It’s not often that an accomplished New York bartender has the opportunity for a real night out on the town; on the weeknights, weekends, or holidays when the rest of us are out drinking, bartenders are hard at work. But on those rare occasions when they do have a night to themselves, New York’s best bartenders know exactly where to go.
Sometimes they’ll visit industry friends, sometimes they’ll go on a date -- other times, they’ll just hang out at their own establishments, on the other side of the bar. And while some go out in search of a great cocktail, just as many crave a simple beer and a burger (and usually, a shot or two.) We chatted with 11 of NYC’s best bartenders about their favorite night-off haunts.
While Stacey Swenson is a spirits enthusiast through and through, her tolerance doesn’t always keep up, so she tends toward lower-proof cocktails, like the aperitivo-style drinks she often serves at Dante. When out from behind the bar? Saxon & Parole for a Japanese highball and mushroom pâté, or Sauvage, from the Maison Premiere team, for crab legs and rosé. For something dive-ier, it’s Williamsburg’s Midway Bar, where there’s always cold Miller High Life and great music.
And like many bartenders in New York, nights for Swenson often end at the recently revived East Village dive Holiday Cocktail Lounge, now with serious cocktails alongside the shot-and-beer specials. “If you’re a bartender and want to go where everybody knows your name and all the lyrics to Toto’s ‘Africa,’ and be greeted with sloppy hugs and big smiles, this is the place for you,” she says.
Even in her off-hours, you’ll find Tonia Guffey at the Brooklyn bars she works at. “I hang out at Basik a lot. It’s my second home. There are always neighborhood regulars, and we get some fun games of dominoes or cards going on slower nights. Plus, my fella watches hockey there.” Towards the end of the night, she can likely be found at the ironically named Williamsburg dive Bushwick Country Club (another place she bartends), where, she says, “we all rip shots and know we won’t have to apologize for anything later, because everyone will be too [inebriated] to remember!”
For date night, it’s wine and cheese at The Richardson, or movies at Nitehawk. “Anywhere you can get queso, a margarita, and watch a movie all at once without having to sneak a flask is killer in my book,” Guffey says.
The bars that Robeling Tea Room’s bar manager Danny Neff feels drawn to the most are those that make him feel “cozy and loved” -- specifically, Extra Fancy and Basik, both in Williamsburg, and both industry hangouts. Since Neff and his Roebling co-worker Andrew Lindh both used to work at Extra Fancy (or just “Fancy,” for short), they’ll often stop by after a shift to grab a pint and unwind. His best rec: the lobster bisque fries and a lobster roll.
In their off-hours, most bartenders crave a low-key joint where you can just as easily get a shot and a beer as a classic cocktail. For Neff, that bar is Basik: “If you're not going to Basik on a Sunday, you're not doing Brooklyn right,” he says. Though the bartenders are all pros who can make you an impeccable Negroni or Sidecar, there’s nothing stuffy or pretentious about the place. If you stop by, give Russell Dillon behind the bar (“the kindest man in the world”) a hug for Neff. Neff’s ideal night finds him with a Budweiser, a shot of rye, and a cast of industry friends, including Tonia Guffey (above) and her fiancé Jackson Stamper.
When Oiji’s Ryan Te isn’t devising soju cocktails, rock climbing, or reading in the hammock listening to Lenny Kravitz, he hops around to his favorite restaurants -- grabbing a burger at Black Iron Burger, seafood at Cull & Pistol, or ramen at Hide-Chan. As for bars, Goodnight Sonny in the East Village is his after-work go-to, where he’ll roll up after a shift for oysters, brandade, whiskey, and maybe a shot of Fernet. If he’s over in Williamsburg, Te’s favorite spot is Noorman's Kil, a low-key bar with a formidable whiskey selection. His standard order there is a dram of Springbank 15 and a “Sylvia” grilled cheese with herbs de Provence, tomato, and melty Empire Jack.
Richard P. Murphy
Lots of New York bartenders visit whiskey-and-historical-punch paradise The Dead Rabbit for the drinks, but Kings County Imperial’s Richard Murphy will take any excuse to go there -- be it lunch, dinner, or $1 oysters. In his own neighborhood, Gowanus, the Massachusetts native loves Littleneck, which he vouches for as a legit New England seafood shack, with $1 oysters during happy hour (sensing a pattern?). For a welcoming, comfortable spot, it’s Mr. Fong’s in Chinatown, where the owner crafts “delicious, unfussy cocktails” and the DJs always play good music.
With such a social job, The Up & Up’s Katie Byrum tends to gravitate toward lower-key venues. “It’s important to find that kind of balance when you essentially host a giant party for a living.” After a shift, that means Zinc Bar across the street, for a cold beer and live music.
In Bushwick, where she lives, Byrum loves Hi Hello on Starr St, which is the kind of bar that, despite its high standards for booze, doesn’t take itself too seriously (note The Simpsons playing with closed-captioning on the TV). And while she doesn’t intend to drink at The Up & Up quite so much, “the vibes and the drinks are so dang good, it’s hard to stay away!”
Having recently turned 35, Nick Bennett is feeling those hangovers worse than ever -- so if he’s having a night out, it better be worth it. “If my mornings are spectacularly miserable, I expect my nights off to be the reverse.”
Worthy enough to merit a hangover is Suffolk Arms, “an unapologetically New York neighborhood bar” on the Lower East Side, or the Featherweight in Williamsburg, which Bennett considers one of the most unsung cocktail bars out there (the space, he says, feels pleasantly secluded). Since his fiancée is a 9-to-5er, they’ll often meet up near her office in the Financial District at The Dead Rabbit; Bennett tends to kill time with a Guinness in the taproom before their date nights in the parlor.
When he’s not researching Asian flavors and playing with cocktail ideas in Junoon’s spice room, Hemant Pathak is probably eating macaroni and cheese and drinking Kentucky bourbon at the Flatiron Room, or hanging out at BlackTail, the new bar from the Dead Rabbit team, sipping a vodka-and-celery highball. Like with most New York bartenders, Employees Only is also a regular stop, with a reliable industry crowd -- all of whom seem to know someone behind the bar. For Pathak, it’s his bartender friend, Ulysses Vidal, who will make him Palomas until late-night.
When it comes to going out, Tavern62 head bartender and native Irishman Eddie Kennelly’s heart lies with an old-school Irish pub, like Donovan’s out in Woodside, Queens -- which offers history aplenty and one of the best burgers in the borough. If he’s not there, you can probably find him in Midtown, getting a chicken Parm at Bobby Van’s -- yes, the steakhouse -- or at Wollensky’s Grill, hanging out with Patty Ford, “a legend among NYC bartenders and the biggest ball-buster alive.”
While Kennelly’s nighttime routine has changed up a bit since the birth of his three-year-old son, said son is perfectly comfortable in the bar world. “He knows more bartenders and chefs than he should at his age,” says Kennelly. “Both my kids grew up in the restaurants and bars their dad worked in.”
Bartender Erika Ordonez is so devoted to Lower East Side oyster-and-cocktail bar Black Crescent that when it burned down after a year in business, she organized the first fundraiser to help get the place back on its feet. Now that it’s back, she’ll stop by for the Hempen Halter, a Negroni with hickory-smoked Carpano Antica vermouth, and comfort food that can sustain a drinking crowd for the long haul.
Chilo’s in Bed-Stuy is another one of her favorites, mainly for its agave spirits and tacos (and homemade hot sauces) from the truck out back. In Bushwick, the cozy Pearl’s Social & Billy Club is Ordonez’s everyday-drinking bar, with friendly bartenders and a great liquor selection; and if she’s looking for good people-watching and crazy spectacles, it’s performance venue-theater-bar House of Yes.
Ordonez also loves visiting her coworkers when she’s off, for very good reason. “They know just how I take my sherry, rum, and agave.”
St. John Frizell
Proprietor at Fort Defiance
Choice spots: “Home, home, home”
You wouldn’t expect an office worker to head back to the cubicle on a night off or a doctor to hang out at a hospital. By that same logic, plenty of bartenders we talked to -- particularly the parents and coupled-up among them -- said they have very little interest in bar-hopping or restaurant-crawling. St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance is an avid cook and would rather be home making a meal, with his girlfriend and/or son, than anywhere else. “Wednesday is Taco Night in my house, and has been since my son Chester was two (he's seven now). It's a ritual we observe with the dedication usually reserved for religious practices. He'll eat literally anything if it's wrapped in a tortilla.”
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1. Dante79-81 Macdougal St, New York
2. Saxon + Parole316 Bowery, New York
3. Midway272 Grand St, Brooklyn
4. Sauvage905 Lorimer Street, New York
5. Holiday Cocktail Lounge75 Saint Marks Pl, New York
6. Kings County Imperial20 Skillman Ave, Brooklyn
7. The Dead Rabbit30 Water St, New York
8. Littleneck288 3rd Ave, Brooklyn
9. Mr. Fong's40 Market St, New York
10. Dram177 S 4th St, Brooklyn
11. basik323 Graham Ave, New York
12. Bushwick Country Club618 Grand St, Brooklyn
13. The Richardson451 Graham Ave, Brooklyn
14. Nitehawk Cinema136 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn
15. Roebling Tea Room143 Roebling St, Brooklyn
16. Extra Fancy302 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn
17. Oiji119 1st Ave, New York
18. Good Night Sonny134 1st Ave, New York
19. Noorman's Kil609 Grand St, New York
20. Tavern62 by David Burke135 E 62nd St, New York
21. Donovan's Pub57-24 Roosevelt Ave, Woodside
22. Wollensky's Grill210 E 49th St, New York
23. Bobby Van's135 W 50th St, New York
24. The Up & Up116 Macdougal St, New York
25. Zinc Bar82 W 3rd St, New York
26. Hi Hello247 Starr St, Brooklyn
27. Porchlight271 11th Ave, New York
28. Suffolk Arms269 E Houston St, New York
29. Featherweight135 Graham Ave, Brooklyn
30. Junoon27 W 24th St, New York
31. BlackTail22 Battery Place, New York
32. The Flatiron Room37 W 26th St, New York
33. Employees Only510 Hudson St, New York
34. Slowly Shirley121 W 10th St, New York
35. Montana's Trail House445 Troutman St, Brooklyn
36. Black Crescent76 Clinton St, New York
37. Chilo's323 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn
38. Pearl's Social & Billy Club40 Saint Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn
39. House of Yes2 Wyckoff Ave, Brooklyn
40. Fort Defiance365 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn
When the 100-year-old Caffe Dante closed down in 2015, West Villagers feared that one of the neighborhood's oldest restaurants was lost forever. That turned out to be only partly true. A few months after closing, it was reborn as Dante, a more modern restaurant and bar that pays homage to the original's Italian heritage. The emphasis on negronis is loud and clear: 12 varieties are served, including a traditional version on tap. The classic Italian menu means you'll find burrata (served with a slow-roasted tomato drizzled in oil), figs (wrapped in prosciutto), and house-made pastas. Much of the interior remains intact, just with a fresh white sheen on the walls and polished subway tiles lining the bar.
Saxon + Parole is a stylish restaurant on the Bowery whose decor and clientele look straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad. The seafood tower and charcuterie board appetizers define the surf and turf cuisine, as do the separate menu sections dedicated to land, sea, and steak. The standout is the signature burger, topped with melted Havarti cheese, maple bacon, a fried egg, and a bone marrow béarnaise sauce. A vintage wood-paneled bar in the front is well-stocked with whisky and usually packed with groups of thirty-somethings waiting for their table.
Williamsburg's Midway Bar on Grand St delivers to drinkers something between a total dive and an arcade, serving refreshingly cheap drinks (happy hour beers are next to free) in a neighborhood known increasingly for its Manhattan-style prices. Colorful lights line the main bar area, with swizzle bar stools (don't try ordering any fancy sips at them, you won't be obliged) and five video game consoles to play. Upstairs lives a ruby-colored billiards table in a lounge space with red leather banquettes. A jukebox completes the neighborhood dive picture.
From the team behind Maison Premiere, Sauvage is a French-leaning restaurant in Greenpoint with a Paris-meets-the tropics decor. The food menu is elegant but unfussy, and like Maison Premiere, it has raw bar options and an impressive cocktail menu. Drinks focus on low-ABV and rare spirits, and there are few different styles of hand-chiseled ice available for classic cocktails.
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.
With a factory in China barrel-aging and sun-fermenting its house soy sauce and a garden on the back patio growing Central Chinese herbs, spices, and vegetables (like tatsoi and Sichuan peppercorns), BQE-adjacent Kings County Imperial is Williamsburg’s localized vision of Sichuan food. The menu boasts a modernized version of the flavor-packed regional cuisine, and is divided into categories for dumplings, buns, dim sum, vegetables, and “Big Wok Traditional” items (get the Mapo Dofu, thank us later). The beverage program is tiki-centric, with cocktails that complement the spices found on the menu. Kings County is great for groups (it is dim sum, after all), and the Lazy Susan booths are proof.
The Dead Rabbit is a cocktail sanctum, taproom, small-plates resto, and "grocery." This Irish-American-inspired duplex in the Financial District -- boasting vintage saloon-like vibes and decor -- will make you feel as if you've traveled back in time. The taproom, which is located on the ground floor, is a traditional Anglo-Hibernian pub, where you can order craft beers, bottled punch, and a variety of whiskeys. If you walk upstairs you'll find the parlor, with an ambiance equally as charming as the pub, but with a heavier focus on communal punch and cocktails. The small "grocery" is actually a corner in the taproom, where they sell an assortment of dry goods, but most notably Irish and British imports that are otherwise hard to find.
While the seating at this cozy nautical-themed spot may be scarce, the food menu certainly isn’t. Littleneck is a mecca for shellfish: cast-iron clams, steamed mussels, lump crab roll, and Maine lobster are just a few of the regular plates coming out of the kitchen. Brooklynites swing through the Gowanus spot for its killer oyster happy hour, which features a variety of bicoastal options on the half-shell and a selection of affordable draft beers.
Named after the Chinatown real estate broker who arranged its purchase, this unassuming bar under the Manhattan Bridge exudes the type of understated cool that tends to attract New York's fashion industry types. Mr. Fong's is low-key and neighborhood-y, but it's certainly not a dive. If anything, it's a cocktail bar with Asian-inflected drinks that are classic in character: a vodka tonic is made with celery-infused Chinese vodka and lime juice, while an Old Fashioned is made with plum bourbon. The dark, unmarked space is simple with potted ferns and a vintage jukebox that adds a subtle hint of fun.
South Williamsburg’s Dram has become a local beacon for mixology-forward cocktails, with sipping menus changing based on the discretion of an experienced stable of bartenders scalped from leading bars. A restrained list of house specialties are unified by their integration of exotic or unexpected ingredients: a ‘Born Toulouse’ combines aged cognac with reposado tequila, Genepy (a European wormwood liqueur) and sweet vermouth stirred with a salt rim. Still, options are unlimited when one simply opts for the bartender’s choice—here, you won’t be led astray. The bar can become crowded during prime drinking hours, it should be known, as the venue has broad appeal: those not intrigued by cocktails (philistines) are sated by some eight mostly-American craft beers on tap, and a Euro-centric wine list. Surrounded by so much wood-panelling in the sleek and modestly sized bar, you might feel like you’re in a booze barrel yourself, and that’s okay.
Williamsburg’s Ba’sik looks like just what it is: one of many rustic industrial-chic Brooklyn bars. But, that's what gives the place, from Gallery Bar and The Breslin veterans, its appeal (the name is pronounced 'basic,' after all). Cocktails are strong and fun, with a ‘Sunrise Over Inverted Spine’ succeeding in the magical mixture of tequila and Fernet Branca with ginger, turmeric and spicy bitters. The menu of unfussy American bar bites like cheese dogs and mac & cheese gestures to the comfortable atmosphere here. Don’t miss the opportunity to take those snacks out into the spacious backyard, lined with wood, benches and the odd hanging plant: it’s an ideal spot for groups.
It’s not quite in Bushwick, and it’s definitely not a country club. This Williamsburg tavern has super-cheap drink specials and a huge backyard. Its off-kilter atmosphere is decked out with pinup art, red-velour airplane seats, a Jim Beam-and-Coke slushie machine, and an old-school photo booth. To its credit, Bushwick Country Club actually does have a mini golf course (and the windmill is made of PBR boxes). BCC’s greatest claim to fame is the pickleback shot, born and raised at this joint (and undoubtably the catalyst for many-a-time 3am make-outs in the photo booth).
Greenpoint's The Richardson does expert mixology without a drop of pretension in an old-school tavern space decked out in dark woods and vintage wallpaper. Don't expect any speakeasy fuss: this bar surpasses its sometimes cheesy Prohibition-style peers in that respect, relying on well-made classics (from old fashionds to French 75s) rather than overwrought atmospherics. A solid menu of charcuterie and American platters (will it be pretzels, deviled eggs, and cheese or sardines, saltines, and creme fraiche?) and hearty pub plates can be had at any of the tables lining the barrel-strewn space, with your choice of 14 German and American craft beers on tap.
Williamsburg's Nitehawk Cinema changed the movie-going game when it opened in 2011. Not only did it relieve L Train film buffs of venturing into Manhattan to see an indie flick, but it combined the movie experience with actually enjoyable food and alcohol. The theater seats here are equipped with tiny tables and menus; during the movie, you write your order on a notepad and a waiter comes by to collect it. The New American selection includes fried chicken sandwiches, fish tacos, and flatbreads, plus specials crafted to honor the headlining movies. Even if you aren't in the mood for a movie, it's worth showing up to Nitehawk: the street-level Lo-Res Bar is outfitted with a large curving bar and tables for sipping and snacking.
A large and airy former industrial space makes a home for Roebling Tea Room, giving Williamsburg daytime denizens a place to sip a wide selection of teas while sprawled on sofas or tucked into a corner in the ivy-touched backyard. It's an ideal hangout or hunker down and work kind of atmosphere. A central bar offers beer and reasonably priced cocktails for unwinding. The space is homey despite its size, outfitted with vaguely vintage wall paper over small wooden tables, and doubles as an evening dining room for classic American comfort food: oozing mac & cheese can and should get a thick-cut bacon add-on, bloody hanger steak is served with a root mash, and burgers are topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
Williamsburg's Extra Fancy serves fried, grilled, and raw seafood, like fish & chips and lobster bisque fries, plus a notable secret sauce-topped burger. It's open late -- until 2am every night -- and its special late-night menu will have you covered should you ever get a midnight lobster roll craving. The brick-and-wood interior is reminiscent of a New England seafood shack, albeit a hipster one.
From two Seoul restaurant scene vets, this intimate East Village spot serves seriously impressive Korean fare. The small plates formats means you can try a little bit of everything, like warm honey butter chips and slow-cooked oxtail and pork belly. You won't really know what you're eating but you won't care because it's so good.
The Wayland team is behind this homey cocktail/seafood bar in the East Village, filled with lots of exposed brick and charming family photos. The cocktails are seasonal and highly experimental while still affordable, and there are nightly deals to indulge in while saddled up to the reclaimed wood bar sourced from one of the founder's ancestral homes in Connecticut.
It's hard enough to do one thing well enough to stand above the crowd in the New York bar & restaurant scene, but Noorman's Kil distinguishes itself for being not only one of the best whiskey bars in NYC, but also one of the best stops for killer grilled cheese sandwiches. From some of the same people who brought you Barcade and Gutter, Noorman's Kil has more than 200 whiskeys, gooey grilled cheese, a wood saloon-style bar, and an awesome outdoor patio space that's perfect for sipping the deep-yet-accessible whiskey menu that NK sources from all over the world. You probably knew that you needed to try a range a whiskeys from the US, Canada, Ireland, and Scotland, but did you know that you also need to try some under-the-radar whiskeys from the likes of India and Sweden? You do now.
The multi-story Tavern62 is David Burke's second coming to this Upper West Side townhouse, which previously hosted his now defunct restaurant Fishtail. A bar lives on the ground floor, serving cocktails and a snack menu focused on fancy toast. Dining rooms and a greenhouse garden upstairs are more upscale, with walls adorned with the pink Himalayan salt that the chef has touted as one of his trademarks. The fare is modern and pleasingly plated, from "Angry Lobster Scramble" (tossed in creme fraiche with basil, lemon and chili oil, served in a bowl shaped like a giant cracked egg) and "Duck Duck Duck" (a large platter of duck prepared three ways). Burke's famous quirky desserts will be on offer, so expect those cheesecake pops.
Everyone wants to call their favorite bar a New York institution, but Donovan’s Pub truly is one: the Tudor-style Irish tavern has been serving Woodside since 1966. It may have made a splash when it first opened by offering free champagne to ladies on Thursday nights, but these days it’s a frequent occupier of "best burger" lists. And for good reason: the half-pound griddle patty, a blend of chuck and New York strip beef, is gigantic, pink on the inside, and paired with thick steak fries. What better way to anchor yourself after a few pints of the Irish, Belgian, and American brews on tap? Donovan's can get rowdy during happy hours, but wood-paneled rooms and stained-glass windows make a nice hideaway for a sit-down beer and some conversation.
A more casual alternative to its upscale sister restaurant Smith & Wollensky, this tavern-like grill offers a cheaper, pared down steak and burger menu. You can still order off of the wood-backed original menu, but why bother without the formal dining room experience? Here, it's more bustling and a little freer in the 70-seat, two-floored space where professionals in the area come to take off their blazers and order a few beers served in ice buckets.
Named after a piano-playing Long Island man who opened the Bridgehampton original in the late 60s before selling his place to restaurateurs, Bobby Van's has grown to become a chain of considerable grills and steakhouses, with four other NYC locations. This outpost, a fork's throw from Radio City Music Hall, keeps the brand aesthetics consistent: the feel is masculine and wood-heavy. Traditional surf and turf fare can be had a tables draped with white cloth, while a more casual pizza or sandwich (but just as strong martini) can be had in the expansive bar area.
This sexy, wallpapered spot in Greenwich Village is cranking out well-made tipples (the best of which is the Foster Avenue with Glenmorangie Scotch, Perucchi vermouth, pear eau de vie, honeydew melon, orange bitters). If you're going with a group, get one of the jacked-up bottles of Messier Manhattans. If you're not... probably still get one of those. Snacks like pork rillettes with chimichurri aioli ensure you won’t be leaving any time soon.
The West Village's Zinc Bar brings jazz and live music back to a space that hosted the likes of Thelonious Monk and Billie Holiday in 1940s when it was the Cinderella Club. The dark bar, down a few steps from the sidewalk, has art deco details visible in etchings on the mirror-backed bar and decorative scones, setting an appropriately retro scene for classic, gin-heavy cocktails. American jazz standards make up most of the nightly acts, with Latin and African sounds making cameos on the weekends. Patrons have to submit to drink-minimums to enter the stage area, but when prices are so reasonable and the music so alive, it's hardly a burden.
There's a saliva-inducing reason to say hello at Bushwick's Hi Hello right off the Jefferson L: the sandwiches. With a menu imagined by co-owner and chef Phillip Gilmour, who you may see in the 'hood hopping between this spot and his popular Momo Sushi Shack, Hi Hello jazzes up classics with creative spins: a take on a cheesesteak features roasted top round beef, truffled cheese wiz, and grilled onion on ciabatta; a vegetarian sloppy joe is made with lentils, red rice, corn and edamame; and an "Icelandic" hot dog is a lamb sausage topped with caper remoulade, fried shallots and gherkin pickles. The food goes beyond the between-bread, too, with dinnertime mains like blue cheese pork chops and brunch-time jerk-chicken waffles.
We all know Danny Meyer strikes gold with restaurants, but Porchlight, a collaboration with his Blue Smoke partner Mark Maynard-Parisi, represents his foray into the world of bars. The spot has a classy Southern vibe, which means a typical order here includes a Whiskey & Cola (mellow corn whiskey, Fernet-Vallet, house-made cola syrup) and jalapeño cheddar cornbread. When the Sazerac becomes one too many, however, the indoor porch, complete with rocking chairs, comes to the rescue.
Having accumulated serious cocktail credentials behind the bar at Flatiron Lounge, Dutch Kills, and Pegu Club, Giuseppe González predictably made waves when he opened Suffolk Arms in the East Village. His pours include a take on Irish coffee made with gin and tea, a whiskey sour and Guinness "float," and the bitters-loaded Trinidad Sour. The food menu represents a varied frenzy of cuisines with guacamole and Thai chili wings next to smoked fish platters and steak tartare, and burger fans will find grass-fed patties along with turkey and veggie burgers. The atmosphere, like the food and drink, is varied: it feels like an update on the traditional English tavern but with framed sketches of New York notables, including the late mayor Ed Koch.
There’s no sign announcing Featherweight in Bushwick/East Williamsburg—just a towering mural of a tired boxer collapsing onto his punching bag. Once you enter the “secret” cocktail cave, a discreet offshoot of neighboring Sweet Science, you’ll be glad you’re in-the-know. The intimate-yet-stylishly-dingy space, all distressed tin and vague tiki touches, takes cocktailery seriously with a considered menu featuring strong sips like Witch’s Brew (jujube-infused gin, lemon, Gran Classico Bitter) and icy, imaginative ones like the Scalloway (scotch, rum, orgeat, pineapple, lime bitters) in a bamboo-shaped glass brimming with crushed ice. Lightweights be warned: Featherweight is not for you.
Indian fare gets a luxe treatment blocks from Madison Square Park at Junoon, with latticework accents carved from limestone as a precursor to the artfully plated dishes you can expect. A dramatic dining room is for tucking into cumin-dusted lobster before traditional tandoor and curry dishes, and you can get a closer look at the spices infused into your meal in the downstairs spice room. A large front bar, where two Burmese teak jhoola swings are hung, make a ritualistic perch for saffron-kissed sparkling wine and tequila sweetened with tandoor-baked pineapple -- ensuring that the lotus pools on display aren't the only liquids you'll be reflecting on.
From the team behind The Dead Rabbit, BlackTail is a bar inspired by Prohibition-era Cuba, when booze-seeking New Yorkers would head to the island via seaplanes with black-painted tails. Since the planes would fly over Pier A, the bar’s Pier A Harbor House is a fitting location -- though you’ll have to use your imagination a little if you’re hoping for the full luxury transit experience. The drink menu is all updated takes on classic mixed drinks from the 1920s-1950s (think highballs, sours, old-fashioneds, and punches), and the food is also a nod to the era.
The Flatiron Room is a relaxed, sophisticated nightspot that supplies a collection of over 750 brown spirits. In addition to carefully crafted libations, patrons can also enjoy a number of small bites (such as oysters, charcuterie, and bone marrow), regular live jazz performances, and a rich, timeless atmosphere.
This dimly lit industry bar/restaurant/lounge is tucked away from the busy streets of the West Village but inside, there's a bustling social scene and warm, welcoming ambiance. EO’s mixologists are constantly creating new and serving old-time, all-time favorite cocktails. Try the Billionaire Cocktail -- a bourbon drink made with lemon, EO’s own grenadine, and Angostura bitters. You’ll feel right at home with a staff that acts like a family, bonded by a shared love of EO (and they’ve all got the “EO” tattoos to prove it). Be sure to chat up the head bartender, who was a subject in the documentary Hey Bartender.
Hidden below the equally-as-great Happiest Hour, Slowly Shirley is a sexy throwback to Old Hollywood, with red leather banquettes, jazz music, and both classic & signature cocktails. After enjoying one of the city's best burgers from the lounge upstairs (a serious In-N-Out contemporary), we recommend ordering the Plum Tuckered (crafted with gin, whiskey, and plum sake).
Housed in a former auto shop on a corner in gentrifying Bushwick, Montana's Trail House -- with its barnyard-wood planks, faded American flags, and mounted taxidermy -- serves as a kind of caricature of the "rustic-chic" wave sweeping the borough. The menu is inspired by calorie-rich Appalachian fare: fried chicken comes with slaw and honey-butter, while brisket is braised in root beer. The ingredient-heavy cocktail list is no backwater affair though: the Curse Thrower contains rye, amaro, mezcal, orange bitters, and Demerara sugar. But true to the spot's dust-road inspirations, Bud is offered three ways: by the can, bottle, or on tap. A hidden bookshelf door gives way to a "secret" side patio, while the outdoor space out front suits summertime sippers.
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.
It's not news that tacos and drinking go hand in hand, and Chilo's on Franklin Ave in Bed-Stuy -- partially owned by Michael Cera -- is banking that the appeal of the pairing won't change. A neon Mexican skull on the black-tiled walls sets the mood before patrons head to the large outdoor area where a stationary food truck slings eight kinds of tacos (from carnitas to shrimp) that you can wash down with frozen margaritas or any number of shots from the dependable selection of tequilas.
Pearl's Social & Billy Club was one of the first bars to open in Bushwick when the neighborhood was undergoing its first wave of hipster-led gentrification. Still going strong, it's an unfussy and low-key place for cheap beer and cocktails served in Mason jars. A long wooden bar, warm lighting, and candles give it a mature vibe that sits well with the thirty-something crowd.
What began as a gritty underground theater and party venue in East Williamsburg expanded to the big leagues when it moved into a shiny warehouse location in 2015. Part-bar, part-nightclub, and part-brunch spot, House of Yes is versatile -- as is the rainbow clientele it draws. Strobe lights! Aerialists! Three bars and an atrium! Events vary from immersive film screenings (The Prestige with live magic acts) to ragers commemorating David Bowie. Arguably, the best part is nursing that “dance hangover” with a cappuccino and avocado toast the next morning. Did we mention the mirror-tiled, six-armed statue overlooking the urinals?
With a 13-star flag hanging in front, Red Hook's Fort Defiance nods to American history in more ways than one. The menu is rooted in American cookbook classics but sprinkled with European flavors: deviled eggs are topped with fried capers and roasted chicken is served with creamy polenta and braised Tuscan kale. Regular specials like burger nights, oyster happy hours, and the weekly Sunken Harbor Club, a celebration of Tiki food and drink, keep this neighborhood spot lively. That said, you can always count on weekend brunch.