New York City is filled with hidden gems, from a little lighthouse in Fort Washington Park to a cemetery tucked away in the East Village. One of the city's best-kept secrets is located in one of its oldest and most famous landmarks. Beneath the Brooklyn Bridge sits empty vaults that were used to store wine a century ago, according to NPR.
The Brooklyn Bridge's secret wine cellars are built into the ramps leading to the East River on both the Manhattan and Brooklyn sides. They're not vital structural features that serve a dual purpose; the only reason they're there is for alcohol storage.
When chief bridge engineer Washington Roebling included the vaults in his design, he was being diplomatic. The proposed path of the bridge cut through two liquor-selling establishments, Rackey’s Wine Company in Brooklyn and Luyties & Co in Manhattan. By including storage cellars for both in his plans, Roebling was able to keep them happy and generate revenue for the construction at the same time.
Several businesses rented out the wine cellars after the Brooklyn Bridge was built in the 1870s. Though they were located beneath one of the most heavily trafficked spots in the city, the vaults stayed dark and cool year-round, which made them ideal for stashing even the most expensive vintage wines. Soon, murals of grapevines and French street names were added to the walls to brighten the dreary space.
The cellars survived Prohibition—and were even repurposed as exclusive speakeasies for New York's upper crust—but their days as alcohol storage ended after World War II. They're used to store maintenance equipment for the city today, though they have been opened to the public for more fun occasions over the years, such as art shows.
Many fascinating relics from New York City history are closed to the public. The New York Public Library doesn't allow most people to visit its secret apartments, though a lucky few have been invited to peek inside.