Food & Drink

The Unspoken Rules of Drinking in New York City

Taxi drivers aren’t the only ones who have to navigate New York chaos. Every man, woman and child who calls the Big Apple home has to venture out in public spaces thick with layers of expectations and etiquette, from the subway to Uber pools to the bar. With so many people crowded into just five boroughs, it’s easy to step on a few toes as you make your way in the city. Follow these rules to avoid any incidents at the bar—everywhere else, you’re on your own.

Go Early

NYC is home to a lot of drinkers who will compete with you for a stool at the bar. If you want any hope of getting into the newest hot spot, or even if you just want to attend happy hour at an old standby, you’d better show up early. Bars fill up quickly after 5 on weekdays (and we mean any weekday) and on Saturday pretty much all day.

Go Meet Your Friends in Their Borough Sometimes

Your friends have heard you proclaim the merits of your neighborhood many times, but no matter how many fantastic bars are within a two-minute walk of your pad, you occasionally must venture out to meet your pals in their boroughs—or else someday no one will show up when you request their presence near your apartment. We don’t care how long you’ll spend on the subway to get out to Queens or the Bronx or even Staten Island.

Dress Appropriately

The drinking scene in NYC is incredibly diverse, with dives, cocktail bars, clubs and tiki bars all competing for your thirst. Wherever you decide to imbibe, though, dress thoughtfully. A club probably won’t let you in if you’re wearing shorts, but you’ll look just as out of place in a suit at a Rockaways beach bar.

Bring Cash

Not every New York bar accepts credit cards and even more require a minimum to swipe your plastic. Come prepared with cold hard cash just in case.

Don’t Go to a Happy Hour in Midtown or FiDi

There are many bars across the Big Apple that offer happy hour specials, so when 5 p.m. rolls around, there’s no reason to head to these corporate neighborhoods to battle finance bros for a discount drink. Suits in NYC tend to work hard and play hard, so you can be sure they’ll pack every bar within a mile radius of the Financial District or Midtown as soon as the workday winds down.

If You’re a Local, Try to Be Nice to the Tourists

Gruff New Yorkers are quick to insult slow, bumbling tourists, but do your best to put a good face on the city for a stranger. A bar is lucky to become well known enough on the national (or even international) scene to warrant tourist visits, and the extra traffic may even be enough to keep the lights on and the doors open in a city that’s notoriously brutal for small businesses. Be happy for your local bar and strike up a friendly conversation with the newbie.

Don’t Tell Everyone About the New Speakeasy

Half the fun of a New York bars is finding one hidden in a basement or wedged between a bodega and a nail salon. Let others have the same discovery you did and don’t blow up the spot immediately. Tell one true friend about it or take a date if you want to spread the joy a bit, but stay off Instagram.

Only Order One Drink at a Rooftop Bar

Rooftop bars charge a premium for cocktails to go along with their stunning views, so it’s shockingly easy to run up a tab bigger than your paycheck. There’s no getting around the upcharge, but you can mitigate the damage to your wallet by ordering a single drink and nursing it all afternoon long. If you get thirsty, just drink in the amazing New York skyline.

Don’t Fall Asleep on the Subway

Take the nickname “the city that never sleeps” to heart on your subway ride home from a long night of drinking. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to take a quick nap. You’ll inevitably end up slipping off into a deeper slumber than you intend, and there’s a good chance you’ll sleep well past your stop. Good luck getting back to your place after you hit the end of the line in the outer boroughs.