13 Great Bars to Get a Beer and a Shot for $5 or Less in NYC
Calling New York City expensive is an observation, not a suspicion. Pop into what at first appears to be a neighborhood bar, see $9 beers and $20 cocktails on the menu, and soon a cartoon rain cloud will form overhead: a sinister reminder that this town is increasingly intended for the rich. But If you look hard enough, there are still a few remaining spots where you can get a shot and a beer (a.k.a. a beer and a shot, a.k.a. a boilermaker) for $5 or less.
This classic combination (typically taken as a shot, followed by a beer chaser, and sometimes mixed together), has been around for decades. And like most things synonymous with working folks, it’s harder to come by these days. Even just 10 years ago, it seemed like bars in every borough were trying to get rid of PBR and rail whiskey like they were the chorus of a Grammy Award-winning 1991 Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song. But area economics changed, and the $5 deals had to change with them.
“That special really helped us get started,” says Susan Hunt, owner of The Levee in Williamsburg. “It’s $6 now, and we’re down the block from a Whole Foods and an Apple store! What a ride!”
The $5 boilermaker, and the bars that sling it, aren’t for everybody. They tend to be a bit rougher around the edges -- the music might be a little louder and the bathrooms a little dirtier. And as bars are priced up or priced out, the number of these deals is dwindling. Support your local bar (and get a good buzz on the cheap while you still can) at one the dirty dozen best spots for a beer and a shot in NYC.
Located on the opposite side of Bed-Stuy as Turtles All The Way Down, Do or Dive took over local restaurant fave Do or Dine years ago, and kept the party going. With a pool table and a bustling back yard, this local favorite falls more in the “dive-themed” bar category. But with a $5 Low Life (High Life and well whiskey), in time they’re sure to earn the official dive bar designation.
The newest addition to the bar group that includes Williamsburg mainstays Skinny Dennis, Lucky Dog and Rocka Rolla, Turtles All the Way Down is a welcome addition to the Bed-Stuy bar scene. With a smattering of vintage bar ephemera, a comfortable outdoor area, and you guessed it, a tank with a couple turtles in it, there’s no shortage of creature comforts you want in a dive (or -- shudder -- dive-themed) bar. Their $5 Low Life (a shot of well liquor and a High Life) is just the icing on the cake.
Rudy’s is an institution, reportedly granted one of the first liquor licenses after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. The All-American special, a shot of Seagram’s whiskey and a pint of Rudy’s Blonde Ale, runs a Lincoln, flat. (The deal formerly known as the Stimulus Package came about in 2008, when a different liquor company was pushing a deal.) Pitchers cost $8 and hot dogs are free. “You could walk in with $10, get a pitcher, which is 4 pints, and get a meal of a couple hot dogs while also tipping your bartender,” says Danny Dee, Rudy’s manager since the ‘90s. “That’s completely impossible at any other bar.”
The only problem with most beer and a shot specials is the rigidity of the deal. You’re usually stuck with a PBR and a gulp of the lowest rail whiskey imaginable. At The Looking Glass, you can pick a 16-ounce draft from six varieties, and pair it with any house shot (whiskey, tequila, vodka, etc.), all for $5. The bar itself is nondescript, but its backyard is a cheery place to get a good buzz on and enjoy the outdoors on an unseasonably warm day without paying the typical rooftop/patio/sidewalk cafe tax.
Lower East Side
This narrow, grimy LES temple to Lemmy and Danzig feels like a 1970s New York relic. For those lucky/unlucky enough to have boozed at Mars Bar, Clockwork’s aesthetic will feel very familiar, minus the hard-nosed service. Clockwork’s bartenders are friendly, its music is loud, and you can get a can of Bud and a shot of well liquor for $5. The price drops down to $3 at happy hour (11am to 7pm).
Don’t let Lone Wolf’s tough guy exterior fool you -- it’s intimate, dimly lit, and projects a warmth that many of its beer and shot brethren do not. A back patio, pool table, excellent DJs almost every weekend, and great bartenders make the Wolf worth visiting even without its $5 Genesee or Carling Black Label can and well house shot deal, but the classic combination makes it even sweeter.
Lower East Side
If Clockwork’s happy hour special seems too good to be true, you’ve got a little good old fashioned neighborhood competition to thank. Located right around the corner, 169 has been in operation since 1916. And its 11:30am-7:30pm HH is among the best in the city. $3 will get you an “Old Man Can/Bottle” of beer (PBR, Carling Black Label, Schaefer, Genesee Cream, High Life/Miller Lite) and any well shot. Subtly New Orleanian environs (window shutters look like they’re fresh off a Creole cottage; beads are strung here and there; there’s crawfish on the menu) evoke genuine good times.
Boobie Trap evokes a cinematic Charm City as fever dreamed by John Waters. Pink flamingo tchotchkes, naughty neon, kooky dolls, and a topless Mona Lisa all contribute to the kitschy joint’s cheeky vibes. Friendly bartenders serve $5 Keystone Light (oof) and rail whiskey or tequila shot specials with a daring offbeat humor: anyone willing to chop off their man bun earns a free bottle of liquor.
Irene’s and Capri Social Club
This is more of a menu hack than an explicit special. You can score a can of PBR for $3 and a dang Jell-O shot (choose your color) for $1.50 more at equally excellent Polish-enclave sister spots, Irene’s and Capri Social Club. Capri’s mood is inclusive and party oriented. Irene’s would be a fine place to hide out from the mob. Throw your favorite sing-along on either’s jukebox and settle in, you’re in for quite a ride.
Self-styled “punk” bars usually seem costumed, affected, or, even worse, themed. Bootleg Bar is the real thing. The generic “BAR” sign out front seems to say, “take it or leave it,” the decor looks like more of a neverthought than an afterthought, and only the jukebox seems intentional, with selections beyond your basic Ramones/Sex Pistols. For $5 you’ll get a PBR tallboy and a shot of well whiskey, which is the kind of drink special you need if you’re living life on the skids.
Located in a pretty thickly residential part of Queens, The Windjammer is a true neighborhood corner bar with a concert venue bonus. It has a vaguely nautical vibe, with model ships and other boat-related memorabilia, so naturally its drink special would be a $5 Narragansett and a shot of whiskey. It also has a bar dice game of chance -- replete with prizes -- as if you didn’t feel lucky enough just finding the drink special!
101 Wilson is the Andrew WK of bars. The walls are adorned with a mélange of graffiti and grime, amplifying its party-all-the-time ethos. Unlike some of the old man local bars still slinging $5 beer and shot combos, 101 Wilson is overflowing with exuberance and energy. You won’t catch any sleepy, “good old days” nostalgia here, but rather pure rager fuel by way of $5 Bud draft and well whiskey combos. Its sister bar, Wilson Lives! in WIlliamsburg, provides a similar vibe and has the same special, but it’s limited to happy hour.
Clockwork’s sister bar is a few dozens of blocks uptown, where it’s a little less likely you’d otherwise find a spot where half-a-Hamilton will get you a can of Bud Light and a shot of well liquor set to a punk rock soundtrack. Sure, it skews a bit themed, but it’s a welcome novelty in the neighborhood.
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