Rudy’s is an institution, reportedly granted one of the first liquor licenses after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.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 oz. draft from 6 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 a summer 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 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 Schaefer 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.
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.
There will be one fewer beer and shot special in town when Gotham City Lounge closes its doors for good in April. The shrine to comic books served a niche nerd following while appealing to all with a $3 can of PBR and a shot of whiskey, before bumping it up to $4 a few years back. Pop in to pay your respects to what’s still one of the best drink specials on the books before it’s gone for good.