In Milan, an aperitivo hour is completely normal: when you go out for happy hour drinks, you tend to have full access to a bar loaded with totally delicious, free bites. In New York, where food is insanely expensive to begin with, free food is less of a standard-fare situation. To help you pretend you're Italian when the mood strikes and, more importantly, save you money, we rounded up all the best places to snack for free in town, so you're not stuck paying $3.50 for a bag of tortilla chips to go alongside your $9 light lager. But remember, guys -- these are businesses. Don’t just show up and eat the free food. Grab a beer or two with the money you just saved.
The Best Places to Eat for Free in NYC, Sorted by Type of Food
Free popcorn/other light snacks
Grab a cocktail at one of the Il Mulino bars, and they’ll hook you up with some rosemary truffle oil potato chips that are not to be sneezed at. Or on, for that matter, because ew.
Huckleberry Bar gets it: a movie without popcorn is barely a movie at all. It offers free popcorn during its Monday night movies -- which start around 9pm -- and also sell “Snackback specials.” Our favorite is the Smoke and Guns: a mezcal shot served with a beef jerky back.
Available for your pleasure at Mad Donkey: unlimited free peanuts in the shell, accompanied by the feeling of abandon that comes with just throwing the empty shells on the floor. This place has one of the longest happy hour specials in New York: from 11am-7pm, Monday through Friday, you can get $4 wells, and $1 off all beer.
These guys hand out complimentary bowls of Parmesan parsley popcorn at the bar. It's fancier than you are.
Hot popcorn, cheap beer, chill local pub. Yes.
Snag a super-cheap beer-and-a-shot combo, drop a couple of dollars into the killer jukebox, and grab a handful of tasty bar snacks: perpetually filled bowls of cheese puffs and Twizzlers.
Buy a burger from this chain and grab some free peanuts to munch on before/during/after your order comes out. They ask you not to remove the peanuts from the store, but if you go when the place is even remotely busy, they’re also not watching, so...
Upper West Side
Popcorn all day, fewer corpses than advertised.
Free apps with drinks
Come for a drink from 4-8pm and you may be gifted with some of its beautiful free mussels.
Hit up happy hour (3-7pm) for $2 off draft beer and $5 well drinks, and at 5pm, the kind folks at Mullanes put out a hot tray full of food: sometimes you’ll get Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes, other times roast beef sandwiches and French fries, pasta dishes… you name it. They only offer the one tray, though, so once it’s gone, it’s gone.
From 5pm-late night, if you grab some drinks at the bar, this spot will hook you up with mixed olives, cheese, pita bread, and the occasional mini kebabs.
Wednesday is free cheese day: from 6pm to as long as it lasts, you can try a selection from the famous Murray’s cheese, served with some fresh baguettes. Pair with a pint from the vast ale selection.
In terms of the free food, this place is catch-as-catch-can, but if you get there during happy hour, which lasts from 5-8 Monday-Friday, you’re guaranteed $2 domestics, $3 premiums, $4 well drinks, and $2 off any cocktails, which is worth a trip in itself. Sometimes during happy hour, and frequently on Fridays, there’ll be a tray of snacks available: hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta... you name it.
This place is like stepping into a goddamn time capsule. Treat the bartender -- who every blessed day wears a red waiter’s jacket -- with the respect the man deserves, and he may bring you a plate of meatballs served in a hot, vinegar-y sauce, and these thin-sliced, spicy, patatas bravas-type deals. Plus, the house red wine is cheap and totally drinkable.
Upper West Side
If you’re having a drink at the bar, you can ask for canapés -- that’s right, these are “canapés,” not “snacks,” because this is the kind of place where you should wear something other than a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a favored sports team. Be super nice and see what happens -- there’s the possibility that you may get served arancini with a truffled aioli, a sip of carrot and orange juice with lemongrass oil and a toasted rice froth, or an acorn squash tartlet with poppyseed chantilly. At the very least, they’ll offer you some of the unbeatable house-leavened sourdough bread that they make, which comes with homemade cream cheese and a finishing oil. It is just as snazzy as it sounds.
Hit this spot for happy hour from 5-8pm on weekdays and score some free vegetarian appetizers. They’ll offer you whatever their delicious North Indian kitchen is making right then: mixed vegetarian fritters, mini samosas… they’re going to bring something out, it’s going to be spicy, and it’s going to taste hella good with a discounted beer.
Become a regular and eat free three days a week. On Mondays, they’ll give you complimentary chicken wings from 5pm onward during games. On Wednesdays, grab a pint of beer (try the Brooklyn-brewed Kelso pilsner) and snack on a few different cheeses, accompanied with some grapes and crackers, because what are we, peasants? Sundays bring you bagels at noon, served with cream cheese, tomatoes, onions… really all the stuff you could expect to eat with a bagel for free.
On Fridays, happy hour is accompanied by a free wing buffet from 4-7pm. What kind of wings you’ll be treated to changes every week depending on how the chef feels like preparing them, but you can bet on them being one of the standards: barbecue, Buffalo, or hot wings, and they’ll usually come out with fries as well. For the rest of the week, of course, wings only run you 20 cents a pop -- not exactly an insurmountable investment.
Free hot dogs
A dingy, divey, New York classic: buy one of its super-cheap drinks (beers range from $3-$5), and treat yourself to a free hot dog.
Play skee ball, drink beer, snack on free hot dogs. Here’s the scoop: it used to have soft pretzels, and it may go back to that, but for right now, sweet, sweet processed meat is still totally free. Which someone totally said, sometime, regarding something.
Your first beer at this Italian local earns you a free small pizza. Plus the drafts are only $5 a pop all day, which is a solid deal all around.
The classic. Get a free personal pizza with every drink you buy, every hour the place is open. You can buy toppings for $1.
The other classic. A free personal pizza with every drink you buy, all night. It’s stupid good. Same topping situation.
Same basic principle: with your drink, you get a thin-crust, super-crispy pizza straight from a big pizza oven, and it’s actually delicious. $1 per topping.
The Charleston offers free pizza from noon-8pm, and after 8 it’s only $1, which you can totally handle.
Pretzels all day long, and pizza every day at 6 and 10pm.
This sports bar places a pizza order every Friday night around 7:30 based on the crowd size, and it’s first come, first served for whomever’s buying drinks.
This dog-friendly dive has pizza delivered every Sunday for brunch, around 1, 2, and 4pm, plus a $5 make-your-own Bloody Mary bar.
From 4-7pm, this sweet spot on SI offers two-for-one drinks and free pizza at the bar. The more you eat, the more pies the bartender orders, so come hungry (and thirsty).
Free bagel brunches
You can grab free bagels on Saturday and Sunday from noon clear to 8pm, which should take care of your hangover, no matter how late it runs. Plus, mimosas & Bloodys are only $4. And if you’re still in need of handouts from Matt Torrey’s, they’ll feed you free chili on Mondays at 8pm.
On Saturdays and Sundays starting at noon, these guys have a free bagel brunch. This is a full-on bagel and cream cheese spread with cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapeños, red onion -- all the basic fixin’s. Plus you can grab $6 Bloody Marys and mimosas, or double down on your decisions from the night before with the Low Life special: $5 for a Budweiser and a shot of Evan Williams whiskey. Plus, it's got free popcorn 'round the clock.
On the other hand, Despaña is a small, local store with a couple of locations that you shouldn’t take total advantage of. But try its samples of cheeses and meats, and then buy whatever strikes your fancy -- the hand-sliced Iberico ham is incredible.
There’s always that nice person in the corner offering you little samples, plus there’s perpetual access to a mini cup of coffee.
Lower East Side
These guys are as famous for their samples as they are for overcharging customers. As we’ve noted before, they will also let you sample basically anything in their store for free. Plus, they’ve always got those plastic-covered domes with snacks in them. Feast away.
It usually has free chocolate samples, but you’ll have to fight your way through the tourists at most New York locations to snag yourself a fistful of sweet victory/chocolate.
This fun shop is one of the better places in New York to buy stocking-stuffers. You can try out a bunch of snacks before buying, but then stock up on milk candies, pumpkin seed crisps, sesame fish...
Upper West Side
Zabar’s is a New York icon, and for good reason. Take a taste of whatever it's offering up at the cheese counter, then buy some of the smoked fish -- it’s truly amazing.
Nibble some apple slices and buy some produce that tastes about 10,000x better than it does from the grocery store.
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Jess Novak learned to just photosynthesize ages ago. Follow her on Twitter @jesstothenovak and Instagram @jtothenovak.
1. Il Mulino New York86 W 3rd St, New York
2. Huckleberry Bar588 Grand St, Brooklyn
3. Mad Donkey Beer Bar & Grill3207 36th Ave, Astoria
4. Upholstery Store713 Washington St, New York
5. 4th Avenue Pub76 4th Ave, Brooklyn
6. The Levee212 Berry St, Brooklyn
7. Five Guys56 W 14th St (& Other Locations), New York
8. The Dead Poet450 Amsterdam Ave, New York
9. Cucina Di Pesce87 E 4th St, New York
10. Mullane's71 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn
11. Kellari Taverna19 W 44th St, New York
12. The Blind Tiger281 Bleecker St, New York
13. LoneStar Bar & Grill8703 5th Ave, Brooklyn
14. Spain Restaurant113 W 13th St, New York
15. Dovetail103 W 77th St, new york
16. Darbar Grill57 East 55th Street, New York
17. The Brazen Head228 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn
18. Croxley Ales28 Avenue B, New York
19. Ruby's Bar & Grill1213 Boardwalk W, Brooklyn
20. Full Circle Bar318 Grand St, Brooklyn
21. Spring Lounge48 Spring St, New York
22. Enoteca on Court347 Court St, Brooklyn
23. Crocodile Lounge325 E 14th St, New York
24. Alligator Lounge600 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn
25. American Cheez444 7th Ave, Brooklyn
26. Charleston174 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn
27. Thirsty Scholar155 2nd Ave, New York
28. Standings43 E 7th St, New York
29. South 4th Bar & Cafe90 S 4th St, Brooklyn
30. The Road House1400 Clove Rd, Staten Island
31. Matt Torrey's46 Bushwick Ave, Brooklyn
32. George & Jack's Tap Room103 Berry St, Brooklyn
33. Despaña86-17 Northern Blvd, Queens
34. Trader Joe's675 6th Ave (& Other Locations), New York
35. Whole Foods Market95 E Houston St, New York
36. Lindt665 5th Ave, New York
37. Aji Ichiban37 Mott St, New York
38. Zabar's2245 Broadway, New York
39. Union Square Farmer's MarketE 17th St & Union Square W, New York
Look no further for great Italian in NYC. Il Mulino's Greenwich Village location has been regarded as the best Italian spot for over two decades for its service, generous portions, and wine selection.
Created by Danny Meyer alums, this minimalist-yet-homey bar pares high-end tavern grub (e.g., Biellese ham w/ beer-soaked Irish cheddar) with expertly-made cocktails like the Prometheus (Bombay Gin, fennel) and the Strega-Saurus -- made with Italian herba
An impressive whiskey selection, regular DJs, and a variety of ales make this dive an Astoria favorite.
A good selection and complimentary bowls of Parmesan parsley popcorn at the bar.
4th Ave Pub is a Park Slope destination for all sorts of rowdy drinking; head there for great brew selections, free popcorn, and friendly staff.
The Levee's a dive bar that's got you covered, from highly addictive cheeseballs, to cheap beer & shots, to awesome throwback tunes.
Have you never had a Five Guys burger? Stop reading this right now and go get one!
Dog-eared tomes line the walls of this literary themed bar on the Upper West Side where each signature drink is named for a famous dead author (we like the Whitman, Poe, and Parker), except the eponymous "The Dead Poet" -- a seriously strong libation concocted out of seven different kinds of liquor. Reliable bar food fare (burgers, nachos, and wings) is also available.
A canopy of trees dramatically serve as a garden “ceiling” at this endearing Italian restaurant in the East Village that’s reliable and low-key. The interior feels perfectly dated in an old mob-haunt type of way, but the dishes are very contemporary. The almost comically enormous servings come with a wonderfully reasonable price tag, especially during the "early bird" dinner seating between 4 and 6:30pm. If you're at the bar before nightfall, you may even be treated to some free mussels!
Hit up happy hour for free Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes, other times roast beef sandwiches and French fries, pasta dishes… you name it. They only offer the one tray, though, so once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Stealthily opening this weekend, Kellari's helmed by Costas Tsingas, executive chef for Greek food at the Athens Olympics. The menu's stacked with innovative dishes like Greek sushi (e.g., raw scallops in grape juice dressing) and lamb tartare.
Arguably the epitome of a New York City craft beer bar and a true pioneer in the NYC craft scene, Blind Tiger’s been doling out a fine selection of the top tier libations since it opened in 1995. It’s the go-to spot to meet folks from your favorite breweries who happen to be swinging through town, and the tap takeovers are legendary to say the least. Sip from 28 taps, two casks and a staggering list of microbrew bottles.
A great happy hour with free food! Get over the Bay Ridge.
Excellent Spanish cuisine, with dishes representing all regions of Spain, north and south.
Chef-owned by a 31-year-old French Laundry vet, DT merges elegant trappings (vestigial stone archway, satin curtains, etc), with modern'd-up, steel-and-wood furniture and jeans-friendly service -- as if the kid's table collided with Masterpiece Theater.
With unparalleled convenience, modern amenities, traditional stylings and delicious Indian cuisine, Darbar is your number one destination for a quick lunch, a romantic dinner out or delivery for those nights you just don't feel like cooking.
A neighborhood bar featuring 15 craft beers on tap, 1 cask beer at all times, excellent wines by the glass, and an extensive list of bourbon, rye & whiskey, including a large selection of single-malt scotch.
One of six locations in the greater New York area, the East Village Croxley delivers craft beers, a bunch of TV screens, and unbelievable wing deals. Grab a basket for just 20 cents per wing every day, OR get your barbecue sauce-covered mitts on them for free every Friday from 4-7pm. Croxley's prides itself on refusing to feature domestic standbys like Bud and Miller Lite, coaxing you to get a bit more adventurous with the multitude of drafts and cans available. It even has its own house beer, which is definitely worth a taste.
Ruby's is an institution that's been open since the 1930s and is still slinging pub food and no fuss drinks right on the boardwalk.
If you take cheap beer and Skee-ball seriously, Full Circle Bar is your spot. This Williamsburg hangout carries over 40 canned beers and boasts its own semi-competitive Skee-ball league called the Brewskee-ball. Assuming there's no tournament going down, you've got a shot at one of the bar's four set-ups, on which no game is complete without a beer in hand and a free hot dog for when you work up a true athlete's appetite.
There's nothing quite like getting up bright and early to toss back a couple of brews at 8am. OK, so eggs and coffee may be the more sensible route, but at least you know you have the option over at Spring Lounge. This Nolita dive has a diverse crowd, a great beer selection, and free beer-braised hot dogs on Wednesdays. The bar was opened illegally in the 1920s as a "to-go" shop and has gone through several transformations since. It became Spring Lounge in the '70s, but is referred to as Shark Bar throughout the neighborhood.
"Enoteca" is Italian for "wine repository," and the restaurant/wine bar boasts an extensive international wine list at reasonable prices, as well as flights of wine.
What could be better than free pizza with every drink? Cheap drinks in the first place! And CL has both!
FREE PIZZA WITH EVERY DRINK PURCHASE!
A small drinking establishment with a large pizza problem.
The best thing about this place is that whenever you order a drink at the bar, you get a free personal pizza (as long as it's between noon and 8pm). On the plus side, they only cost $1 after 8pm.
Originally called the Jolly Rodger, the bar has been a staple in the East Village for over 20 years. Its sub-level/basement gives it a unique feel and a great vibe of the Lower East Village.
Come and unwind with a pint (or "MEGA" pitcher) of one of THEIR handcrafted American ales or microbrews and catch your favorite team on one of the 8 HD screens.
South 4th Bar & Cafe is a dog friendly, neighborhood corner bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Serving great local Irving Farm coffee, quality craft beer, and fine cocktails. South 4th is ideal for playing hangover hooky from work (especially when it’s a hangover you earned at the very same barstool!) or doing actual work by using the free Wi-Fi.
A family run pizza joint with a great atmosphere.
The East Williamsburg neighborhood spot serves 20 craft beers on draft (most of them from New York State), another 20 or more in bottles and cans, and was voted Best Beer Bar in Brooklyn by L Magazine in 2012.
This tap house offers one of the best happy hours in Brooklyn.
This humble Jackson Heights eatery/butcher shop/winery/several other things is a jack of all trades. Pick up some wine (or have a tasting), chow down on tasty spanish fare, or purchase a variety of authentic Spanish products that are tough to find elsewhere.
Offbeat food products you won't find at your local A&P.
This popular grocery store chain is known for its healthy, organic, and artisanal food items. Whole Foods also boasts an impressive cafeteria and regularly offers guests free samples of a variety of products.
This Swiss mega-chocolatier and confectionary company has been supplying sweets to the world since 1845. Today, alongside its chocolatey creations, Lindt also offers bite-size truffles in a variety of flavors.
This no frills Asian grocer is stocked with bins of candies, dried seafood, and other traditional sweets, snacks, and food items.
Zabar's is a Manhattan-based specialty food emporium stocked with gourmet and kosher foods.