Speakeasies may be hard to find, but secrecy is exactly what they thrive on. Thankfully tonight I tracked down one of SoHo’s hidden gems – a Russian vodka bar.
I’ve been to a few speakeasies since I’ve been here, but none have given me quite the same surprise as when Helen and I walked into Pravda. The only clue to its whereabouts was a low-lit red panel outside the door reading its name. And after we headed down the stairs and pushed open the door, I was stunned to see that somehow they’d managed to hide this sprawling bar – the largest speakeasy I’ve seen in the city – beneath Lafayette Street.
The place was gorgeous – gentle lighting, sparse Russian signs, a large curved bar showcasing bottle after bottle of vodka. We settled into one of the red booths and got straight to the menu.
Now, I’ve always liked vodka, but I’ve never really considered it that special. It was my drink of choice as I’d stumble around my student union when I was 18, and as I got older, I’d order it as my last drink because, for some bizarre reason, it settles my stomach. But tonight, we tasted many vodka-based cocktails – and finally, I got to experience it as it’s meant to be experienced.
Pravda’s menu – and the knowledge of the barman, Martin – just elevated it. Helen and I did pretty well trying out nearly everything they had to offer, thanks to the suggestions of Martin and one of the owners, Jim.
The most delicious was the coconut martini, which contained Pravda’s own coconut-infused vodka, as well as lime and pineapple juice. But my favourite cocktail of the night was the Spicy Zahar – a rum-based concoction that was somehow both spicy and refreshing; the balance was perfect.
Another came with a spoon of caviar at the bottom (although I opted out of that one), and yet another was served with a creamy quail’s egg (yes, I ate it). The only one that really didn’t intrigue us was the strawberry martini, but apart from that, they were all winners.
After working our way through the menu, Martin gave us a tasting of his favourite vodkas. Before tonight, I’d never experienced the nuances of its flavor, but when they were compared with each other, it was much more obvious to taste just how different they were. Oh dear, they all slipped down a little too well.
Interestingly, the bar also infuses its own vodka. We tasted flavors including chili and horseradish, pineapple, dill and cucumber, and fig. Pravda simply dumps fruit into the vodka and leaves it; I couldn’t believe how pure the result was – it was almost like it had been pumped with flavoring.
As our tasting came to an end, the music began. Every Thursday, the bar holds a Prohibition Night, complete with pearls on the servers and live 20s musicians propped up against the bar. As we tucked into Pravda’s lentil salad and pizza, we watched the music, marveling at the singer’s cute voice.
This is a cracking place and I’m looking forward to see how it evolves. It’s been in existence for 20 years and, a year and a half ago, Jim bought the bar with his brother from Keith McNally – who’s behind Balthazar, Pastis and Morandi, as well as other top dining spots in the city.
They’re now on the verge of relaunching it with a new chef, a new menu and a couple of decor changes. I’m really interested in coming back in a month or so to see what they’ve done with the place – but I hope they don’t change too much, because this was a brilliant experience.
And while I wouldn’t want any speakeasy to lose that air of secrecy, I’ll definitely be telling a few people about this one.