The Back Room
102 Norfolk St
In the 1920s it was the headquarters of Murder, Inc., deadly Italian-Jewish Mafia headed by Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano.
The Back Room is not your average speakeasy-themed bar – it functioned as an actual speakeasy that secretly operated at the back of Ratner’s kosher restaurant.
Ratner’s, a vegetarian kosher establishment, fed cheese blintzes, potato pancakes and hot onion rolls to as many as 1,200 people a day during the first half of the 20th century.
One of the oldest kosher restaurants in New York City, it attracted respectable families, stars from nearby Yiddish theaters, and local Jewish mobsters. The notorious mafia organization Murder, Inc. was born in the back of the restaurant. Its main figures were Meyer Lansky, the world’s most famous Jewish gangster; Lucky Luciano, considered to be the father of modern organized crime; and Bugsy Siegel, one of the most feared gangsters of his day and the founder of Las Vegas.
While eating baked whitefish in the back room of Ratner’s, Meyer Lansky, inventor of the modern-day casino industry, was quietly masterminding his criminal enterprise. (For film-lovers, the Hyman Roth character from The Godfather: Part II was based on Lansky.)
In the 1990s, when Ratner’s lost its popularity, the owners came up with the idea to open a lounge instead and simply call it Lansky Lounge. Running a lounge with such a colorful backstory promised to be much more profitable than keeping a kosher vegetarian restaurant.
Lansky Lounge was eventually closed but returned as the swanky Back Room. The name comes from the room in the back of Ratner’s — the actual room where Lansky used to meet with other members of Murder, Inc. This room is hidden behind a rotating bookcase in the back of the lounge and is not open to the public.
Some of the furnishings are leftovers from Lansky Lounge, while others, like the cozy couches, seductive paintings, and lamps were added to compliment the style.
These days, in order to get to the Back Room, one has to go through a secret Prohibition Era-styled alleyway, knock on an unmarked door, and utter a password. Ironically, these seemingly authentic Prohibition features are not authentic. Since the actual speakeasy operated in the back of a legitimate restaurant business, it never needed a secret entrance, as one would simply walk in through the restaurant. However, it did need multiple exits and escape routes. The speakeasy used to have multiple exits onto Suffolk, Norfolk, and Delancey Streets; the actual back room had four extra exits.
The Back Room offers vintage Prohibition Era cocktails, served in teacups. It gets especially busy on Monday nights when it features live music and swing dancing.
Remember not to wear furs – it’s the rule.