This Valentine's Day Milkshake Is Topped With a Slice of Red Velvet Cake
There are dive bars and then there is Charles Hanson’s 169 Soul Jazz Oyster Bar (as it is officially called). Between the cheap drinks, the vaguely New Orleanian menu, the leopard-print pool table, and the clutter of kitschy decor, this place is a one-of-a-kind Chinatown staple. Whether you start your night with a $3 beer-and-shot happy hour deal, or end it here with a paper plate full of dumplings, you’ll be happy you did.
Also known as Horseshoe Bar for the shape of the wooden bar or Vazac’s after the Polish catering hall that used to be here, 7B is one of those last-remaining relics of true East Village grunge. On any given night you’ll find a mix of old-time regulars and the inevitable student crowd, drinking beer and listening to metal on the juke box. If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s been featured in everything from Crocodile Dundee and The Godfather Part II to Jessica Jones.
This beer bar/boutique beer shop is mecca for the low-key beer nerd. ABC’s got a well-curated, rotating list of 12 beers on tap, and an even larger array of unique bottles and cans in its fridges -- plus excellent sandwiches and cheese plates. You’ll find zero pretension here -- just games, comfy armchairs, and free Wi-Fi (making it a great place to “work from home”).
This teeny cocktail bar (as in, five seats at the bar, standing room for about 10 more, max) is one of several single-spirit focused bars in owner Ravi DeRossi’s small East Village empire. It’s also the most unique one, having devoted its menu to bitters and amari (the name means “Love and Bitters”) since before they were even trendy. You may have to wait a while for a good spot in the cramped quarters, but expertly crafted cocktails like the Renaissance Man, which layers Sfumato, Byrrh, Bonal, mezcal, and yuzu bitters, make it all worth it.
This hidden Japanese cocktail lounge, tucked behind an unmarked door at the back of the East Village restaurant Village Yokocho, is probably the oldest new-age speakeasy in town. It’s been around for almost 25 years now and excels at serious and flashy drinks like the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, a bourbon-based cocktail that comes cloaked in smoke made from burning cinnamon and cloves.
Lower East Side
It may have only opened in 2013, but Attaboy still has a ton of history and talent behind it. The bar lives in the unmarked Lower East Side space that originally housed Milk & Honey, the influential and sorely missed speakeasy from the late, great Sasha Petraske. And it’s run by two Milk & Honey vets: Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy, who have preserved the no-menu ethos and cocktail caliber of their predecessor.
Even as a New Yorker, it can be fun to do touristy things every now and then. Bar SixtyFive is one of those things. It’s the bar adjacent to the iconic Rainbow Room -- located on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center -- and although prices are predictably exorbitant, the cocktails and food are actually pretty good, and the views are incredible. Plus, it’s definitely better and no more expensive than paying $40 to ride an elevator with a high school tour group to the top of the Rock.
Barcade combines a big selection of craft beer with an even bigger selection of retro arcade games, culminating in what’s basically the best high school hangout you never had. The brilliance of this business model has led Barcade’s owners to build a small empire in cities across the Northeast, but there’s something extra special about the Williamsburg original -- the cavernous space and concrete floors make it feel like you’re just hanging out in someone’s garage.
Upper East Side
Visiting the bar at the Carlyle Hotel is like stepping into old New York. The drinks are expensive, the ceiling is covered in gold leaf, and the waiters are all in white jackets. But the real charm (and the landmark status) of this place comes from the whimsical painted lampshades and murals lining every wall: They were done by Ludwig Bemelmans, the bar’s namesake and, more famously, the creator of the book Madeline.
Blind Tiger was a craft beer bar before craft beer bars were a thing, and it remains a beer nerd haven to this day. The bar offers over 30 taps (most of which costs a totally reasonable $7), and an ever-changing roster of interesting and occasionally rare beers. Plus, the bartenders all really know their stuff, as do many of the regulars, so it’s one of the best places in the city to go if you’re looking to learn more about beer or try something new and different.
This sprawling Astoria spot is not only the city’s oldest beer garden, it’s also one of the biggest with friendly crowds, affordable drinks, and a great outdoor space. The grilled brats, schnitzel, and $18 pitchers of beer are great year-round, but the bar really hits its peak when the weather is warm and you can settle in for an afternoon at one of the many picnic tables outside.
Beer geeks throughout NYC head to this far-north pub for the ever-rotating list of 17 beers on tap, which always includes some rare options. Join the bar’s beer club and you can actually benefit from drinking a lot of beer: It’s $1 off all drafts for members on Wednesday nights, and anyone who tries 100 beers gets their name on the wall and 50% off all drafts on Wednesdays.
When Julie Reiner opened Clover Club on Smith Street in 2008, she was one of the first to bring the burgeoning craft cocktail movement to Brooklyn. The bar remains one of Brooklyn’s best for good cocktails, ranging from cobblers to fizzes to large-format punch bowls. Plus, it has fancy snacks and a cozy back room that looks like it belongs in someone’s mansion.
There’s nothing better after a long day at the beach than slipping into this cool, dark dive and grabbing a frozen piña colada (with an extra float of rum if you want). Of course, said piña coladas come in styrofoam cups, so you could also grab one before you go to the beach and bring it with you, but either way the day will be better for it. This neighborhood gem was flooded and almost destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, but thanks to lots of dedicated local volunteers it bounced back by the middle of that summer after the storm.
In 2016, this 19th century-styled cocktail destination was named the “World’s Best Bar” for the second year in a row. It’s got two floors offering two slightly different updates on the old-school Irish pub: Downstairs is a more casual homage to some grungy institution, with sawdust on the floor, photos tacked to the ceiling, and a great beer program. Upstairs is the more upscale cocktail parlor, where you’ll find a menu written like a graphic novel and some of the city’s best mixology on display. Between the two, this place made drinking in the FiDi a much better proposition.
An early and highly influential player in the high-end cocktail revival that hit New York in the mid-aughts, this East Village speakeasy has launched the careers of many great mixologists, and had an impact on the work of many more. While you’re pretty much guaranteed a wait here, it’s well worth it for one of the complex concoctions, which change a couple times a year and include things like the Concrete Jungle, a cocktail of bourbon, cachaca, orgeat, mango, Cholula, and lemon.
The city is full of Irish pubs, but few remain as homey, reliable, and unchanged as Donovan’s, which has been a neighborhood staple for over 50 years. It’s best known for its burger -- a juicy, char-broiled, half-pound patty -- but the old-timers are there just to while away the hours with a pint of Guinness. It’s also got a miracle behind it: Owner Joe Donovan put the bar up for sale in 2013, but a regular got together with one of the bartenders to buy the place and save it from destruction.
Long Island City
This narrow speakeasy, originally opened by the late Sasha Petraske was one of the first to bring high-calibre craft cocktails to Queens. It’s still one of the best places in the neighborhood for drinks -- the kind with fancy ice cubes and metal straws -- and at $13, they’re cheaper than most of the ones at similar cocktail spots in Manhattan. Just don’t be surprised to find this place packed.
One of a handful of NYC bars that survived Prohibition, and a New York City Landmark since 1969, this 200-year-old institution remains a beloved watering hole for New Yorkers of all types. Nothing fancy here, just a great burger, a nice, cold pint, and a glimpse into New York history.
Employees Only was one of the city’s first not-so-secret, super-popular NYC speakeasies, and it’s a favorite among bartenders and other industry folks, thanks to a kitchen that’s open ‘til 3:30am. It’s the sort of place that inspires devotion: Every bartender here has the Employees Only logo tattooed on them, and even barbacking is a coveted position.
The flames painted on the sides of this decrepit old building make it look like a biker bar, but Hank’s is a more eclectic dive than that. Once upon a time it was called Doray Tavern, and was a favorite of the Mohawk ironworkers who built the Empire State Building. Now it hosts local bands and comedy hours on its teeny stage, but a lot of the same old regulars keep coming back for a cold, cheap beer and a chat with Jeannie, the bartender of over 40 years.
Usually, the only thing worse than a beloved old NYC dive closing is when it’s brought back and given an upscale revamp. Holiday Cocktail Lounge is the exception. The menu now includes great fancy cocktails ranging from a long list of classics to new creations like the Ocean Club, made with rum, Amaro Lucano, pineapple cordial, and lime. But you can also still get a beer and a shot, the drinks sometimes come with little plastic dinosaurs in them, and the place has somehow maintained that laid-back, good-times dive bar feel.
This narrow old dive feels out of place sitting smack in the middle of today’s touristy Times Square, but that’s a good thing. The walls are cluttered with boxing memorabilia from owner Jimmy Glenn, a professional boxing trainer who once coached Muhammad Ali, and the worn bar is a refuge for local old-timers and media people looking for a cheap, no-nonsense drink after work.
The building that houses this Staten Island beer garden has been a bar under various names for well over a century, which alone should make it worth crossing the Verrazano. The huge, ancient mahogany bar, wood-panelled walls, and collection of taxidermy and antique beer steins give this place a real old-German feel you don’t often find in these parts. But Killmeyer’s also has everything you want in a beer garden: a great patio, 16 beers on tap inside and another 12 outside, giant pretzels, fat sausages, and frequent live music.
For most of us, the swanky King Cole Bar in the iconic St. Regis Hotel can only be an occasional luxury. Cocktails start at $24 and “proper attire” is required, but it’s worth it to be treated like a star in the place that invented the Bloody Mary (there are six versions on the menu). And hey, they at least give you free nuts.
The thin-crusted bar pizzas at this beloved Staten Island tavern may be its best-known feature, but it’s much more of a neighborhood bar than a pizzeria. Now nearly 80 years old, Lee’s remains family owned, and on any given day you'll find the bar filled with longtime regulars. There’s no sign outside because no one needs it, everyone knows this is Lee’s.
This basement speakeasy has an elegant 1920s feel, and if you can reserve a table, it’s perfect date-night material. Candlelight lends a sexy glow to the cozy, leather-lined booths, and if you order the “Bartender’s Choice,” the bartender will make a custom cocktail based on your tastes. Get there late and you’ll likely find a jazz trio stationed at the piano.
The beautiful old neon outside says “Long Island Restaurant,” but now that this Brooklyn institution is in the hands of owners Joel Tompkins and Toby Cecchini, it is decidedly a bar. Long Island Bar does still serve good food (everything from burgers to gnocchi), but the draw here is the selection of expert but unpretentious cocktails from seasoned pros like Cecchini, who is best known for inventing the Cosmopolitan (which he, or any of the other bartenders, will happily make on request).
This Avenue A dive, a survivor of the rougher, grittier East Village of decades past, is nothing without its namesake proprietress, Lucy Mickevicius. Lucy, now past 70, presides over the bar nearly every night, opening when she feels like opening, closing when she feels like closing, and charging what she feels like charging (which is never much). She’s a tough but generous bartender, the kind who, early in the night, might pass you a few quarters to get the jukebox going.
Like some elegant old New Orleans bar dropped down in the middle of Williamsburg, Maison Premiere specializes in oysters, absinthe, and beautiful craft cocktails. Nowhere else in New York will you find such a long list of absinthe-based beverages, or such a lush, vine-covered back patio.
It’s remarkable how little McSorley’s has changed since it first opened in 1862. There’s sawdust on the floor; the best snack is a plate of Cheddar cheese, sliced raw onion, and saltines; and the beer still only comes in two options: light or dark. Luckily, you get two small mugs for every beer you order, so you can do half light, half dark if you don’t want to choose.
In a neighborhood like Tribeca, it’s especially gratifying to find a bar that’s as perfectly divey as Nancy Whiskey. The 50-year-old bar is one of the only places in the borough that you can play shuffleboard, and it’s got cheap drinks, friendly bartenders, and perfectly greasy bar food.
According to Neir’s website, PBS once called it “the most famous bar you’ve never heard of.” That pretty much sums up this 188-year-old Queens institution, which is incredibly unassuming and perfect for a cold beer and a good burger. You might recognize the green tin walls and long wood bar from Goodfellas, which filmed multiple scenes at Neir’s.
While most of Union Square has changed -- and then changed again -- in the past several decades, Old Town Bar somehow remains the same. In fact, a lot of it has remained the same for over 125 years now, save for the period during Prohibition when it had to at least call itself a restaurant (it still served beer). It’s a beautiful, classic old bar that’s also weirdly notable for its grand, 1910-vintage urinals.
For over 130 years, P.J. Clarke’s has been the ideal place to go after work in Midtown. Not only does it make a perfect Old Fashioned, it also has a famous burger: a beautifully greasy bacon cheeseburger that jazz legend Nat King Cole declared the “Cadillac of burgers.”
PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell) is the epitome of the hip, new-wave NYC speakeasy: You can only enter through a phone booth inside of the hot dog joint Crif Dogs on St. Mark’s Place and the craft cocktails are some of the city’s best and most influential. Still, it somehow remains totally unobnoxious (and you can get hot dogs or a big pile of cheesy tater tots from Crif Dogs delivered right to the bar).
Pegu Club wasn’t the first bar in the craft cocktail explosion of the early aughts, but it’s easily become one of the most influential. The atmosphere is elegant -- it's designed to look like a 19th-century British officers’ club in Burma -- and the cocktails, like the Gin-Gin Mule (made with gin, lime, mint, and homemade ginger beer), have become so iconic they've inspired numerous variations at other bars. Plus, almost everyone who’s tended bar here has gone on to open a great cocktail spot of their own -- including others on this list, like Death & Co., PDT, and Attaboy.
Lower East Side
Anyone who moves to New York in their 20s probably ends up at Pianos some time in their first year in the city. It’s often packed with a rowdy LES crowd, but it’s the kind of place you go to see a friend’s band, drink too many margaritas, and maybe run into someone you once made out with in college.
Julie Reiner’s Raines Law Room has two locations in NYC, both of which are semi-secret and have a brilliant feature that will make you feel like royalty: a button on the wall at every table that you can press to summon a server. Both also have great cocktails, but if you need to decide between the two, the Midtown outpost in the William hotel has DIY Old Fashioneds.
It wouldn’t be Christmas in New York without the over-the-top decorations at this old-school German spot. And luckily, if you go any time during late fall and early spring, it still qualifies as the “holiday season.” Get a glass of eggnog, explore the extensive schnapps menu, and feel the holiday spirit.
Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to make a dive bar great. In the case of Rudy’s, greatness comes in the form of $8 pitchers of the house beer, and free hot dogs with every drink. That, plus booths upholstered almost entirely in red duct tape and an unexpected back patio make this a dive you should expect to spend many hours in.
Supposedly New York’s original sake bar (it opened in 1993), this subterranean drinking den feels like it’s been plucked right out of a Tokyo alley. There are sake bombs and saketinis for the NYU kids, but there’s also a long list of excellent sakes served both hot and cold. Japanese drinking food like okonomiyaki (a cabbage and egg pancake) is an essential accompaniment.
Regulars know this place as Shark Bar, thanks to the shark decor both inside and out. Though it sits on a tourist-heavy corner of Nolita, it’s one of those great, friendly neighborhood bars that attracts all kinds -- plus, it offers free hot dogs on Wednesdays and free bagels on Sunday afternoons. It also opens at 8am, if that’s an experience you want to have.
Sunny’s has been a beloved, eccentric piece of Red Hook for decades. It's dark dive full of kitschy decor, and most nights you’ll find some jazz or folk or bluegrass band playing in the back for no cover charge. Sunny himself sadly passed away in 2016, and the fate of the bar is now in question as his widow tries to raise enough money to buy it out from the rest of his family. But New Yorkers have rallied to save this place before: After the bar was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy, people raised close to $100,000 to rebuild it. A new fundraiser is now well under way, and by all indications it’s working.
Being so far north in the Bronx, the Punch Bowl isn’t as well known as some of the other 100-plus year-old bars in this city -- but it’s still a great one. This old-school Irish pub is a real local spot, with a beautiful, ancient tiled floor and tin ceiling, and plenty of regulars shooting pool, playing darts, and smoking cigarettes (because that’s still allowed here, somehow). Also, there’s a free buffet on Sundays (mainly featuring corned beef).
Once a divey, 70s-era hotel bar with an electric organ, the Rum House was revamped by mixologists behind Ward III in 2011. It’s more upscale now, and the organ has been replaced by a piano, but it still has that old-New York feel to it. The daiquiris are strong, there’s almost always someone playing piano, and the wood-paneled interior feels more refined than the majority of Times Square.
The Wayland is the ideal neighborhood cocktail bar. It’s big enough to come with a crowd, but still chill enough to bring a date. The bartenders are friendly, and the cocktails are interesting but approachable -- like the 9th Street Negroni, made with gin, Aperol, Punt e Mes, and coffee bitters. Plus, with happy hour drinks at $7 a piece, it’s the kind of place you’ll want to visit every day.
Behind the slick, Danish modern bar at TØRST is a row of 21 excellent and often unusual beers on tap. You’ll notice a lot of Evil Twin beers on the menu -- that’s because Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the Dane behind Evil Twin, is also the man behind TØRST. He’s a prolific and inventive brewer who has worked on collaborations with big-name restaurants like Noma and Eleven Madison Park, and this is the best place to sample his work, along with a lot of other interesting and out-there beers.
Pretty much everything great about this dive bar is contained in its giant styrofoam to-go cups filled with beer or a frozen margarita (or really, whatever else you want). Sure, you can hang inside and play Big Buck Hunter, but if the weather’s nice, why not (subtly) walk that giant frozen beverage across the street to McCarren Park?
This bail bond-adjacent Chinatown bar pretty much guarantees a weird time. It’s a place where the shots flow freely and the bartenders are ultra-friendly -- at the very least, they’ll probably learn your name before the end of the night, and if they like you (or if it’s your birthday), they might pull out a dildo with a Roman candle attached.