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Hidden Speakeasy Pops Up Behind Nolita Bar

By Danielle Tcholakian | January 21, 2014 8:57am | Updated on January 21, 2014 10:51am
 A new speakeasy, Project 1919, is tucked behind Mulberry Project in NoLita.
Nolita Speakeasy Project 1919
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NOLITA — There's no secret password to get into NoLita's newest speakeasy — but the small pop-up, hidden behind an existing bar on Mulberry Street, aims for Prohibition-era authenticity.

Called Project 1919, the watering hole opened last week in a temporary wooden structure in the Mulberry Project's backyard at 149 Mulberry St.

"We're paying homage to a classic Prohibition speakeasy," said Jasper Soffer, co-owner of the Mulberry Project. Visitors wander through the busy, spacious main bar, pass through two separate doors connected by a dimly lit hallway, and are transported to a cozy 1920s-themed hideaway.

The reservation-only, one-room bar is made of dark wood panels, with banquettes and small tables on either side and a tall table with stools in the center. Spirits are kept on bookcases behind the small bar, a nod to the Prohibition practice of stowing bottles behind books.

Named for the year the Prohibition Act was passed, Project 1919 uses only dark spirits and serves only stirred drinks, in keeping with the era's traditions.

The drink menu, concocted by Soffer and Mulberry Project manager Sam Ziar, includes 10 original drinks and 10 classic cocktails, all priced at $15. The original cocktails are named for famous American gangsters and bootleggers, like George "Bugsy" Moran (rye, fig-infused Cocci Blanco and balsamic) and Dean O'Banion (Irish whiskey, sherry, allspice dram and vanilla syrup), but equal attention is given to the details of the classics.

"I think the mark of a good bar is [a bartender] who can make a good Manhattan, tip our hat to the classics," Soffer said. "That's what we're honoring here at 1919."

The original drinks are made with a variety of unusual vermouths, amaros and other aperitif-style liquors sourced by Ziar, like the becherovka used in the Hymie Weiss (stirred in with bourbon, maple syrup and smoky black salt in a black-salt-rimmed glass).

 The interior of Project 1919 is lined with dark wood and dimly lit, with spirits stored on bookcases behind the small bar.
The interior of Project 1919 is lined with dark wood and dimly lit, with spirits stored on bookcases behind the small bar.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

The space where the speakeasy opened has previously hosted Mulberry Project pop-ups in the summer. Four years ago, the backyard transformed into a tiny Brooklyn park, with lampposts and benches. Another summer, it was a Parisian cafe with little tables, and two years ago, co-owner Nick Boccio put together something inspired by the High Line, with train tracks overhead and hanging plants all around.

The backyard usually sat unused in the winter, but that changed when Boccio decided to build the speakeasy.

"When it comes to hammer and nails there's no stopping him," Soffer said.

The bar did not receive a Department of Buildings permit to construct the speakeasy addition, according to the DOB's website.

“If there are concerns about an illegal structure at this location, they should be reported by calling 311 and the department will investigate," a DOB representative said in an email.

An FDNY spokesman referred questions to the Department of Buildings.

Soffer did not immediately comment on whether the structure needed a permit.

Project 1919 is separate from Mulberry Project, with a different atmosphere from the main bar, for "people who want a little bit more of an intimate, quiet experience," Soffer said.

While Mulberry is often packed and features loud music and a different DJ every night, Project 1919 plays classic Jazz Age tunes at a volume conducive to intimate conversation between the couple dozen seated guests.

For now, customers at Project 1919 can order off the Mulberry Project food menu, though a 1919-specific menu of wintry porridges and stews by executive chef Carmine Di Giovanni is in the works.

Project 1919, open during the bar's normal hours, will be open until the end of March, at which point Boccio and Soffer will take it apart and start planning this year's garden look.

Project 1919, behind Mulberry Project at 149 Mulberry St., is open starting at 5 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. Reservations are required: Call 646-448-4536.