The Louche Ambience of the Last Word

The New Yorker161010_r28834-1200

Much is made of New York City’s “hidden gems,” but few are hidden as well or as intentionally as the Last Word, a recently opened speakeasy that doubles as a provocative emblem of change in Astoria. Its elaborate façade looks like a hardware store—a near-exact replica of the storefront of Square Hardware, a neighborhood fixture several blocks southeast from 1955 to 2015. The new iteration—catty-corner from Taverna Kyclades, Astoria’s shining Greek jewel—offers ambitious cocktails in a louche ambience. But first a would-be patron must ring the doorbell, then weave through a corridor lined with saws, Scotch tape, and screwdrivers sealed behind Plexiglas like museum relics. Through a red curtain, plush armchairs and clustered couches create an air of cultivated intimacy, though the bar’s newness betrays itself in the glare of the silvered ceiling. On a recent evening, a self-conscious crowd in hipster dress murmured softly, under the pop-synth beat of William Onyeabor’s Nigerian funk. In that windowless space, every hour might be midnight, but the time is pleasantly punctuated by drinks, like the smoky, silky Shore Runner (Appleton reserve rum, Angostura bitters) and the Pan American Clipper (apple brandy, lime). One patron described the Diamond Tipped Quill (gin, sherry, apricot liqueur) as “a gummy bear wrapped around an axe blade.” Outside, in the cooling dusk, small groups of new arrivals glanced at their smartphones, then coyly pressed the bell. Some Astorians stopped to ponder the storefront. “Is Square Hardware back?” a woman asked, peering through the tinted glass. Then she noticed the all-caps imperative at the bottom of the door—“DRINK EAT”—and frowned. “But why are they offering drinks?” 

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