Ah, the illusion of secrecy. PDT hides behind a telephone booth, Milk & Honey behind an unlisted number, private lounge Woodson and Ford behind mysterious passwords. Yet there’s little barrier to entry for commonfolk: no more than a day-of reservation, a Google search, or whispering “tacos” to the doorman, respectively. Raines Law Room arrives at a time when all the illusion has been used up, so to ring a doorbell and see the doorperson peer out at you is a touch laughable, Wizard of Oz-ian, even — when we gave our name I half-expected him to swing the door wide and say, “Well, that’s a horse of a different color.” But while most Manhattan speakeasies are apt to make the jump from secrecy to snobbery, Raines’ staff is a delight: accommodating, apologetic about the inevitable wait, and a full of surprises — the manager makes Ardbeg scotch truffles out of a Queens kitchen and sells them by the box to patrons (we snagged a couple free samples between drinks).
The cocktail menu (all are $13) is the least interesting thing about Raines — Milk & Honey mixologist Michael McIlroy produced a short list of drinks, sorted by “hand stirred,” “shaken, served down,” and “shaken, served up.” Of nine options, it’s unfortunate to see mostly speakeasy standbys (a Negroni, a Manhattan, a too-sweet white rum variation on the Ramble). Raines shines with forgotten cocktails, like the Corpse Reviver #2, a hangover remedy popular in the 30s (gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon, and just enough absinthe) and Sidecar interpretation Champs Elysées (cognac, green chartreuse, lemon, sugar, and bitters).
The most striking thing about the bar is that it doesn’t have one. A bar, that is. The focus is on the titular “room” — a plush, tin-ceilinged lounge that lingers between the luxurious (velvet and quilted leather seating, opaque fabric canopies surrounding tables, call lights for the waitress) and rustic (exposed brick, tarnished mirrors). The arrangement is a bit curious: the sofas feel secluded behind curtains, but are set up with one facing another. It should be romantic, but if you’re on a date, you’ll likely be seated opposite another twosome, rendering affection a bit awkward. Anyway, I’d much rather spend time in the rear area, where the drinks are mixed. It’s lovely, wrapped in blue tile and an elegant glassware display. The bartenders (can we call them that if there’s technically no bar?) shake and stir behind an elliptical marble counter.
Does Manhattan really need another kitschy speakeasy? Why not? Let’s enjoy fabulous cocktails and pretend-exclusivity while they’re still in vogue and welcome any new additions to the Hush-Hush Club with open arms. Anyway, that number for Milk & Honey? The worst-kept secret in New York.