New Speakeasy Memorializes an Old-School Journalist Haunt

Posted January 31, 2018 5:46 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — With the city’s constant churn of nightlife offerings, it’s not uncommon for hoteliers and bar owners to hark back to New York’s rich cultural past for inspiration. Few newcomers enjoy as many points of reference as Gibson & Luce, a subterranean cocktail bar that opened in January beneath the Life Hotel, once the headquarters of Life magazine.

Named after Charles Dana Gibson, the magazine’s former editor, and Henry Luce, its former publisher, the bar pays tribute to the glory days of the famed photojournalistic periodical, in a space where Norman Rockwell and editors once lounged. While the bar does a commendable job of evoking the past, it feels more like an after-work or pre-dinner spot, rather than somewhere one would seek out.

— The Place

The bar is on a dingy stretch of West 31st Street, lined with hole-in-the-wall shops selling discount jewelry, body oils and janky phone accessories. Inside, a marble bar fronts a dimly lit lounge that suggests a midcentury gentlemen’s club, replete with blue banquettes, brass picture lights and wood paneling. Still, the illusion seems somewhat incomplete at times. “With such rich history, you want them to commit more to that in the design,” said one patron, pointing to an empty wall. “You want them to make that history feel more tangible.”

— The Crowd

Unassuming and unpretentious, mostly professionals in their 30s. On a recent Thursday night, there were a pair of bros in matching button-down shirts chatting about their sales jobs on Long Island, and groups of tipsy women laughing about the most recent episode of “The Bachelor.” In one corner, a business-casual couple were necking in a cozy booth over white wine and small plates of charred swordfish.

— The Playlist

An incongruous smattering of progressive electronic R&B, early Prince, Motown classics and well-worn singles from the Weeknd.

— Getting In

Guests can enter through a spiral staircase tucked behind the elevator banks, or from the street, down the steps just past the hotel’s main entrance. There’s been talk of a secret code, but none was required on a recent visit. A bodysuit-clad hostess gladly opened the door after one knock.

— Drinks

A tailored selection of beer on tap ($8) and wine by the glass ($14 to $22), along with a wide selection of vermouth and other old-timey spirits. Small plates include potato knishes with Hackleback caviar ($15) and gin-cured Hamachi ($13).

Gibson & Luce

19 W. 31st St. (between Broadway and Fifth Avenue); 212-615-9910; Open daily, 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.