10 Top (Secret) Hot Spots

Publication: Worth magazine

Walt Disney holed away with Hollywood bigwigs at Club 33, Parisian cinephiles built a cinema beneath the Trocadéro. International artists create forever hidden work in abandoned New York subway tunnels. Man’s fascination with the clandestine is strong. Today, secret places are more likely to be luxe and exclusive than dangerous or debauched. The following 10 have the additional bonus—and challenge—of being rather difficult to find. Something hidden this way lies …

01. CURIO AT GILT BAR, Chicago

Curio, the basement lounge tucked beneath popular gastropub Gilt Bar, is not for the faint of eyes. Not that you’ll find any shocking activities taking place on the cognac tufted leather couches—but in the dim candlelight, you wouldn’t be able to see them anyway. In constructing Gilt’s little sister, owner Brendan Sodikoff was inspired by the tavern La Louisianne in Inglourious Basterds (though the end result is a bit swankier). Depending on where you stand you may catch glimpses of a functioning Victrola, a curio cabinet stuffed with vintage trinkets, and, at the bar, a magnificent century-old brass cash register.

230 W. Kinzie St., 312.464.9544, giltbarchicago.com

SITE: Chicago

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Proficient

ENTRY BARRIERS: None

02. WOLVESMOUTH, Los Angeles

Fun fact: Canis lupii have very refined taste buds. Just ask one of the diners lucky enough to score seats at Wolvesmouth, Craig Thorton’s spectacular underground supper club. If the formula is simple—open your kitchen to the public, hire a friend to help clean up—the 10 to 15 courses of “reflective cooking” are anything but. The former personal chef to Nicolas Cage has a way with molecular gastronomy, and gelées, ices and foams abound. In a dish Thorton calls Wandering the Forest, an upturned rabbit haunch lords over a black truffle “soil” studded with douglas fir needles, chanterelles and cipollini onions. What you pay for it is up to you, but unless you’re booking a private dinner, the amount of time you’ll have to wait for a seat (up to a year), alas, is not.

thewolf@wolvesmouth.com for reservations and address, wolvesmouth.com

SITE: Los Angeles

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Novice

ENTRY BARRIERS: Reservations, waiting list


03. NEEDLE AND THREAD AT TAVERN LAW, Seattle

Needle and Thread may look like your grandmother’s parlor, but the customized cocktails at this pocket-sized speakeasy pack a serious punch. Rather than hand you a menu, the dapper bartender will ask you to pick a spirit and a flavor profile, and then build a concoction based on your selection. Go during peak drinking hours, and nabbing one of Needle and Thread’s 25 seats might be tricky, but pick up the old rotary phone next to the vault door inside Tavern Law anyway. If the place isn’t too busy, or if the bartender likes the sound of your voice, you’ll be buzzed in. The embroidered armchairs aren’t as comfortable as they look, but the low-key, cloistered ambiance makes the entry rigmarole worth it.

1406 12th Ave., 206.322.9734, tavernlaw.com

SITE: Seattle

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Novice

ENTRY BARRIERS: Reservations

04. BOHEMIAN, New York

Gaining access to this Japanese izakaya—located in Andy Warhol’s old NoHo loft—takes some work, but once you reach Bohemian’s unmarked door (hidden at the back of a Japanese butcher shop), you’ll be greeted with warm towels and an even warmer welcome. A twist on the Tokyo original, Bohemian serves mostly traditional Japanese small plates and sake in a graywalled mod-meets-Asian space. For carnivores, there’s a heady foie gras soba and an almost custardy washu beef short rib sashimi. Pescatarians can dig into bracing uni croquettes, salmon roe rice bowls and a crispy whole branzino. First order of business: Sink into one of the low-slung loungers or sofas that circle the six tables, ask for a bucket of oysters and a bottle of sparkling sake from Bohemian’s extensive list, and let the adjacent miniature Zen garden work its magic.

playearth.jp

SITE: New York

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Expert

ENTRY BARRIERS: Reservations, invitation

05. PX LOUNGE, Alexandria, Va.

If the Jolly Roger flies from the second floor window of Old Town fish and chips spot Eamonn’s, it means the PX Lounge is open. Climb the stairs that lead to an unmarked wooden door—the blue light in the lantern tells you you’re in the right place. Ring the bell and wait for approval from the post-hipster staff. If you make the cut (dresses please, ladies; for gents, jackets help), you’ll find yourself in one of three lovely rooms filled with tinkling cut-glass chandeliers, gilt-edged mirrors, plush velvet lounges and lots of well-polished cherry. Push your way through the gaggle of pretty young things nibbling on boiled peanuts, order a Smoker’s Delight (bourbon, Old Virginia tobacco and Virginia honey) and banish all thoughts of politics and office grievances. This isn’t your granddaddy’s speakeasy—and that’s just the way you like it.

728 King St., 703.299.8384, restauranteve.com/eamonns/PX

SITE: Alexandria, Va.

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Proficient

ENTRY BARRIERS: Good manners and adherence to dress code

06. LE TRÈS PARTICULIER, Paris

Tucked behind a Louis Bénech-designed garden on the grounds of l’Hôtel Particulier Montmartre (previously the estate of the Hermès family) is this tiny salon, whose hushed atmosphere and bespoke cocktails add a certain je ne sais quoi to an already quirkily charming boutique hotel. To experience this yourself, you first must make a reservation; during the winter months, cocktails are only available Thursday to Sunday. The hotel is located at the end of a leafy passageway between Avenue Junot and Rue Lepic; ring the bell outside its wrought-iron gates and ask, politely, if you might “boire un verre, s’il vous plaît.” There’s chess and a live jazz pianist inside, but the biggest attraction is David Vignaud, New York expat and mixologist extraordinaire. Tell him your poison of choice, and watch as he shakes your cares away.

23 Avenue Junot, Pavillon D, 33.01.5341.8140, hotel-particulier-montmartre.com

SITE: Paris

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Proficient

ENTRY BARRIERS: “It suffices to try.”

07. LEI DOU, Hong Kong

What is by now a familiar tune—unpublished address, unmarked door—thrills thanks to Lei Dou’s location (an alley in the nightlife-heavy Lan Kwai Fong neighborhood of Hong Kong) and fin de siècle opium-den vibe. Sure, that haze is due to imported Montecristos and too much aged single malt, but ingested amidst the expats and exiles who frequent Lei Dou, these take on their own illicit allure. In Cantonese, lei dou means “right here,” and here is a very pleasant place to be, even if your taste runs more to dirty martinis or Italian mojitos (prosecco, rum, lime, simple syrup) than scotch.

Dr. Martin Vinokur, 203.322.9803, tenniseuro@aol.com, tenniseurope.com

SITE: Hong Kong

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Expert

ENTRY BARRIERS: None

08. THE SALTOUN SUPPER CLUB, London

If Sartre had managed to land a spot at Arno Maasdorp’s dinner table, he might have withdrawn that bit about hell being other people. Twice a week, the food stylist and photographer welcomes up to 16 foodies into his charming Brixton flat for an edition of the Saltoun Supper Club. Maasdorp’s artistic inclinations translate into brilliant colors, intricate shapes, Saveur-ready platings—but it’s the concentrated flavors and spot-on textures in dishes like mussels with banana and saffron sauce, and leek and pecorino gnocchi that steal the show. Throughout the four-course meal you can watch Maasdorp at work in the open kitchen, admire the South American baskets and flea market ephemera that dot the exposed brick walls, and get to know your dinner mates over copious amounts of BYOB wine. Sure, you’ll be fit to burst by the time the towering Eton mess arrives, but that’s what belt notches are for, no?

maasdorp@hotmail.com for reservations and address, eatwithyoureyes.net

SITE: London

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Novice

ENTRY BARRIERS: Waiting list

09. THE PALE BLUE DOOR, South America

When Tony Hornecker first introduced The Pale Blue Door to London’s burgeoning food scene in 2008, pop-up restaurants were unheard of. Two years later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a city that doesn’t have a few, though none quite match the zany creativity of the original. An installation artist and set designer, Hornecker imbues each instance of the now-globetrotting Pale Blue Door with a rustic, Mad Hatter whimsy: fairy lights abound, sculptures and paintings tilt rakishly against metal cafe tables, silk cushions are heaped upon newly constructed tree forts. In the midst of this artistic chaos, Hornecker serves homestyle British dishes: a proper Sunday roast, mushy peas, crumble pudding. After sojourns in an abandoned mansion in Buenos Aires, a farmhouse in Glastonbury and a garden in Berlin, South America beckons again, with an expected stop in Valparaiso, Chile.

thepalebluedoor@gmail.com for reservations and address, tonyhornecker.wordpress.com

SITE: South America

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Proficient-to-expert

ENTRY BARRIERS: Waiting list

10. THE RUM DIARIES, Sydney

Through an unmarked brick archway on Sydney’s Bondi Road there lies one of the forces behind Bondi Beach’s after-hours vitality. The Rum Diaries, which takes its name and its attitude from Hunter S. Thompson’s cult novel, brings a well-lubricated but distinctly adult energy to the surfer ’hood. Anyone can sit at the funky weathered bar, made from recycled railroad sleepers, but it’s the Oscar Acosta room you’re after. Named after Thompson’s oft-turned-to attorney, the room features a cozy fireplace, twinkling chandelier and, behind a wall-length bookcase, a private cigar library.

288 Bondi Rd., 61.02.9300.0440, therumdiaries.com.au

SITE: Sydney

NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS: Novice

ENTRY BARRIERS: Oscar Acosta room, invite only

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10 Top (Secret) Hot Spots