When Jey Perie was scouting a location to open an intimate nightclub in 2019, the subterranean space he saw on Seventh Avenue in midtown didn’t have many selling points. It had been a massage parlor, which was evicted after an NYPD vice sting, and it was split up into a series of small rooms with wall-to-wall red carpeting throughout (there was an unpermitted shower in the mix, too). But what made the place nightlife gold in the eyes of Perie, the former creative director of the club Kinfolk in Williamsburg, was a seemingly nondescript detail: a walled-up rear doorway leading directly to the stairway of the 28th Street 1 train subway station, an entrance first used when the original tenant, a barbershop, opened in 1926. When Perie saw the property two winters ago and learned about this historic quirk, it was obvious to him that he had found the location for his new bar, La Noxe. “It could have been in the least-frequented station in New York and I would have taken it anyway,” he said.
Other subway-adjacent businesses had followed the barbershop in the space: a grocery store, a luncheonette. Sometime in the 1970s, when the basement was converted into a music studio, the subway entrance was closed off. Ever since, straphangers have seen only a roll-down gate that covers the station side of the doorway on the staircase landing. But the easement still existed on paper, and after multiple departments across the MTA and the state historic-preservation office signed off on Perie’s plans, the wall was knocked down and the basement was once again connected with the station.
By the time he had La Noxe ready to open, things looked a little different. Perie got his liquor license on March 17, 2020 — the day Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the city, including bars, would be shut down. The best idea for a bar in New York — in a snug, windowless space — suddenly became quite possibly the worst.
La Noxe wasn’t able to open until September, when indoor dining resumed in New York (there’s no streetery option, after all, in a tiny basement), but both the intimate scale and the curiosity factor have proven to be a boon. At 50 percent capacity, La Noxe seats only 15 people, but “I know a lot of people who own nightclubs in Brooklyn, and they don’t know when they can reopen at all,” Perie said.
Aside from the well-established places at Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station, there have been other station-adjacent bars in New York. The one that’s perhaps most fondly remembered is Siberia, a dive bar with an entrance on the downtown side of the 1 station at 50th and Broadway that opened in 1997 (and was for a time a publishing hangout, one where you would often find a few New York Magazine staff members). The Subway Inn, a tavern across from Bloomingdale’s until its move in 2015, was named for its entrance to the 6 train. But La Noxe is no dive: When the massage-parlor carpet was peeled back, the terrazzo floor with bronze inlay revealed itself, and that kind of classic, classy detail defines the bar’s design. There are plush velvet banquettes and oversize armchairs in midnight blue and gold, and thick animal-print accent rugs abound; the tops of the walls are edged in thin lines of red neon. It’s a cozy vibe, but in a way that seems highly suggestive. There are even a few staggered rows of glass bricks set into the back wall, a cocaine-chic touch that lets La Noxe’s moody red-and-purple lighting peek through into the fluorescent-lit subway stairs on the other side.
The MTA staff at the station were curious about La Noxe. “A lot of the station staff, they’ve seen so many crazy things, and they’re like, ‘Oh, now there’s a cocktail lounge? Oh, that’s crazy,’ but then they move on,” he said. One subway employee, who DJs on the side, passed Perie a demo. But apart from a few patrons who live in the apartments upstairs, most are who you’d expect in a midtown subway station: commuters, albeit ones who are coming to the neighborhood for the bar itself, not to work.
For now, visitors to La Noxe enter from the Seventh Avenue door, where it’s easier to do the temperature checks and sign-ins required under COVID protocols. “The pandemic has changed the experience for now,” said Perie, “but as soon as the city can come back and be safe, we’ll be able to have that energy that you see inside a subway station in Manhattan.” After finishing their drinks, guests exit into the subway, where Perie sees many of them going down rather than up. “Instead of taking a Lyft and going up the stairs, they’re on the platform and going home by train,” he said.