Ever think about going bottoms up in an old opium den? Or clinking glasses in a room made of gold? What about pounding back a few in a garden paradise? What NYC lacks in space (raise your hand if your kitchen doubles as your closet!) it certainly makes up for in beauty -- and really cool places to drink. Here are 13 bars that look damn good without any beer goggles. Plus, like your parents always said, real beauty is on the inside.
The 13 Most Beautiful Bars in NYC
A small and dimly lit spot just down from Saxon + Parole, Madam Geneva is decked out with lace-paneled walls, hanging lanterns, a gramophone, exposed brick, and couch-filled nooks. Named for an old-timey way of saying gin, this drinking den is known for... you guessed it... gin cocktails. Try the Hyde Park Swizzle (Beefeater, pressed lime, mint, Angostura).
This swanky enclave is something straight out of an F. Scott novel. Hidden in Grand Central station, the 2,000sqft digs give 1920s financier John W. Campbell’s private office a second life with Renaissance-inspired paintings, rich wood accents, and 25ft ceilings. Expect to find weary commuters sipping Prohibition-style potions. Pro tip: do Don Draper one better and get the Kentucky ginger cocktail.
Formerly an opium den, this Chinatown hideaway is a way cooler version of your 10th-grade chem lab. A nod to old European apothecaries, the lounge is outfitted with red velvet ottomans, old vials, a custom-built marble bar, a gold leaf-painted ceiling, and light sconces filled with herbal liquids. The mad scientists behind the bar stir and shake dizzying drinks like the Deal Closer, made with local Chinatown aphrodisiacs. The absinthe is made from a secret 200-year-old recipe using fermented sugarcane juice that’s sure to get you feeling good, too.
Go for gold, stay for the celeb sightings. This uber-exclusive bar is blinged out in gold ceilings, gold curtains, gold skulls, and gold chains. In keeping with the over-the-top look, the crystal chandeliers add even more wow factor. You could say that decadent, Gatsby-esque theme is there to make you feel rich even while shelling out your life savings for drinks like the Gold Rush with bourbon, honey, and lemon. Did we mention it counts Justin Bieber and Queen Bee as guests?
Lower East Side
Just stepping foot inside this eight-seat LES bar will boost you to class-act status. The backlit bookcases give off a library feel -- only instead of books, the shelves are lined with hard-to-find bottles of booze. The oak barrels and brass countertops are also beautiful, and only look better after a couple of drinks. But don’t expect cocktails. It’s all about whiskey, rum, and tequila.
Part art gallery, part living room, this vino-focused space is decked out with high ceilings, Keith Haring masterpieces, and cozy sofas meant for lounging. It’s helmed by Le Bernardin’s sommelier Aldo Sohm, so you know it’s not only about the good looks.
A chill café by day and hoppin’ bar by night, this Clinton Hill spot has plenty to oooh and ahhh over. Designed by hOmE, the 60-seater houses a pristine marble bar, custom woven chairs, and reclaimed beech ceilings. Beyond the main room is a back area with a vinyl DJ booth. But most importantly, don’t forget to look up. The main attraction is a 30ft glass skylight, which makes a top-notch setting for sipping local beers, cocktails, and biodynamic wines.
There are hotel bars (stuffy, uptight) and there are hotel bars (outdoor perfection). This Hell’s Kitchen looker falls into the latter. Located on the 16th floor, the glass-enclosed beauty has views for days. Look one way and you’ll see all of Midtown; look the other and you’ll find the Hudson River. Stake out a spot on one of the many comfy seats surrounding the 20ft-long pool and watch the sunset.
Upper East Side
If you feel like classing up your usual dive bar hangout, head to this dapper UES bar. Spiffy white-jacketed waiters, 24-karat gold leaf ceilings, and leather banquettes make you feel like you’re smack dab in the middle of a Sinatra song, while the charming original murals by Ludwig Bemelmans -- the dude behind the Madeline children’s books -- keep things playful. Order a stiff drink and tap your foot to the jazzy tunes coming from the live pianist.
There’s no doubt Gallow Green, the rooftop bar perched above the McKittrick Hotel, is a real stunner. The downstairs is home to the interactive show Sleep No More, and on the roof there's weathered wooden tables that look like they've been swiped from a country home, a fire pit, lights wrapped around lush greenery, and an antique railcar with boxcar seating. Order punches by the bowl or a $15 cocktail inspired by the show while listening to live jazz music. In other words, it’s like your very own fairytale garden party.
With a large quartz bar, bright-blue accents, leather bar stools, and plenty of light, this ‘60s-inspired bar is Instagram gold. Bartenders serve up creative cocktails like the Hanky Panky (gin, Carpano Antica, and Fernet Branca) to an after-work crowd. There could be worse places to get a good buzz going.
If you’re a fan of the watering holes Sweet Afton and Penrose, then you’re sure to dig this Astoria hideaway. Two bars (in the front and back) mean two times the fun. With hanging plants and exposed brick on the inside, the eye candy spills into a super-chill outdoor garden. If that's not enough to make you never want to leave, the cocktail menu with potions like the Blackberry Derby (bourbon, amaro, Combier, blackberry jam, lime) should do it.
After a long, hard day at the office, there’s nothing like unwinding at this Art Deco drinking joint. Speakeasy vibes come from the pressed tin ceilings, vintage sofas, fireplace, and 19th-century mahogany bar. It's from the same gal who did Flatiron Lounge, so you know it's got some street cred. Don’t miss the house chips tossed in duck fat.
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Alisha Prakash is a contributing writer at Thrillist. She believes if there was a Tinder for bars, these are all she would swipe right for. You can find more of her musings on her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
1. Madam Geneva4 Bleecker St, New York
2. The Campbell Apartment15 Vanderbilt Ave, New York
3. Apotheke9 Doyers St, New York
4. Goldbar389 Broome St, New York
5. Copper and Oak157 Allen St, New York
6. Aldo Sohm Wine Bar151 West 51st St, New York
7. Sisters900 Fulton St, Brooklyn
8. The Press Lounge653 11th Ave, New York
9. Gallow Green542 W 27th St, New York
10. The Upsider1004 2nd Ave, New York
11. The Bonnie29-12 23rd Ave, Astoria
12. Clover Club210 Smith St, New York
This Southeast Asian-inspired cocktail bar is focused on all things gin (it's named for the 18th century English term for gin), and you can enjoy yours on the rocks or in a specialty cocktail (order a punch bowl if you're visiting with a large group). The food menu is also worth pursuing, with bites found locally in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Southeast Asia.
The Campbell Apartment, which was formerly the office for finance mogul John W. Campbell, has since been turned into a luxurious bar and lounge space in Grand Central Terminal. It boasts extensive interior woodwork, a lounge and a warm hearth as its centerpiece. If there's anywhere in Midtown to go and get your Mad Men on, this swanky spot would be it.
A nod to old European apothecaries, Apotheke is outfitted with old vials, a custom-built marble bar, a gold leaf-painted ceiling, and light sconces filled with herbal liquids. The mad scientists behind the bar stir and shake dizzying drinks like the Deal Closer, made with local Chinatown aphrodisiacs, and the absinthe is made from a secret 200-year-old recipe using fermented sugarcane juice picked from Apotheke's own rooftop garden.
This cozy cocktail nook where SoHo meets the Lower East Side is literally gold-plated, giving its name some true validity. The magnificently bedecked interior, surrounded by chandeliers and flanked in gold leaf, is home to a curated, made-to-order craft cocktail and spirits menu -- selections of which include the aptly named "Goldrush" with bourbon, honey syrup, and lemon juice, or -- if celebrations are in order -- the "Gold Standard" package for $75, which includes variations on classic drinks, all made with top-shelf ingredients.
Known for its impressive whiskey collection (100+ varieties), Cooper & Oak also offers a unique, intimate vibe that can only be described as "Victorian library meets midwestern dude ranch." Backlit, liquor-lined shelves drench the wooden, eight-seat interior in golden light, creating the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the bar's refined libations.
Located in Midtown West, this vino spot is highlighted by a treasure trove of wine and bites including a meat tower with fireplace-smoked pork loin, Austrian-style poached ham, and lardo "dip".
Sisters is your Clinton Hill go-to for top-notch coffee by day and new American eats by night (get the seared scallop with bay shrimp, beurre blanc, and roasted fennel). This Brooklyn destination also has a back room with DJ sets and musical acts.
The Press Lounge is a swanky rooftop spot perched atop the Ink48 Hotel in Hell's Kitchen. Day or night, take in sweeping panoramic views of the Hudson and Midtown Manhattan while you sip on Champagne and craft cocktails, or head up there for a romantic, windswept date or a night on the town. Don't be surprised, though, that the drinks here cost a pretty penny, considering how postcard-perfect the vistas are.
Gallow Green, the rooftop bar atop Chelsea’s McKittrick Hotel, is a perpetual garden party, at least during the warmer months when its plush flora is in full bloom. During the winter, the campy space turns into a lodge with plushy chairs and a fireplace. No matter the season, the best time to go is for weekend brunch, where a $35 ticket will get you a three-course meal, a mimosa, and unlimited La Colombe coffee.
With a large quartz bar, bright-blue accents, leather bar stools, and plenty of light, this ‘60s-inspired bar is Instagram gold. On weekdays it caters to an after-work crowd and there's a 40-seat street patio for weekend brunch. With top-notch American fare and a selection of reasonably-priced bar snacks, it's a great place to take your cocktails to a table and settle in for a while.
If you’re a fan of the watering holes Sweet Afton and Penrose, then you’re sure to dig this Astoria hideaway. Two bars (in the front and back) mean two times the fun. With hanging plants and exposed brick on the inside, the eye candy spills into a super-chill outdoor garden. Morning essentials -- like avocado toast with poached eggs & bacon or biscuits with spicy gravy & sausage -- solidify The Bonnie as a go-to brunch spot in the area. Endless French press coffee and an excellent cocktail list mean you better be ready for an all-day affair.
From Julie Reiner (Flatiron Lounge) and her protege, cocktail legend Ivy Mix, this tearoom-style spot charms with pressed tin ceilings, velvet-upholstered settees, and a 19th-century mahogany bar. In keeping with the casual-sophisticated vibe, dinner fare includes everything from mac & cheese and steak frites to steak tartare and caviar service, while the cocktail selection, which includes numerous variations on Old Fashioneds, cobblers, punches, cocktails, and five other categories, will have the most experienced of drinkers excited with options. For a new take on a real classic, start with the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, which combines rye, maraschino, absinthe, and bitters.