Thanks to the fact that New York City essentially kick-started the modern cocktail renaissance, it’s not especially difficult to find a great cocktail here. What is difficult, though, is finding a great cocktail you can actually afford. Unless you literally sprint from the office to catch the last precious minutes of happy hour, you’re likely going to be doling out somewhere between $11-$17 for a drink.
But there are a select few places in New York City where you can have your booze and more money in your wallet, too. We searched across the city to find the best cocktails for less than $10 -- none of which require rushing to happy hour.
Singapore Sling, $7
The Tiki-kitsch cocktails at this Smith St institution may not involve any “mixology” -- we’ll leave that and the $17 price tag to the city’s other cocktail dens -- but you are guaranteed something that’s delicious, refreshing, and, best of all, affordable. Go for the Singapore Sling, a gin-based cocktail for the gin-averse: Rich cherry brandy and pineapple mix with the gin’s strong aromatics to yield a drink that’s delightfully Tiki (notice the ridiculous garnishes) and a little sweet. If you want to try something else on the cheap, most of Zombie Hut’s options go for less than $10.
Blackberry Fence Hopper, $9
At first glance, the Blackberry Fence Hopper at Sunnyside's Maggie Mae's may look like your standard vodka Collins, but the use of honey and fresh blackberries is what makes this drink so unique. It’s somewhat floral from the honey and tart from the berries, and it’s a total steal, considering it’s hard to find well-made cocktails with fresh fruits that are priced in the single digits. Enjoy yours in the rustic, pub-like atmosphere that’s ideal for post-work drinking.
El Presidente, $9
For lovers of agave spirits and the all-too-trendy Negroni, there’s the El Presidente, made with tequila, Campari, lime, and salt, at this offshoot of beloved LES dive Welcome to the Johnson’s. It’s bitter, it’s refreshing, it’s a little bit savory -- all in all, it’s a proper cocktail, and you might even like it more than the $2 PBRs at the sister bar’s Rivington St location.
Transmit the Box, $8
Many of the drinks at this hard-to-find cocktail laboratory run -- literally, they’re all on tap -- for less than a tenner, but the Transmit the Box edges out the others: Smoky, spicy chipotle-infused mezcal and rich chocolate bitters blend surprisingly well with bright, citrusy Aperol, making it almost too easy to drink. It’s a beautifully balanced cocktail that’d cost you twice as much at practically any bar in Manhattan, but it’s a literal steal on this stretch of Wilson Ave.
The Sundowner at this new Bushwick Caribbean spot is deadly. Made from guava, orange, and pineapple, “all the rums” (it literally says that on the menu), and coconut cream, the frozen drink is bracingly citrusy yet smooth and creamy, making it a cinch to suck down -- and all too easy to set yourself up for a brain freeze. And it becomes even more dangerous when combined with the bar’s other $9 frozen cocktail, a strawberry margarita called the Casa Loco. Have your bartender layer the two for a new-school take on the Miami Vice, a piña colada and strawberry marg concoction.
Short Long Island, $7
The Short Long Island at the rebooted Holiday Cocktail Lounge ain’t your standard too-sweet concoction of garbage booze. The pros here balance out their version of a Long Island iced tea with plenty of citrus, making it a take on the much-derided classic that’s actually (yes, really) enjoyable. Sure, it’s a baby cocktail -- it comes in a short high-ball glass with crushed ice -- but how much Long Island iced tea do you really need?
American Ruse, $9
The American Ruse at Bed-Stuy's Captain Dan's Good Time Tavern is basically an old-fashioned, with the substitution of orange bitters for Angostura and brown sugar cube instead of white. But those changes do make a difference: The Demerara brings more richness than your standard white sugar, while the orange bitters lend the drink brightness. It’s a less-baking-spicy take on the classic cocktail, and very much suits the eclectically decorated (framed tropical-bird photos, velvet paintings) dad bar.
Lady Voodoo, $9
The Lady Voodoo at this Yorkville Cajun restaurant comes with just three ingredients -- mezcal, Louisiana rum, and grape -- so you know exactly what you’re getting with this frozen drink: It’s a grape bomb, with some smokiness from the agave spirit, and it harks back to lazy childhood days of eating those purple popsicles in 90-degree heat. Of course, the real heat here comes from the food -- be sure to pair your drink with a hearty bowl of gumbo.
Sea Shandy, $7
Beer cocktails are more than just micheladas and your standard lemonade shandy. The Sea Shandy from Quarter Bar, a cozy South Slope neighborhood bar (with a whimsical back patio in the warmer months), mixes pilsner, lime, and Cel-Ray (celery) soda, with a salt rim. The effect is like that of a gose: It’s salty, vegetal, and crisp -- a solid brunch cocktail or end-of-workday drink.
Uncle Willie's Frozen Coffee, $7
If there’s anything you should know about drinking cheaply in New York, it’s that wonderful things come out of slushie machines, and one of the best is the Uncle Willie’s Frozen Coffee, aka “that coffee drink,” at Williamsburg's honky tonk dive Skinny Dennis. In it, you’ll find brandy, bourbon, coffee, and coffee liqueur, frozen, served in a Greek coffee cup, and topped with coffee grounds. It’s a little like dessert with a caffeinated kick, but that shouldn’t stop you from having a second, or third, or fourth.
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1. Zombie Hut273 Smith St, Brooklyn
2. Maggie Mae's Bar41-15 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside
3. Yours Sincerely41 Wilson Ave, Brooklyn
4. The Johnson's369 Troutman Street, Brooklyn
5. Holiday Cocktail Lounge75 Saint Marks Pl, New York
6. Infirmary NYC1720 2nd Ave, New York
7. Sally Roots195 Wyckoff Ave, New York
8. Captain Dan's "Good Time" Tavern497 Greene Ave, Brooklyn
9. The Quarter Brooklyn676 5th Ave, Brooklyn
10. Skinny Dennis152 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn
This small tiki bar standby in Gowanus looks just as kitchy as you’d expect it to: bamboo facade, Polynesian masks and knickknacks within, thatched straw on the backyard deck. If your plan is to get smashed (you know, like a wayward ship does agains a deserted island’s craggy shoreline), Zombie Hut’s cheap and colorful drink specials will deliver: a Scorpion Bowl is served in a beachy, glazed bowl filled with Bacardi 151-spiked punch. The kicker? It’s lit aflame from a "volcano" emerging from the center of the bowl.
The renovated second-coming of a Sunnyside staple for dive drinkers, Maggie Mae’s is decked out in reclaimed wood from 1800s Pennsylvania and serves 18 beer on tap. Prices are fair and the cocktails are better than your standard syrupy pub mixed drink, with a vodka collins made with fresh blackberries and honey. Bring your own food, or feel free to have it delivered. Wake up, Maggie, I think Rod Stewart has something to say to you.
The bartenders at Yours Sincerely don't mix cocktails in front of you, instead, they pour them from a tap and serve them in beaker glasses. There are 20 or so taps behind the marble bar, each topped with a porcelain doll head and filled with large-batch concoctions like an Old Fashioned with date-infused bourbon. The dark bar is tight and narrow with an eclectic look, much like the Bushwick patrons that pack the space. Tacos, fish sandwiches, and burgers from next-door neighbor Dear Bushwick can be ordered right to the bar.
An expansion of the Lower East Side dive Welcome To The Johnsons, this Bushwick bar does away with the grungy "parents' basement" vibe and classes things up a bit (in cocktails and decor more than clientele behavior). You can expect more than bottom-of-the-well drinks: some ten cocktails are served alongside bottled beer, from a plum-kissed Tom Collins to pomegranate margaritas. You'd think the Manhattan original was the mature one, but instead this BK baby gets upgraded leather seating, hanging egg chairs, and a fireplace -- but there are still pool tables and general rowdiness from the drinking 20-somethings.
Back in the day, the Ramones and Frank Sinatra used to kick it at Holiday Cocktail Lounge, but it closed in 2012 and New York diehards feared it was lost forever. BUT NO! The mogul who spawned Pirate's Booty (yes, the snack) bought the East Village dive and gave it an overhaul (while still not daring to remove that signature red awning). The real action takes place by the horseshoe-shaped bar, where Long Island Iced Teas are made on the gun and drinks like the Los Hollywood (whiskey, Fernet Branca, bitters) are dreamed up by ace cocktail brothers, Michael and Danny Neff.
Opened by a New Orleans transplant who relocated to New York after Hurricane Katrina, Infirmary gives the Upper East Side a taste of true Cajun flavor. The Big Easy is heavily represented on the cocktail menu with sazerac variations and speciality drinks like the Lady Voodoo, made with Louisiana dark rum, mezcal, and grape punch. Down-home small plates like crispy boudin balls and fried oysters & shrimp keep the parade going, as do requisite po-boys and Southern fried chicken.
It feels like vacation at Bushwick's Sally Roots, a Caribbean-themed restaurant devoted to the region’s comfort food, and it’s no wonder: the space's designer Matthew Maddy previously nabbed a James Beard nomination for creating spot-on moods at Colonia Verde. The menu is comprised of mains like braised oxtail, chicken curry, and jerk half-chicken, along with appropriate sides like fried plantains and yellow rice. Breezy, tropical cocktails garnished with citrus are served at the front bar, and can be brought out to the expansive backyard where food is served until late. Life's a beach when there are pineapple-topped burgers, kids.
Captain Dan’s Good Time Tavern is just that, a good time. The eclectic Bed Stuy bar mixes high with low, reading somewhere in between a beer tavern and a Victorian living room, with gold-framed illustrations of dogs and exotic birds hanging against eyeball- and flamingo-dotted wallpaper. A funky cocktail menu features a David Bowie-inspired Starman (grapefruit vodka, ginger beer, lemon, bitters), and you have to try the Chilled By Death (Fernet Branca, bourbon, lemon, honey). The food is just as weird, veering Southern, with plates like chicken-liver bacon balls and a bacon-wrapped hot dog with pickled pineapple and fried onions.
It takes four quarters to make a dollar, but only one The Quarter Bar to satisfy your cravings for cheap yet well-made cocktails and outdoor imbibing: the breezy neighborhood spot between South Slope and Greenwood Heights combines a laid back atmosphere with a comfortable, greenery-filled backyard serving elevated sips like The Plantation (champagne, gin, Cointreau, lime, grapefruit). Wine and beers on tap can also be had in the warm interior at dark-wood tables lit by the glow of a faux fireplace.
On the corner of Metropolitan and Berry, Skinny Dennis is a straight-up honky tonk bar in Williamsburg. The divey spot has 18 draft beers (most of which are domestic), a variety of whiskey, and a very addicting bourbon-and-brandy frozen coffee creation. Old-school country jams play from a jukebox all night long, and there are often live performances from local bluegrass and country musicians.