If the New York nightlife world has swung from glitzy to understated, then the most coveted hang is the kind of bar that functions as a clubhouse: You’re admitted, of course, and so are all your friends (or people you’d want to be friends with), while the rest of the world is kept out.
Fig. 19, which opened earlier this year on a dingy stretch of Chrystie Street, doesn’t just act like a clubhouse, it is one. Members must know somebody on the inside — owners Kristin Vincent, Nadia Koch, or a bartender — or be referred by someone already initiated. Once accepted, members receive cards. This ensures that the spot becomes packed but usually not too packed on weekend nights, with enough room to navigate among the familiar faces.
Of course, this is nothing new: Neo-speakeasies have been a fixture of the cocktail scene for more than half a decade. But while those have typically channeled the Prohibition era and kitschily played up hidden aspects, Fig.19 is just a cool bar that doesn’t want the whole world to know it’s there.
When the place isn’t busy, which is apt to happen weekdays before about 11 p.m., well-dressed members of the hoi polloi can usually gain admission. Past the doorman, up some stairs and through a brightly lit art gallery, there’s a door on the back left that opens into what feels a bit like a Victorian parlor–or at least your cool design friend’s riff on one.
Inside you’ll find a smattering of taxidermy, a familiar detail to anyone who’s been to Vincent and Koch’s other bar just downstairs, Home Sweet Home. Also beaded chandeliers, feminine curving banquettes, and arty photos. Dozens of candles reflect off the wide plank floors and white walls. In the back is a cozy nook of couches often reserved for members’ birthday parties.
Speaking of, Fig. 19’s frequent events are another way in. During Fashion Week the bar hosted soirees for Rodarte and Cynthia Rowley; at other times they have private music parties for bands like the Afghan Wigs, and art openings up front tend to spill over into the back. On Fridays, Matt Hollywood from Brian Jonestown Massacre spins at the D.J. booth, while a member of Holy Ghost D.J.’s Thursdays.
The crowd that turns up for all this chatting, mingling, lounging and dancing skews 20s and 30s, stylish and attractive but not overly polished. Long limbs abound, along with an air of sans souci. This is furthered by Prosecco on tap, wine and beer, and a cocktail menu designed by Samuel Anderson of the popular Williamsburg bar Hotel Delmano. Koch herself makes the syrups that go into some cocktails: ginger for the Rhapsody in Rye (with Campari and grapefruit), rose and herbes de Provence for other drinks. On a recent visit, the best thing we tasted was an off-menu Manhattan, which seemed fitting for a place that likes to stay off the map itself.
131 Chrystie Street (Broome and Delancey Sts.)
Open Tuesday through Sunday evenings