The 8 Best Fake Storefronts & Phony Building Facades In New York City

Way way back, when I first started Scouting NY, I did a post about a great tailor shop window I saw in Chinatown, writing “I love this sign lettering that is most definitely not nostalgic/ironic.”

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Of course, I had been completely fooled. Back then, this was actually Milk & Honey, a super hip, semi-secret, invitation-only bar. The phony tailor storefront added a speakeasy-ness to the place.

Milk & Honey has since moved to a bland storefront with no character in the Flatiron, but luckily, New York City still has a few establishments lurking behind fake storefronts and phony building facades. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

8) Lower East Side Toys – 102 Norfolk Street, Manhattan

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The establishment at 102 Norfolk Street is one of my favorites because it goes the extra mile by faking the rear entrance instead of the front – in this case, the back of a toy shop called Lower East Side Toy Co.

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The door features a “DELIVERIES ONLY” sign…

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…and an arrow pointing you to the showroom.

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Of course, there is no show room. Go through the door and you’ll actually find yourself in The Back Room, a speakeasy-style bar.

7) Hudson Street Psychic – 510 Hudson Street

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During the day, it’s an unassuming storefront. But at night, the curtains are drawn and the sign in the window turns on…

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…and a psychic appears to tell your future.

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Seems like just another West Village one-room psychic set-up, but head through the door behind the psychic, and you’ll find yourself in Employees Only, another speakeasy-style bar.

6) The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. – 372 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn

Tucked between the restaurants and boutiques of Park Slope is one of the most unlikely stores you’ll find in New York City: the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company.

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Catering to professional and amateur superheroes alike, the window display offers a pretty good idea of their wares: cans of matter stacked (quite dangerously!) atop cans of antimatter, and below, a box containing a collapsible portal (always helpful for escaping your arch-nemesis when things go badly):

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In fact, they’ve got pretty much everything an aspiring superhero could hope for…

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…with gear literally stacked floor to ceiling:

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There’s even a de-villain-izer for taking care of any hidden urges you might harbor!

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Of course, all is not what it seems here – head through the secret bookshelf doorway…

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…and you’ll find yourself in the student learning/activity center, part of the 826 Valencia literacy project founded by Dave Eggers. The group provides students ages 6-18 with one-on-one peer mentoring to encourage their creative and expository writing skills. A special viewing portal allows a rare glimpse of the space:

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All sales from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. go toward funding the non-profit program, so next time you’re in the area, be sure to stop in for that cape you’ve been meaning to buy (you can even try it out in the store’s cape-testing wind tunnel!).

5) The Beauty & Essex Pawn Shop | 146 Essex Street

Just around the corner from the Williamsburg Bridge is this cute little pawn shop at 146 Essex Street. Though it has a new sign, you can still make out faded lettering beneath, suggesting it has been around for a while:

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Home of the the “Pawn Queen,” the windows advertise “Diamond Rings,” “Stuff – Get It While It’s Hot!”, and “Queen Isabella’s Jewels.”

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Inside is a neatly organized pawn shop, with your typical array of guitars, jewelry, toys, and other miscellany:

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When I stopped by to take pictures, there were tourists inside browsing the merchandise, completely unaware that an upscale restaurant is hidden just behind that door

4) Doyers Street Chemist – 9 Doyers Street

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Head down Doyers Street, one of the most interesting streets in New York…

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…and at the bend, you’ll see a small pharmacy:

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A CHEMIST sign hangs just above the door…

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…with old medicine bottles stacked on ancient shelves in the window.

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Go inside, and you’ll actually find the mixology bar Apothéke. Back when I wrote about Doyers Street in 2010, Apotheke was disguised by a great old Chinese restaurant sign proclaiming it to be the Gold Flower Restaurant. Would love to see them amp up the apothecary look a bit.

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3) Phone Booth – 113 St. Marks Place

This one is a little unusual for this list, as the actual storefront is just some unremarkable blacked-out glass.

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But head into Crif Dogs next door…

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…and step into the old wooden phone booth tucked into one corner.

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Pick up the phone and chat with the person on the other end, and a false backing to the phone booth will open, letting you into PDT (Please Don’t Tell…oops), another speakeasy. This one requires a reservation, which can only be made by calling their phone number at 3pm.

2) Brooklyn Heights Townhouse – 58 Joralemon Street

As you walk down Joralemon Street, you could be forgiven for not noticing anything out of the ordinary with #58.

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But stop to take a closer look, and a few things might strike you as odd.

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For one, why are all the windows blacked out?

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And why does it have such a strange front door?

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The answer is that this 19th-century Greek Revival townhouse happens to be a subway ventilator (and emergency exit) for the subway tunnel that runs below it. The MTA owns the property, and has been required to keep its appearance consistent with the surrounding buildings by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

1) ** ******** Street | Sorry – some things should stay a secret. ;)

Let me know any I’ve forgotten!

-SCOUT

PS – I left off places that, while there might be a secret club/bar/restaurant lurking inside, don’t really disguise it with a fake front (La Esquina, for example, is an actual Mexican restaurant, even if it has a club downstairs).

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27 comments

  1. This is awesome, I am bookmarking this post for sure!
    I’ve heard about the fake MTA townhouse before. Here the post, which talks about some other fake façades in other cities: http://www.messynessychic.com/2013/01/29/the-fake-townhouses-hiding-mystery-underground-portals/

  2. they do a shitty job with the subway ventilation, that’s for sure.

  3. Excellent work. I will be sure to pay these places a visit next time I’m in NYC.

  4. I’ll be on the lookout for street #1! I saw that space between the asterixes.

  5. I love these hidden places too. Here are my additions.
    Bathtub Gin in Chelsea. Another speakeasy with a coffee shop for the storefront.
    The Blind Barber in the East Village. Get a haircut in the front room and a drink in the back.

  6. The inside of Apothéke is amazing – I was told it used to be an opium den. Who knows if it’s true. But it sure feels like it was.

  7. Well, we know that the number of the building is double digits, so it’s anywhere between 10 and 99. The street name is 8 letters long.

  8. Love the canned Matter & Antimatter…Hilarious!

  9. I noticed that Chemist sign a few weeks ago while wandering Chinatown. I was mystified, that alchemical bottle was way too 18th-century to be a real logo for a real pharmacy. I took a picture of it. Now I feel fooled. A speakeasy, of course. Sigh.

  10. Related to 826 Valencia’s superhero supply store — at 826 Valencia in San Francisco, they have a pirate supply store: http://826valencia.org/store/

  11. How about the Strecker Memorial Laboratory in Roosevelt Island? It now houses a power conversion substation to power trains that run underneath the island .. http://flic.kr/p/ehE5MX

  12. In some of these, the Department of Health letter grades in the front windows are a clue.

  13. Seeing that dummy house in Brooklyn Heights reminds me of one (of a few) in London which also included whole facades build to coincide with the surrounding street, designed to hide the London Underground tracks passing through the area:

    http://150greatthingsabouttheunderground.com/2012/09/08/48-the-houses-in-leinster-gardens/

  14. How about NOT Ninja…

    The over-priced sub-par NYC experience only eclipsed by Guy Fieri’s joint.

  15. There’s the dive Burger Joint hidden behind a red curtain in the beautiful lobby of Le Parker Meridien Hotel. Great burgers. No sign except for a neon burger down a dark hallway around from the front desk.

  16. Yeah… that place is called the burger joint, pretty well known as it is, it’s even been mentioned in the comic book series The Boys. along with a couple of other media mediums. Its always crowded and has a huge line (but the burgers are worth the wait).

  17. through the back curtains of the famous dave’s in times square : http://libertytheaterny.com/

  18. You forgot Sway on Spring street. Sign outside says McGovern’s Bar.

  19. Scout-are you familiar w the hidden subway station near the Waldorf? I read story about an Andy Warhol party where invite sent you to unmarked door leading down steps to abandoned subway stop formerly used by the president to access Waldorf Hotel.

  20. Can someone explain to me how a bar or restaurant gets customers if you keep its existence a secret?

  21. You missed some of the best and most nostalgic ones… Check out the fake fronts next to the Chelsea Hotel.

  22. Bittersweetmoni

    There is a new one called The Garret which is upstairs from a 5 Guys burger place on Bleecker, Fig 19 which has a small photography gallery in the front, Middle Branch, Raines Law and The Bar Downstairs under the Andaz hotel

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