I've been going a little stir crazy here in B-town, so we've been taking regular day trips to NYC. Each time, I do my research (I know, SHOCKING) and find random crap to explore- not at all your normal tourist fare. When I read about a modern-day speakeasy, accessed only through a vintage phone booth inside of a late-nite hot dog joint in the East Village, I was on a MISSION.
For my West Coast readers (hi Dad! hi Margie!), the East Village is sometimes described as the last remnant of the gritty NYC that persisted until the 1990s ushered in an era of Disney-esque whitewash that has left seemingly all of Manhattan somewhat homogenized (Starbucks abound in neighborhoods once thought off-limits to such investment). The East Village has been the site of dramatic demographic change and social upheaval of all flavors over the past several decades: once the birthplace of American punk music in the 1970s (The Ramones, for example, got their start at legendary neighborhood venue CBGB), most recently it has become among the trendiest neighborhoods for the cool club crowd. So I guess it shouldn't be surprising that I found the following there:
The Hot Dog Joint
Crif Dogs is a 5-year-old neighborhood hot dog joint with a giant protruding phallus- er, hot dog sign- that reads "Eat me", apparently spelled in mustard (after experiencing the place, I would not be at all surprised if it was LITERALLY written in mustard, since Crif seems to give the middle finger to all sorts of other regulations). Crif Dogs is average sized for an old-school NYC eating establishment, i.e., narrow and TINY. It probably seats 15 people, but that's plenty of room when you figure that the turnover time is only the 10 minutes it takes to get in and out (7 minutes to figure out which scary-sounding dog you need to feed your marijuana and/or alcohol fueled 3 am "hunger," 2 minutes for them to chef it up, and 1 minute to scarf it down in 3 gaping bites.)
Bypassing "The Tsunami" (teriyaki sauce and pineapple have no place on a bacon-wrapped hot dog, sorry) and "The Spicy Redneck" (I don't care if it's so good it claims it will "make you want to hump your mama"), I opted for the daytime-friendly "Good Morning" dog- a fried, bacon wrapped hot dog covered in cheese and topped with a fried egg. HEAVENLY. Truly- the hot dog was crunchy on the outside, hot on the inside, and the egg was extra-yummy. [Note: the short menu reveals Crif's core audience with its four "Stoner Pack" offerings- a "grab bag" of undisclosed food, priced at $10/$20/$30/$40 and tailored to various numbers of people and levels of impairment.)
Quiz: What do you see in the above photo?
Answer Choices: A) Vintage phone booth, B) Entrance to a bar, C) Bathroom door, D) All of the above.
Answer: D, All of the above.
The Crif Dog adjacent bar, which has no other entrance, is accessed by opening the vintage phone booth doors, standing in a TINY box, picking up a plain white phone, pushing the button and asking for admission. Once inside, it looks like this, narrow and dark and decorated with scary stuffed wild animals on the walls. It is apparently called "Please Don't Tell" or "PDT" but there is no sign outside (duh), you need reservations to get any kind of table, and while it's been "open" (if you can call it that) a little less than a year, I'm dubious as to its legality, since liquor licenses are TOUGH to get and -sadly- there are all sorts of rules in place to exactly to prevent sketchy, backroom places like this from cropping up.
Normally, the bathroom itself would warrant a whole blog entry, but it got lost in the above-described experience. Here's a cursory overview: the bathroom is accessed via a sliding door consisting of the 2 old wooden planks, to the left of, and immediately adjacent to, the phone booth doors. You cannot really stand up inside the bathroom since it's wedged under a staircase. It is dark-ish and covered in graffiti. What else would you expect? PERFECT.