Remember Surge Soda as a Kid? It's probably the drink your parents never wanted you to have
Barely concealed by Village Yokocho, Angel’s Share has not been a secret, best kept or otherwise, for decades. But it still feels special on the rare occasions you can slink in without waiting in line. You know how this pseudo-speakeasy stuff goes: ascend a narrow staircase, make a confident left in the casual Japanese restaurant’s dining room, push through an unmarked door, and sip classic cocktails or their convoluted kin under sexy lighting.
Lower East Side
Perhaps infused with the perfection of previous occupant, the legendary Milk & Honey, Attaboy has been a downtown favorite since opening in 2012. And, like M&H before, you don’t just walk into this place like it’s some kind of bar -- you ring the bell. Of course there’s no sign, and of course there’s usually a wait, and of course there’s no menu, and of course it’s spendy, but somehow, at least here, all the gimmicks add up to a good night out.
Upper East Side
The Carlyle hotel bar is the antidote to its aggressively casual (but still expensive!) counterparts downtown and in Brooklyn. Your bartender might be in a t-shirt at Le Bain, or a beard at Westlight. Here, they wear white jackets. This is old New York. The ceiling is covered in 24-karat gold leaf, a grand piano anchors the room, and an iconic mural provides levity. The unending formality is a reminder that you are spending money -- hopefully someone else’s.
This is the place your Astoria-residing friends use to lure you to the neighborhood. Its outdoor space is big enough to invite everyone you know and still find a spot. A Czech-leaning menu (Goulash! It’s fun to say!), over a dozen draught beer pitchers for under $20, and communal tables will enable you to meet new, better friends.
Still in its infancy, the bar on the 18th floor of the Freehand Hotel draws lines down the block for first-come first-served spots in a hyper-designed, tropicalish space. The interior is pretty to the point of appearing over-produced, and its outdoor space is narrow, but serviceable. For a rooftop bar in Manhattan, it could probably get away with charging a little more than $16 a cocktail. Sadly. This is a place you visit for novelty and check back in on a few years later.
Charlie’s has anchored the South Bronx’s historic Clocktower Building since 2012. Golden light bounces off exposed brick walls, and framed photos of stars of bygone eras look over a cozy L-shaped bar where drinks are 2-for-1 during daily happy hour.
Chumley’s 2.0 resembles the gritty 1922 original in name only, but harks back to the era with ornately framed portraits of the jazz age arts and letters giants who once haunted the place. The tiny bar in the back only seats eight. Standing is frowned upon. The staff easily performs the unenviable task of making sure the area never crowds, leaving room to sip theatrically prepared cocktails and clever takes on scotch and sodas in relatively quiet comfort.
Smith Street’s best cocktail spot (not restaurant) is a neighborhood favorite worth traveling for. Now in its 10th year, you’ll usually find a seat at Clover Club’s ample bar. Try the eponymous, quick-drinking, bright, frothy, fruity but not overly-sweet Clover Club before switching to a slower sip like the Improved Whiskey Cocktail with rye, maraschino, absinthe, and bitters.
This place has more awards than James Joyce, and is filled with nearly as much booze. A fire briefly stalled Dead Rabbit’s business this summer, but it’s back to doing more than it has to. It’s an ideal Irish pub and peerless cocktail spot all in one fastidiously appointed space. Pop in for a Guinness on the ground floor, then head upstairs for an inimitable cocktail.
Long Island City
In the near-decade since its opening, Dutch Kills has acquiesced to accepting credit cards, added a few sandwiches to its expansive cocktail menu, and almost met typical Manhattan prices. But the spirit of the spirits house is unchanged. Ice is still a delicacy calibrated to bespoke cocktails, and bartenders continue to innovate, even without much area competition.
This new joint’s uncomplicated space betrays its futuristic libations. Surprise -- it’s a bar that looks like a bar! Yes, human bartenders still shake, swirl, and suffer your stories, but should they get too busy with a sad-sack’s sob story, there are super-cool cocktail vending machines here, too. Exchange $15 for a drink token and, with the press of the button, sip bottled Manhattans, martinis, and buttered popcorn rum and cokes in seconds.
There’s a surprising paucity of places to dance in NYC, so the floor here gets crowded fast -- regardless of who’s spinning what. The cash-only bar gets crowded, too, so pack light: wrap some Jacksons around your ID and house key, and be glad you aren’t eyeing your backpack/clutch/jacket from the dance floor all night.
This is the only normal bar in Times Square. It isn’t boxing themed, exactly, the way bars of a more recent vintage are speakeasy, tiki, or dive themed -- it’s more like Jimmy’s sprung from 44th Street fully formed in 1970 and happened to be filled with boxing memorabilia. Cheap, small, and seemingly protected by a tourist-repelling forcefield, you aren’t going to get anything fancy, but they make a good beer here.
Sure, it’s become a touch touristy in the 150-plus years it’s been operating as a bar, but who could blame eager visitors, given the place’s history? Julius’ survived prohibition during the jazz age, and a 1966 “sip in” at the bar was instrumental in ending anti-gay restaurant and bar regulations in NYC. One of the oldest bars in Manhattan, it’s earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and slings drink specials and $6 burgers daily.
LIB’s very good cocktails -- like the frothy gimlet and rich boulevardier -- are, to use area realtor parlance, just under market value. The long bar fills up fast, but staff here never looks askance at seating “just drinks” parties. The space is a subtle past blast, aesthetically honoring the original Long Island Bar that opened in 1951 and enjoyed a successful 50-year stint, without being precious about it. Ask about the cosmo.
Lower East Side
Devoid of any discernible soul, Magician’s what you make it. It’s large, cheap ($5 call drinks during daily happy hour), and malleable. Gather some nerds around a big table in the back for game night; plan a surprise party with next to no notice; you could probably even host an impromptu wedding reception here and it’d be just fine. It’s woefully cash only, but all but the most accomplished drinkers can catch a buzz here for less than a $20.
Alternately famed for being “New York City’s oldest continuously operated saloon” and “the one that didn’t allow women in until 1970,” McSorley’s is like the Statue of Liberty of bars. It’s been around for a long time, New Yorkers seldom visit, and once you’re here, you don’t have many options. Your only choices are light or dark beer, which come two at a time, for pretty cheap, delivered by a congenial staff. Once you finally go, you’ll want to come back.
Every NYC creative-type millennial with a penchant for borrowed nostalgia has a favorite Keith McNally restaurant. The only right choice was Schiller’s, which shuttered last summer after 14 years on the LES. Minetta is an ok approximation, and a solid spot in its own right. The bar is a little shorter and the cocktails are a little more expensive, but it’s a fine place grab an accessible burst of old New York, a bracing Manhattan, and good conversation, whether or not you brought a friend.
Results will vary. Try to grab a spot on the roof at 11pm on a not-too-humid summer Saturday, and prepare to stand around for a while, eyeing occupied tables like a puppy begging for scraps. But duck out of work early any night of the week and arrive in time for the generous happy hour, sip a frozen margarita under the setting sun, and bum a smoke, before your better judgement kicks in.
Food, drinks, games, inside, outside, movies, music, dancing, dogs -- Nowadays is the all-inclusive resort of Bushwick bars. Not that you should, but you could plan a Tinder date, a Bumble date, and Hinge date here all at the same time, bounce between them in hilarious madcap fashion, end up with someone you meet at the bar, and none would be the wiser.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Drink at sea without the dramamine aperitif on a stationary 140’ schooner with tidy views of Lower Manhattan, and crisp summer cocktails -- or go full WASP with a $15 glass of brut rosé. This is the place where you get “surprise” engaged with a six-prong solitaire and your New York Times wedding announcement ready to roll.
Acronymed for Ramen, Oysters, Kitchen, Cocktails, ROKC had hours-long lines when it opened uptown two years ago. Things have relaxed since then, but expect (far more manageable) 30-plus minute wait times for lychee cocktails presented in upturned light bulbs, the deceptively simple sounding cucumber cocktail served in a frozen bell pepper, and the social media favorite, smoke: bourbon, ancho reyes, cynar, and bitters, under a smoky dome.
Sunny’s doesn’t make it easy. You’ll have to take a circuitous 25-minute walk from the closest subway stop at Smith-9th Streets, learn the bus, or hire a car like some kinda whaling millionaire to get there. It’s cash only. There’s no ATM. The bathrooms are a terrible place for a pep-talk. But it’s a litmus test for good people. Days quickly turn to night in the bright backyard and dark barroom, and space is prone to fits of live music, impromptu pizza, and joy.
Astoria’s been up-and-coming for so long, it’s time to accept that it’s just a regular, pleasant neighborhood. Not everywhere is gonna arc like Williamsburg and that’s good. Sweet Afton is no hipster harbinger -- it’s just a comfortable local bar in its ninth year, with a menu broad enough to turn into dinner, dozens of beers, thoughtful cocktails, easy service, and a nice patio out back. It’s a worthy spot to call your regular.
A trip to Staten Island is a zag of a date. The ferry ride from lower Manhattan is among the prettiest commutes in the city, and you can even pre-game a bit at the boat’s limited cash bar. Once you make land, the borough’s premier cocktail bar is only a little more than a mile away from St. George Terminal, and slings classic libations, bespoke creations, seriously stacked sandwiches, and charcuterie and cheese plates.