In today’s fame-hungry culture, not everyone seeks to be known.
At least, that’s how it seems with a peculiar group of restaurants. Diverging from celebrity chef hopefuls, the people behind these restaurants don’t advertise, seek media attention, or even hang a sign. They remain conundrums to the outside world, with only a select few joining the inner circle of diners privy to their culinary secrets.
Some of these "secret" restaurants are simply humble. Others are fiercely exclusive, demanding passwords, intermediaries, and unspecified proofs of loyalty to land a seat at the table. Then, there are those that use secrecy as its own form of publicity. During the past decade, an increasing number of restaurants and bars have tried this approach. Clever at first, it's now gotten to the point that "clandestine" places with "secret" names are putting signs up outside that say things like, "Speakeasy." Why not a 10-foot tall, flashing neon sign outside proclaiming, "SECRET BAR AND RESTAURANT HERE!" But there are places that go beyond the gimmick, or do it better than others.
Coming up with a list of the most secret or hidden restaurants isn't easy. After all, someone's been, right? These are restaurants that we're talking about. But it's not hard to strike off the most obvious ones — restaurants that are much less hidden and much more known than others. So no, New York City's La Esquina and PDT (it's really a bar anyway) don't count. Neither do supper clubs. And to be included on this list, the restaurant has to be more than some dude in his basement making lobster rolls or grilled cheese sandwiches.
So why keep yourself hidden with all of the competition out there in the restaurant world? Vernon Hidden Steakhouse’s general manager, Jamie Monske, explains, “We want to do something no one else does. With the current economy, we had to stand out, and [our speakeasy theme] has really helped us to stay afloat. Not only are we afloat, but we are growing.” A manager from Sidecar in Washington D.C. elaborates on the advantages of privacy, “Sidecar has a positive effect on restaurant business in the sense that it offers a nice contrast to the slightly more casual environment of [sister restaurant] PJ Clarke’s on the upper level.”
After all, who doesn’t want to feel like the member of a club, a “chosen one” of a selective circle? Indeed, many of these restaurants promise such pampering. Says Kimi Watanabe of Bohemian New York, “What we try to offer is a space where customers can have a quality time with their friends and loved ones. We try to establish and maintain close relationships with each one of our customers.” Eating in a secret restaurant can make you feel like you are being paid attention to, and that you belong.
Whether it's a gimmick, indifference, or a defense mechanism, the secrecy of a restaurant only makes a reservation there that much more desirable. Ultimately, we can’t help but want what we can’t have.