The Best Bars in New York City Right Now
Where to get your drink on.
Bars come and go in New York City. Best can change to worst and back again between happy hours. A bad place can have a good night, and a good place can have a bad night, and most will have both over the course of a weekend. The qualities that make a place a can’t-miss for you might add up to a can’t-stand for your doppelgänger. And once you’ve been here long enough, your hard-won favorite will close or simply change, and you’ll need to find a new personal best.
There are thousands of bars across the five boroughs. And there are really only a few ways to do the thing: Real dive, dive-themed dive, neighborhood staple, Old New York throwback, bucket-list spot, pseudo-speakeasy, buzzy hotspot, grandpa bar, molecular something something, untouched classic, Old New York revival, oldest this or that, sex bar, unlikely city sports bar, a place with an unexpected or simply forgotten gimmick that’s impossible to get into for a few years before it turns into a Panera, or a boat. They all have alcohol.
So, why are so few so good? The best bar of all time is the one where you can get a seat, get an occasional buy-back, and get home from with relative ease. Here are some good ones, too.
New to the recently refreshed Pier 17, David Chang’s Bar Wayō is a chic, buzzy addition to the formerly touristy destination. The waterfront spot’s menu includes one always welcome but woefully underused feature: a legend that indicates what vehicle you’ll be sipping your spritzes, slings, daiquiris, old and new fashioneds from -- including a fun, photogenic, open-mouthed ceramic fish for the rum-based Zombie Elvis cocktail.
Dear Irving on Hudson brings downtown cool 22 blocks north. The Times Square iteration of the highly regarded Irving Place cocktail bar has '60s mod design elements without veering into Mad Men cosplay. The color scheme ticks slightly more vibrant than sepia, and the large space is deceptively intimate -- seating areas are clustered to accommodate groups smaller in number than your typical bachelor party. Skyline views through floor-to-ceiling windows on the 40th floor make this a new standard for city-centric Instagram pics, and a terrible place for a bar fight.
Cleverly named draft beers are available in 9, 12, and 16-ounce pours so you can try a few, or just take it easy with boozier brews like the 10.5% ABV “OMG How Funny is This. Manhattan Has a Street Named After Our Hometown Houston.” From Thursday-Sunday, you can pair your “Sorry, I Don’t Eat Food From a Street Cart” pale ale with bites from the La Carcachita taco truck parked outside. Enjoy ‘em under the glow of string lights in Evil Twin’s courtyard, or at communal picnic tables inside. This is an easy place to hang out, where you won’t feel self-conscious about snapping a selfie with the classic car incongruously parked in the courtyard, or in the more on- brand barrel room in the back.
New to the neighborhood, Jungle Bird has tiki notes in style and substance without getting too costumey. The ample space is crisp and bright, anchored by a long, sleek bar on one side and an even longer banquette on the other. Pops of color skew tropical, as do many of the menu’s fresh, fruit-forward cocktails.
Up front, roomy, crescent-shaped banquettes practically necessitate mingling between groups and create an everyone’s invited party atmosphere this buzzy East Village newcomer. A private room in the back seats about a dozen and dials up the intimacy. Inventive cocktails are chock full of ingredients (the pisco-based Fivestar Man has eight of ‘em) and selections from the food menu (fried chicken, steak frites, burger) tick Mister Paradise beyond your typical bar bite destination.
True to its name, this speakeasy-themed spot beneath coastal Italian restaurant Gran Tivoli looks more like a cellar (dark, with exposed brick and wood) than, say, a basement (an overstuffed sofa and a pingpong table lit by the glow of a cathode-ray tube television set). It could also have fairly been called Peppi’s Dungeon But Like a Romantic One Where a Handsome Vampire Lives. By any monicker, classic cocktails, tunes made for canoodling, and cozy environs will hit the spot.
San Pedro Inn does right by its space’s prior occupant, Red Hook Bait & Tackle. It would take a new York commercial real estate lifetime to accrue the grit, clutter, and dead (taxidermized!) animals Bait & Tackle earned over the years, but San Pedro’s efforts -- a collage of vintage-ish ads, prints, and banners on the south wall; a well-stocked but unadorned bar just a few strides away on the north wall -- create a decent facsimile without getting too kitschy. The margaritas are good, too, and eight draft beers include Miller High Life.
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.
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.
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.
When it first opened in 2018, the bar on the 18th floor of the Freehand Hotel drew lines down the block for first-come first-served spots in a hyper-designed, tropicalish space. Nabbing a spot on temperate evenings can still be challenging. 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 11th 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. 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.
In the 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 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 $16 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.
It’s a coup for a place to occupy both neighborhood staple and semi-special occasion status. Grand Army does it via elegant design and demonstrable efforts to cater to locals. The daily $13 bartender’s choice cocktail provides an opportunity to try something new, and the dollar happy hour oysters are a pragmatic distraction from the $280 seafood feast beckoning from the dinner menu.
A trip to Jadis will make you feel like you’re in a nouvelle vague film where all the cigarettes have been edited out but it’s still kind of obvious everyone used to be smoking. It’s romantic and a little moody and the diffused light in the slightly subterranean space gives everyone a glow. So, too, do the select $5 French wines during happy hour.
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.
Although Gowanus is booming, ameteur reviewers still refer to it as “off the beaten path,” “in the middle of nowhere,” or “hard to find” on certain internet forums. Lowlands is none of those things (there’s a damn Citi Bike station out front), but it is far enough from the neighborhood’s main drag to remain relatively uncrowded. Drink specials, friendly bartenders, a spacious backyard, and occasional live music and DJ sets make it a convial spot where locals always welcome travelers from less obscure locales.
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.
The oldest trick in the Champagne-taste-beer-budget book is to experience chichi venues from beyond the dining room. Journey to the 60th floor of the 28 Liberty building, skip the three-course prix fixe, and sidle up to the bar, where the city-cynicism-melting views are truly stunning, and the price tag on your requisite 'Gram will be a little lower. Order the $19 Manhatta -- their take on a you-know-what.
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 in 2017 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.
One of the city’s best karaoke bars is worth a visit even when you do stop believin'. Known colloquially as “Montero’s,” the one-time longshoreman’s bar now caters to area yuppies and Broadway ringers. It looks every day of its 90 years in operation, with nautical decor that appears to have been dredged from the river. The stubbornly cash-only bar’s creativity is limited to two-ingredient cocktails, but it’s well worn charm is endless.
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.
Ophelia is for appointment drinking. It’s in a luxury building on a luxury corner of an antiseptic luxury neighborhood. Nearly half of its cocktails break the $20 mark that separates spirits-lovers from wanton gourmands. It’s as theatrically appointed as every other highly branded bar to open in the past few years, and of course, it’s all plenty beautiful. Colorful cocktails are poured into lovely glasses in a space that splits the difference between Marie Antoinette’s chambers and the Joker’s apartment as conceived by Tim Burton circa 1989. View’s nice, too.
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 10th 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.
Bar food done right, a lowkey pool table, calming blue-hued decor, and plenty of seats make The Seneca a neighborhood bar with style. Pop in before 7pm on weekdays for $5 Narragansett, well drinks, rosé, and Highlife/whiskey combos.
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