913, The Saint Marks Russian and Turkish Baths opened at 6 St. Marks Place in the East Village and catered to many male immigrants. In the 1950s, the spot developed more of a gay clientele, and in 1979, the baths were refurbished and dubbed the New St. Marks Baths. In 1985, the space became the iconic Kim’s Video and Music, which closed in 2008. Now, the space is home to U2 Karaoke, where many a drunk college student belts out Katy Perry tunes while downing sake, soju and Korean nibbles.

Umberto’s Clam House/Crudo Vineria con Cucina: Though this 40-year-old Italian moved about a year ago to Mulberry Street, the old location at 386 Broome Street had a past to make the Sopranos proud. Mobsters, politicians and celebrities - all types came through that door. One left in a body bag. It was April 7, 1972, and Joey Gallo, a gangster for the Profaci crime family, was gunned down after a night out with actor Jerry Orbach and his wife. Now the space houses Crudo Vineria con Cucina.

The Vault at Pfaff’s: This swank, literally underground cocktail lounge used to host a bevy of literary types in 1855 when it was Pfaff’s Beer Cellar. Walt Whitman regularly supped there and even wrote a poem about it in 1861. The current tenant gets its name from the two vaults situated in the space. No, these aren’t like bank vaults, but rather special rooms under the street that are fortified to withstand the traffic above.


  1. Uh, that's a bad "rap", not a bad "wrap", unless they used Glad or Saran. I know you have enough English majors hanging around there to catch that sort of thing.

  2. Not to mention that "formally" should be "formerly", and that one sidles, not "saddles", up to a window. Doesn't Zagat employ any copy editors?

  3. And to think Tim and Nina Zagat were both Wall St.lawyers.

  4. Fact Check on Beaumarchais:

    Yes, the L.U.R.E. was located at 409 West 13 Street and yes, it was a leather bar. The LURE was licensed to serve liquor and since the city cracked down on darkroom sex in establishments with liquor licenses in the late 1980s, sex at the LURE was frowned upon. The staff, anxious to defend their license, was fairly aggressive about their clientele keeping everything "zipped up" or risking being removed from the bar. I won't try to claim it never happened, but darkroom sex at the LURE was not as pervasive as this article suggests.

    409 West 13 Street was most definitely NOT the location of the Mineshaft. "The Shaft" was located at the northeast corner of Little West 12th and Washington Streets, not far from where the Lure opened eight to ten years after the Mineshaft closed. The Mineshaft was located in the building where the restaurant "Sea" is currently located. Oh yes, it was raunchy, and on weekends checking your clothes was not "suggested", it was REQUIRED. The Mineshaft closed in the mid-1980's (I'll guess it was around 1986)

    The link between the two establishments (which might have confused the author) was that the proprietor of both was "Wally" Wallace.

    The Mineshaft was never at 409 West 13 Street.

  5. Replies
    1. Excuse me, Lennys IS in Brooklyn 86st street under the "L" to be exact...hello.,.

  6. lennys is in brooklyn, its on 86th St under the el

  7. Two restaurants I wonder about are Marie's Crises in the Village and the literary bar in the Village where Jack London, Hemingwat, etc, hung out. The entry was via an alleyway past the garbage cans. Does anyone know about these places?

  8. Limelight is a Mall now?

    So Lame...even if it is a foodie mall.
    Glad I got to go in the last days of it being a club.

  9. Umberto's Clam House is one of my favourite Italian restaurant. They never fail my taste buds; it's one of the oldest Italian restaurants I've ever visited.

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