The Wee Hours: Nightlife's New Holiest of Holies

Repurposed storage rooms and basement crannies are the city’s new hotspots.

For example: the Strategic Tao Group at the Dream Downtown hired Nur Khan to take the storage space beneath the ground floor and whip up a super tiny, super exclusive spot. This became Electric Room, the toast of last month’s Fashion Week, despite the fact that guests have to brave a steep and entirely unglamorous truck ramp that tunnels beneath the building. On its first night serving booze, Adrien Grenier christened the walkway by being the first person to trip.

And deep under Don Hill’s, a now-closed west Soho rock joint Mr. Khan reopened with Paul Sevigny in September 2010, an even tinier place, unknown to most everybody dancing to the Misshapes upstairs. If you got past the security personnel standing conspicuously in a nook by the raised V.I.P. lounge, a rickety staircase would take you to a cement cavern lined occasionally with metal racks. It was a space reserved for bands pre- and postperformance, and also a super exclusive spot for those fed up with the body-on-body scrum of the dance floor.

Venturing beyond that, the truly adventurous enter what appeared to be a mix between a boiler room and Turkish bath—just a box, really, the size of a tiny Manhattan bedroom. The last time The Observer ventured in was just a few weeks before Don Hill’s shut its doors for good, and we chain-smoked as a young man who claimed to be a doctor described the intricacies of open heart surgery. Good times.

Two of the city’s most conventional secret rooms lie directly adjacent to each other at the juncture of Kenmare and Lafayette: Cafe Select and La Esquina. The former’s already small enough that an even more minuscule hidden space within would seem unnecessary, but have no doubt. Make a right at the boiler room, and there you are.

Then there’s the backroom at La Esquina, hidden beneath a taco joint that came to the block already dinged up, as if it had been there for years.

“It’s almost the hardest place to work,” said a former employee, “because people think they’ve already made it in, and then you have to turn them away.”