The Vault at Pfaff's opened in 1855 below a block of Broadway near Bleecker, and became known as the watering hole for New York literati of the time. Walt Whitman immortalized the space in an unfinished poem saying, "The Vault at Pfaff's where drinkers and laughers meet to eat and drink and carouse / While on the walk immediately overhead pass the myriad feet of Broadway." One Thursday evening, not many feet were passing down Broadway nor drinkers meeting for that matter. However, it was easy to imagine how the Vault, now reestablished below 643 Broadway, may have been the lively home to laughing and tipsy bohemians. Full of striped brocade and velvet upholstery, Pfaff's is the definition of a vault. Painted mirrors and arched brick doorways loom over somewhat overloaded bar shelves, before which sat only a few patrons round about 11 P.M. Playing into the nostalgia of 1855, the menu comes in broadsheet format complete with a letter from the editor that reads like a book forward and acknowledgements bunched into one. Cocktails ($16) are spirits focused and cleverly christened like the Twain's Thyme (rum, falernum, lemon, lime and thyme) or the Underground Aviation (Bols genever, maraschino, lemon and crème de violette). The food menu is spare, but hearty with dressed up pub grub like duck sliders ($14), truffle mac 'n cheese ($12) and throwback crowd-pleaser chocolate-covered strawberries ($10). Though a bit desolate upon this visit, if Pfaff's could gather the "thick crowds" Whitman describes, the spirit of 1855 could certainly thrive beneath his "rushing Broadway."

The Vault at Pfaff's
643 Broadway
(212) 253-5421