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Threesome Tollbooth Is the “Intimate” Speakeasy Experience No One Asked For 
 — Bars on Bushwick Daily

Threesome Tollbooth Is the “Intimate” Speakeasy Experience No One Asked For

I got drunk in a closet in the name of grassroots journalism.

Jacque Medina

@LivinMedinaLoca

Writer

Jose Alvarado

@josealvarado

Photographer

Threesome Tollbooth is to bars what the surprise complimentary back massage is to nail salon manicures: intimate, a tad invasive, but apprehensively calming and weirdly unregrettable. While the coolness of second-wave speakeasies may have eroded along with the popularity of “planking” and thin-as-fuck eyebrows, Threesome Tollbooth’s owner, N.D. Austin—the same man who turned the Chelsea water tower into a speakeasy in 2013—is banking on the notion that extreme intimacy, to some, could be the next infinity scarf of bar culture.

What is Threesome Tollbooth, exactly? It’s a completely legal mixology experience designed for three people: you, a companion, and a bartender. It’s literally a loveseat, a micro bar, and a bartender, who is either Austin or one of his spooky cocktail-mixing compadres, both of whom I assume are completely aware of how ridiculously surreal their hush-hush hobbies are within a closet-sized space.

Though I am sworn to secrecy on the exact location of the Tollbooth (we weren't even allowed to take pictures), it is tucked into the corner of two popular streets in what desperate real estate brokers affectionately refer to as East Williamsburg. The entrance is a large steel door covered in years of graffiti. Those who are lucky enough to reserve the Tollbooth in advance on their mysteriously-designed website won't even know the location until the morning of their reservation, when it is delivered to them in a cryptic email:

“Tonight,

be with your companion

at the solid metal door…”

Patrons are then given a number to text when they arrive. The whole production has a real cautionary tale or after-school special vibe. This is compounded by the fact that when patrons and their “companions” get the nerve to text the number, they are greeted by a man (in my case, N.D. Austin himself) who appears to be cosplaying as a red herring on Law & Order: SVU (ultimately innocent, but still makes you feel weird).

The host then leads you through the back door of a defunct restaurant that now serves as an event space and prep kitchen for local caterers.

My personal experience with the Threesome Tollbooth may have already been tainted by skepticism and bias. What could drinking in a closet do for me that drinking in a regular bar—with bathrooms and fire exits—couldn’t?

I was already cranky and uneasy when I got there. I was on pins and needles when Austin asked my photographer José and I to leave our bags in a common area while we followed him through a series of doors leading to a supply closet. My first thought was, “I will probably die here.” My second thought was, “Am I about to get drunk around bottles of Windex and mop buckets?” Thankfully, neither of those things happened.

I was somehow both relieved and alarmed when Austin opened another door to reveal a very tiny room, decorated with a steampunk prohibition-era motif. There was a small booth where José and I sat visibly uncomfortable. Then, in one swift motion, like he was a carny strapping us into a state fair tilt-a-whirl, our host pulled down a shelf from the wall, sealing us into the experience.

I had many questions. The first was whether or not this was legal. Austin swore up and down that it was; it had something to do with the original restaurant’s liquor license still being active, and him finding the perfect loophole to make his closet bar happen.

He made us a series of mini cocktails, all with kitschy names like the “Gin It” and “The Knights who Say ‘Ni!’” All of them were quality, but I was a little distracted by the fact that most of the materials going into my drinks were coming from unlabeled droppers, beakers, and bottles. Maybe Austin just removed the labels to fit the prohibition-era motif; but he could have been mixing my cocktails with Comet and orphan tears and I wouldn’t have known the difference.  

I asked Austin if facilitating semi-legal bars was his full-time job. He said he was primarily an architect, but gave me a cryptic answer as to the status on his current projects. We settled on his claim that he is an “experienced designer.”

“I take neglected spaces and bring them to life,” he said.

After a couple particularly strong mini-cocktails, I asked Austin if he had ever had any celebrity visitors to the Tollbooth. He said yes but only responded in riddles when I asked for specific names.

Additionally, I asked if he'd ever had any repeat customers, because for the price of $100 per person, per hour, I couldn’t imagine the novelty of the Tollbooth could be more than a one-off. He said yes, and that he had a couple come in on four separate occasions.

“Every tasting experience is different,” he grinned through his menacingly groomed moustache. “But I have a strict bartender/patron confidentiality policy.”

I left it at that. I got the vibe that Threesome Tollbooth wasn’t just an arbitrary name.

When I requested that we wrap up, my threshold for comfort within the confines of the booth had been reached. But I did ask Austin the overarching question I had been dying to ask since I had heard of the ‘Booth: why?

“[I] want there to be secrets in this city; I want there to be intrigue. If this existed somewhere else, I would go to it,” he said.

Fair enough, I guess.

So, while the Threesome Tollbooth may add nothing to the community in the vein of social change or philanthropy, it is exactly what it sounds like: a way for bored laypeople (and celebrities, I guess), to burn through $100. My recommendation—if you have the means and don’t feel like spending your money on charity, a campaign, a worthy cause, or literally anything else— is to try an hour in the Tollbooth. You may come out of if with a new perspective and an expensive hobby, or just with a hangover, but at least you can say you did it.

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