Think the best places New York has to offer are up top? Think again — many city restaurants are transforming underground, shadowy locations in basement- or lower-level floors into cozy, intimate atmospheres. Instead of walking downstairs into a building’s underbelly, these spots offer an underground sense of a hidden secret. And winter is the best time to visit: When icy winds are howling, step down into these warm, cozy spots.
355 W. 16th St., 212-929-5800
A red door opens to a long set of stairs that leads you to this sprawing lair. The wine-colored, velvet-clad space screams romance, with a theme of getting low — tables and chairs are closer to the floor than normal, creating intimacy. Jonathan Moor introduced this spot in January, and some of his BONDST staples are on the Japanese and French fusion menu, like the tuna tart. Other items to order? The lobster tacos are the perfect mix of light crunch and succulent seafood, and the seabass has a sweet, crunchy miso glaze.
71 Irving Pl., 212-995-5252
Walking down the few steps into this popular, garden-level Gramercy haunt, cross your fingers that you’ll get a spot by a window, where you can peek outside as you enjoy a chai latte and green-tea cookie. The coffee shop, whose beans are sold around the city in other cafes, is a favorite for neighborhood locals, as well as celebrities like Rufus Wainwright. The lighting is dark, but the eavesdropping is worth it — artsy types seem to use it as a brainstorming hub.
310 W. Fourth St., 212-924-2711
At The Place, tucked between trees along a West Village street, the tops of the chairs are level with the sidewalk, giving you a sense that you are peeking upwards for your people-watching. The date-night restaurant has candlelit stone walls and a roaring fireplace. It makes use of its underground rooms, built more than a century ago, by decorating window-like cutouts in the wall and adding warm candelabra lighting. Entrees to savor by the fire include hangar steak, pappardelle duck pasta and winter squash chowder.
117 MacDougal St., 212-254-3480
For underground jokes and drinks, stop in at the Comedy Cellar, which regularly hosts bold-face names. The West Village spot has shows every night of the week. And if the nooks (or the jokes) get too dark, visit the Olive Tree Cafe on the street level, above, for a quick bite or cappuccino.
140 W. 13th St., 212-647-1001
Sotto 13 mixes a low-ceilinged bar with a back room that opens up into a surprisingly airy dining space. The basement-level Chelsea eatery greets customers with a low-lit bar and cocktail tables, but walk past the kitchen and the space’s high ceilings feature a funky chandelier and plant-adorned skylight. The Italian tapas-style spot boasts crispy wood-fired pizza and flavorful, Italian-style tapas and pastas. Signature cocktails include a refreshing, citrusy mango margarita.