AN INCONSPICUOUS RED light and a bouncer are the only outside markings of My Little Secret, a speakeasy-style restaurant and lounge that recently opened in Little Italy.
Located in a basement where an actual speakeasy was in operation during the 1930s, My Little Secret is decorated with is like someone’s (admittedly well-stocked) living room, with a relaxed, non-intimidating feel despite the fact that clients need to be buzzed in after being given a visual once-over and an OK by the manager.
The small-plates menu includes deep-fried risotto balls ($9), tasty lobster sliders ($18) and a varied selection of cured meats and cheeses (three items, $20; five items, $25). Those with a taste for simpler fare can also choose from pressed sandwich offerings ($12) or grilled polenta topped with tallegio, prosciutto and tomato coulis ($8). Another option is the two-course risotto tasting ($25) prepared with white truffle oil and steamed lobster.
“I always had the idea of opening a bar here in Little Italy that would be different from all the restaurants in the neighborhood,” says owner “Baby” John DeLutro (who also owns Caffe Palermo across the street) over glasses of wine at the restaurant. “I wanted to change the course of Little Italy by serving small plates. Because growing up and being Italian, you’re always eating big meals, so I wanted small meals, like the Spanish tapas, and I wanted to have an underground wine bar.
“I gave the room the ambiance of a speakeasy of the Al Capone days,” he explains. “I mean, it’s nothing like it was then, but I’ve got barrels of wine on the wall, I have an Al Capone room, I have a bodyguard by the door and some old-fashioned cocktails. And there is the word of mouth—no canopy, no sign, no advertisement. And after six weeks, we’re doing phenomenal.”
Though DeLutro follows the smallplates trend, the choices are actually inspired by his experience growing up. “I enjoy appetizers more than I enjoy full-course meals,” he explains. “On any given Sunday in my household, my mother would set the table and she would put four or five kinds of dishes, like roasted peppers, tomato and mozzarella, a salad, some sopresatta, and we’d dig in.You’d come home with your wife or girlfriend, you’d pick up some plates and hand-pick all those little pieces.”
Among the reasons for making the place “hidden” had to do with his experience in the area. “I try to see who comes into my place. I want a nice clientele. People come in, they enjoy themselves, they sit for hours and nobody bothers them,” he explains. “I’m open until 4 a.m. and I don’t allow any drugs here,” he says. “There are a lot of bars in this neighborhood, and having been born and raised around here, I know a lot about drugs.”
149 Mulberry St. (at Grand St.), 646- 448-4535.