In addition to the knishes, the skate rats, and the regular rats that mark the area, the LES is also a sea of going-out possibility. But you can't just walk in anyplace and assume that someone isn't going to grind on your femur. You have to choose wisely. Which is why you need this -- from gritty music venues to tiny burlesque haunts, these are the 18 best bars on the Lower East Side.
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Best bar food: Seoul Chicken
71 Clinton St
From pork riblets to wings to the whole damn bird, there’re plenty of options at this Korean-style fried chicken joint, but the real move is the chicken thighs with a side of fish sauce and a cheap beer. Trust us.
Best bar for cheap drinks: Welcome to the Johnson's
123 Rivington St
Get a PBR for less than a flannel you’d find at thrift store, then promptly go buy a flannel at a thrift store with the money you saved because that’s what everyone here will be wearing. The couches are super old and kind of gross, and you probably shouldn’t sit on them.
Best bar with an ice cage: Mehanata
113 Ludlow St
You’ve probably walked past this place a gazillion times without knowing it. Or at least three. Hidden behind a creepy black corridor, behind a sketchy-looking door, behind an even-sketchier-looking human, is the most insanely loud, colorful, and bizarre bi-level Bulgarian party you’ve ever been to, assuming this is your first Bulgarian party. The vodka ice cage is in the basement. Don’t ask questions.
Best bar that's actually a lot of fun: No Fun
161 Ludlow St
Come to booze and dance in the back with sexy LES types who probably live nowhere near there, then become distracted by the surprisingly good Mediterranean tapas. The name is inspired by a sign the previous tenant kept outside that read "Fun", and this Stooges song. The more you know!
Best bar with above-average beer and tater tots: Marshall Stack
66 Rivington St
The beer, tots, and grilled cheese might be tasty, but don’t say we didn’t warn you that the quaint kitchen is also called "a toaster". Turning things up to eleven (HILARIOUS POPULAR MOVIE REFERENCE!) is all the eponymous amp-friendly decor.
Best underground dance bar: Home Sweet Home
131 Chrystie St
It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a subterranean grungy dance dive with taxidermy aplenty and a disco ball. The drinks are cheap and the crowd, which's almost too cool for school (but not quite... they likely all have at least bachelor's degrees), has no problem sweating all over each other as the DJ spins sweet '90s jams. When people love this place, they LOVE it.
Best bar for live music: Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St
Expect well known acts and those just about to break. The Strokes got their start at this intimate, dive-y venue -- the ex-booker is the band’s manager. Movin' on up, ex-booker! And because there’s a separate mini-bar in the music room, it’s always easy to get a beer.
Best bar for whiskey: The Whiskey Ward
121 Essex St
There’s zero affectation, a pool table, and plenty of reasonably priced whiskey. Needs = satisfied.
Best bar for groups: Loreley
7 Rivington St
This mellow lil’ beer garden has a tucked-away outdoor seating area, gigantic brews, and normal-sized, but highly enjoyable, German fare. And it’s great for groups -- bring your own or just count on getting friendly at the communal tables.
Best tiny bar with burlesque things happening: Nurse Bettie
Inspired by "Queen of Pinups" Bettie Page, Nurse B's a sexy little spot with tons of character and free live burlesque every Wednesday and Thursday. The nightly happy hour offers $4 cocktails and draughts, which are an even better deal when you realize you’re not paying for the show.
Best bar for picking someone up: Spitzer's Corner
101 Rivington St
Expect to be sardined here most nights of the week. Packing into the long wooden communal tables, though, only makes it easier to talk to the stranger you want to bang later after you’ve had your fill of this impressive beer list.
Best bar for cocktails and po’ boys: Black Crescent
76 Clinton St
[Ed Note: Sadly Black Crescent is currently closed due to a fire, they have various fundraisers around the city to help rebuild their excellent bar, follow them on Facebook for updates.]
The right amount of attention is paid to every single detail here, from the hyper-authentic po' boys to the bathroom walls hand-papered in Angostura bitters labels. Oysters and cocktails of rum, tequila, and more are as fresh as they come, and although relatively new, this place is certainly setting itself up to be an old staple. Oh, and it's on our list of the 21 best new bars in the whole damn country.
Best wine bar: Ten Bells
247 Broome St
Dimly lit Ten Bells is more well rounded than most wine bars -- sure, there's an extensive list, but also shrimp nachos and a daily oyster happy hour. The back is great for groups, but the bar is equally excellent for a date. Chicks dig this place, pretty much as a rule. Proof: I am a chick, and I dig this place.
Best bar for hula dancers, dumplings, and cheetah-skinned pool tables: 169 Bar
169 E Broadway
On the edge of Chinatown, Charles Hanson’s 169 Soul Jazz Oyster Bar is a 1970’s New Orleans-themed (because that’s a thing) watering hole that has all of the above plus billiards, an oyster bar, blended cocktails, and a genuinely jolly crowd. It’s campy and rowdy and you can even text the kitchen your dumpling order until 4am.
Best dive: Local 138
138 Ludlow St
In the mix of all these splashy places, 138's the dark and more-or-less sedate one where you can actually have a conversation. Which is exactly what one of our esteemed employees did when he talked about Tolstoy with a Swedish girl he met by the graffitied bathroom. And then took her to a museum! Who does that? Dreams come true at Local 138, and I haven’t even told you about the good and long 4-9pm happy hour yet.
Best bar with a complicated name and shot-and-a-beer special: Leave Rochelle Out Of It
205 Chrystie St
Expect shot-and-a-beer specials, no-nonsense cocktails, and above-average bar food. There’s a sign in the bathroom politely asking you to bang somewhere other than the bathroom, which is apt considering the bar's named for a woman both big-bearded owners bedded. Presumably not in the bathroom.
Best bar for beer: Top Hops
94 Orchard St
This place doubles as a bona fide bottle shop, with hundreds of local and imported beers to buy and drink on-site for a nominal corkage fee. You’d be silly to sip the same thing twice, but that won’t be an issue since the taps in the bar section change constantly. Also: free hard pretzels!
Best bar for cocktails: Attaboy
134 Eldridge St
In the old Milk & Honey space, beyond an unmarked steel door that you must knock on for entry, lives an unassuming speakeasy helmed by suspendered mixologists who actually have a right to call themselves that. If they want to. If not, that's cool too. There’s no menu, but trust that these guys know what they’re doing.
1. Seoul Chicken71 Clinton Street, New York
2. Welcome to The Johnson's123 Rivington St, New York
3. Mehanata's Ice Cage & Party Bus113 Ludlow St, New York
4. No Fun161 Ludlow St, New York
5. Marshall Stack66 Rivington St, New York
6. Home Sweet Home NYC131 Chrystie St, New York
7. Mercury Lounge217 E Houston St, New York
8. The Whiskey Ward121 Essex St, New York
9. Loreley7 Rivington St, New York
10. Nurse Bettie106 Norfolk, New York
11. Spitzer's Corner101 Rivington St, New York
12. Black Crescent76 Clinton St, New York
13. The Ten Bells247 Broome St, New York
14. 169 Bar169 E Broadway, New York
15. Local 138138 Ludlow St, New York
16. Leave Rochelle Out of It205 Chrystie St, New York
17. Top Hops94 Orchard St, New York
18. Attaboy134 Eldridge St, New York City
This Korean fried chicken spot (serving SEVEN different types!) is one of the hottest spots in the LES for quick and delicious grub. Coming from Chaz Brown of Top Chef, Around the World in 80 Plates, and Fatty Crab fame, sip on some coconut-laden 'tails and some watermelon covered in lard, as well.
Welcome to The Johnson's is a classic dive on the Lower East Side where you can play pool, listen to great music, and actually talk to your friends. Though it's on the quieter side, it's got all the grungy dive bar charm you could want with questionable couches, a bathroom full of graffiti, and very cheap beers.
Finally packaging their two most unique offerings, 50 bones'll gain you entrance to Mehanata's legendary Ice Cage (a frozen chamber you enter dressed like a comrade for 15min of all-you-can-drink vodka out of glasses made from ice), followed immediately by a ride on the DJ-havin', previously-for-charter-only Gypsy Party Bus, though even Cher can tell you it's not a party without some Tramps. And apparently Thieves.
Rock 'n roll and Mediterranean-Moroccan cuisine are a pretty unlikely duo, but here it's a match made in (tapas) heaven. Small plates, including bacon and mozzarella and seafood-packed paella, supply the menu, while DJs and copious liters of sangria keep you going all night.
The beer, tots, and grilled cheeses here might be tasty, but don’t say we didn’t warn you that the quaint kitchen is also called “a toaster”. Turning things up to eleven (ZING!) is all the eponymous amp-friendly decor.
This subterranean dance dive with taxidermy aplenty (and a disco ball!) is an LES favorite. Be warned, however, that this dive tends to get a bit crowded on the weekends, for good reason: with cheap drinks, impressive whiskey offerings, and DJs who respect '90s music just as much as you, Home Sweet Home very much lives up to its name.
The Mercury Lounge is an intimate Lower East Side venue with a storied history: the Houston street space was originally part of the legendary NYC Astor family's pied-a-terre and was used to house servants, who reached the main house through a network of underground tunnels. While not quite so mysteriously extravagant these days, Mercury Lounge is one of the city's best spots to check out local and national touring bands up close and personal; it's no-frills (rather than divey) surroundings and quality sound system rightfully put the music center stage.
The Whiskey Ward is a no-frills LES bar with an extensive collection of ryes, bourbons, and single malts. If beer's more your thing, or you'd like a lighter beverage to even out your drinking, there's plenty of that too.
A German beer garden and restaurant inspired by traditional biergartens of Cologne, Lorely serves 12 brews on tap in either liter or half-liter steins, plus eats like schnitzel, bratwurst, and Gegrilltes Hühnchensandwich (trying saying that... one time fast!).
This beloved LES cocktail haunt serves classic libations with a twist. Inspired by glamorous 1950s pin-up girls and the rockabilly music scene, this diner-esque dive doles out speciality drinks named after famous vixens of the day and regularly hosts burlesque performances. While the retro ambiance may or may not be your thing, solid happy hour deals and a lively clientele make this spot worth stopping by.
This Lower East Side gastropub is good for a first date, but even better if you’re single and on the hunt for an attractive stranger. There are more than 40 craft beers on tap, many of which are brewed in New York state, and the food menu includes fancy bar food like truffle mac & cheese, kobe beef sliders, and sweet potato fries. The long, communal tables and industrial decor give it a casual, beer hall vibe.
A fire in 2015 couldn't keep Black Crescent down -- the Lower East Side raw and cocktail bar came back with a thirst for sating yours. Notable on the corner of Rivington and Clinton for the serpentine mural that covers the building's edifice, the spot is low-key on the interior, with simple wood and chrome accents. Oyster happy hours are made happier by strong riffs on classics, like a take on the Negroni called the Hempen Halter, with hickory-smoked Italian vermouth, sweet vermouth, Campari, and gin.
A small, intimate space offering up oysters and 20+ tapas alongside an impressive wine list, Ten Bells was practically made for a first date. Come at happy hour, when oysters are a dollar and carafes of wine are $15.
Drenched in colored light and decked out in palm trees,169 Bar may read a tad tacky, but that’s because it is. It’s earned that right after being around since 1916 (when its original name was the “Bloody Bucket”). Striptease dancers perform on a tiny platform alongside worn red booths as a funloving crowd guzzles cheap beer, frozen cocktails, and oyster Bloody Mary shooters (yes, they have a raw bar, but expect to be served on paper plates). A leopard print billiards table lives in the small back room, just don’t be shy about asking patrons to move for that winning shot.
This is the bar equivalent of “pre-gaming at a friend’s place,” except it’s likely even cheaper. Every day from 4-9pm, they’re pouring $3 wells, wines, and drafts that are far better than the Miller High Life your friend Dan always brings over.
This bodega-turned-bar offers over 150 types of whiskey, no-nonsense cocktails, and above-average bar food. It's decorated with subway tiles and funky mirrors, and you can expect loud music and movies playing from the TV screens. The best part? The sign in the bathroom politely asking you to fornicate somewhere other than the restroom...
This LES beer haven's massive freezer stocks more than 700 heavily Euro bottles to go, while the undulating, growler-friendly custom bar's lined with seasonally rotating taps from the likes of Kelso and Capt Lawrence, with each ale dissected on a nearby slate board loaded with deets from keg tap date to how bitter the brew is, a metric that with people, is often related to the date of their last tapping.
Founded by former Milk & Honey mixologists Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy, Attaboy is an intimate, semi-hidden craft cocktail bar and lounge on the Lower East Side. Operating out of Milk & Honey's old digs, Attaboy builds on the personalized cocktail experience M&H made popular with a menu changes nightly and encouraging guests to ditch the menu altogether; simply tell Sam or Michael what you're into and they'll craft you a bespoke libation worthy of hall of fame status.