The Best Bars in New York City
Whatever your nightlife scene or drink of choice, there’s a New York watering hole to satisfy your tastes. Longtime dive bars and historic taverns are thriving, even as beer gardens and speakeasy-style lounges continue to spread from the East Village to Williamsburg and beyond. Credit for the craft cocktail revival goes largely to NYC native Sasha Petraske, whose legacy lives on at spots like Dutch Kills and Pegu Club. Here are more favorite drinking destinations, from happy hour at Maison Premiere to last call at an iconic hotel bar.
2 E 55th St, New York, NY 10022, USA
The King Cole Bar is about as legendary as any bar in New York. Located in the St. Regis Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, it has been the place to go for a cocktail since it opened in 1932—Salvador Dalí, John Lennon, and Marilyn Monroe are just a few from a long list of famous names who have dropped in for a drink. The bar sits off the St. Regis New York’s lobby and is presided over by the famous King Cole mural painted by Maxfield Parrish, with John Jacob Astor IV playing the part of the king, jesters to each side of him. Today it is still the ultimate setting to start a celebratory evening, or end one with a nightcap; it cemented its place on most lists of New York’s top bars with an extensive renovation in 2013. While the bartenders can prepare anything you might be in the mood for, you may want to order a Bloody Mary. The King Cole Bar boasts that it was the first spot where the drink (then known as a Red Snapper) was served in the United States (a claim, it should be noted, that is disputed by some other bars).
567 Hudson Street
The White Horse Tavern in the West Village is about as old-school as any bar can get. Founded in 1880, its long dark-wood bar is backed by a mirror and lined with stools; vintage prints and photos adorn the walls. It’s also a cultural institution, with James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and Anaïs Nin among the many legendary writers who were patrons. The White Horse’s most famous literary moment took place in November 1953, when Dylan Thomas finished his 18th whiskey (beating his own record) and stumbled into the street. He collapsed and was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital where died. Travelers today can enjoy the atmosphere and order pub-bar favorites and whiskeys too, if that’s your poison—just avoid Thomas’s fatal excess.
383 Carroll Street
The Gowanus Canal has long been a scar on Brooklyn, a toxic Superfund site that the city, state, and federal governments have spent millions of dollars to return to something somewhat closer to a pristine state. With Brooklyn enjoying a red-hot moment, however, developers aren’t waiting for the cleanup to be completed. Alongside new condos are a handful of restaurants and bars attracting intrepid travelers to this part of Brooklyn. Lavender Lake’s name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the canal and the sheen created by pollution on the water’s surface. On a sunny day on the bar’s patio, however, the setting feels more bucolic than post-industrial. The bar’s cocktail menu features spirits infused with chai, yerba maté, and chamomile, as well as its own house-made syrups. The limited menu has some innovative vegetarian options, like the cauliflower Reuben, while carnivores can order burgers and steaks. Lavender Lake is especially lively on summer weekends, when DJs spin in the evenings.
All aboard Grand Banks, a seasonal oyster bar on the historic Sherman Zwicker, the last of a large fleet of schooners that fished the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic and traded goods in South America. It’s docked at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 and serves sustainably-sourced oysters, small plates, and a long list of refreshing cocktails, wines, and beer.
155 Varick Street
City Winery is one of those rare places that does many things well. The fully-functioning winery is also an event venue that hosts live music performances as well as food and wine classes; plus, it serves food, too. The menu is Mediterranean-inspired and each dish is listed with wine pairing suggestions. Prefer to pick your own? You’ve got plenty of choices, with more than 400 labels in the cellar.
2919 24th Avenue
New York City’s oldest beer garden laid its cornerstone more than 100 years ago, and it remains a popular destination for beer lovers of all ages. While it draws visitors year-round, its ample backyard is best enjoyed in warmer months, when a full slate of events makes drinking al fresco even more fun. There’s the stein hoisting competition, dance performances, comedy nights, and more. It’s an easy ride to Astoria from Manhattan, with the beer hall just off the N/Q train.
22 Battery Pl, New York, NY 10004, USA
Pier A has a long and storied history, but its life as a restaurant and bar is relatively new. Opened in 1886 as the headquarters for the Harbor Police and Department of Docks, it served numerous other official government functions before opening in late 2014 in its current iteration. The whispers of the past are hardly visible today, amid the din of happy drinkers quaffing a Pilsener or downing glasses of prosecco or cava while slurping oysters and chatting. Most stick around for sunset: the view of the harbor is stellar.
146 Essex St, New York, NY 10002, USA
“Why are so many people hanging out at this pawn shop?” you might think to yourself while walking along Essex Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But it’s not the goods in this (working!) pawn shop that the hangers-about are interested in; it’s what’s behind the pawn shop’s storefront: Beauty & Essex, a not-so-secret bar with a cavernous space for drinking and over-the-top brunching. In addition to the list of cocktails, wines, and beers, there’s the menu of food to help hold it all down. It includes such fever dream-esque items as tuna poke wonton tacos and shrimp cocktail with a jalapeño remoulade.
530 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001, USA
Located atop The McKittrick Hotel—site of the immersive theater experience “Sleep No More"—Gallow Green is a beguiling outdoor space overgrown with flowers and vines that offers up views of the Hudson River and the High Line. It’s as popular for late-night drinks as it is for weekend brunch; art lovers can fuel up here and then hop around the Chelsea neighborhood afterward. During warmer months, the rooftop hosts “Potions and Plantings,” a monthly tea party for kids (ages 5-10) and their adults. The event outshines all other kids’ tea times in the city (and there are many) and will make the grown-ups want to return for their own happy hour.
298 Bedford Avenue
Maison Premiere’s French influence invites you into another era around its marble horseshoe bar. If you come early, you can take your time here. We were lured by the $1 oyster special during happy hour. It all washed down well with a boozy sazerac and a sweet Pimm’s cup (as pictured). If your liver is craving more, MP has the largest collection of premium absinthe in New York City, centered around “the world’s most accurate working replica of an absinthe fountain,” according to their site. It’s a great place for your day drinking needs.
135 W 45th St, New York, NY 10036, USA
Rooftop bars are a dime a dozen in New York and many of them offer great views of the city’s skyscrapers. For now, at least, none is taller than Bar 54, which sits atop the Hyatt Times Square on the 54th floor. There are aspects of the decor that scream “chain hotel bar” but who’s paying attention? The view is what it’s all about here, especially at sunset. And the drinks, developed by Julie Reiner, owner of the popular Brooklyn cocktail lounge, Clover Club, are attention grabbing, too. Try the Cucumber Jewel, with gin, Lillet Blanc, Cappeletti, pampelmousse, lemon, and cucumber.
622 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10017, USA
Tequila lovers will want to make a beeline to Midtown East for an evening at La Biblioteca (“The Library”), where more than 400 bottles of tequila and other agave-based spirits await. In addition to small-batch produced tequila, which you can order straight or in a cocktail, ask the bartender to pour you a serving of sotol or raicilla. These lesser-known agave spirits are gaining popularity north of the border but remain hard to find, especially outside of big cities.
433 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009, USA
When Death & Company opened in the East Village in 2006 it was not among the first wave of that period’s cocktail revival, but it would prove to be one of the most enduring of the second generation of lounges. The original owners opted for an old-school, speakeasy look that is still maintained—there’s a dim, candle-lit interior with a dark wooden ceiling, a marble-top bar, and waiters in ties and vests. The menu is extensive, with selections accompanied by meditations on the art of craft cocktails. More than 10 years after it first opened, it’s still a beloved spot. You may have to leave your cell number and wait for a call when a space opens up (the bar does not take reservations). Along with the many signature drinks, Death & Company has a menu of bar snacks: Candied bar nuts, cheese curds, and beef sliders, as well as cheese and meat boards, are popular choices.
151 West 51st Street
Le Bernardin’s award-winning wine director Aldo Sohm and acclaimed Chef Eric Ripert opened a wine bar with a downtown feel in a Midtown location. Aldo Sohm offers a small lunch and dinner menu of light fare, but of course the main focus is wine. The space is casual with couches, a communal “sommelier table,” and a private tasting room. Budding sommeliers can reserve wine tasking classes and Aldo Sohm offers monthly themed tasting flights to sample new varieties. During lunch hours the space is usually quiet, but grows crowded by 6 p.m. The menu has many high-end selections, but also more affordable bottles under $50 and glasses around $10. Aldo Sohm is the perfect place for a fun and casual night out. Image courtesy of Aldo Sohm Wine Bar.
425 West 15th Street
Chelsea Market is popular for its diverse restaurants and food stalls, ranging from fresh lobster and seafood to tacos, crepes, and currywurst. Underneath the street level is a less visible but equally popular destination: The Tippler, a cellar-like bar with fixtures made of reclaimed wood and other industrial materials from the nearby High Line. The drink menu features throwback-era cocktails with cheeky names (Montauk Makeout; Poppy Don’t Preach) and a beer selection including seasonal drafts on rotation. Pace yourself by adding a little something from the small plates menu to your order, say, a cheddar and scallion dip or the crack mix (rye bagel chips, corn nuts, and other crunchy treats).
30 Water St, New York, NY 10004, USA
Despite its unappealing name, Dead Rabbit is one of the most popular bars in all of New York City and has also charmed the judges behind the World’s 50 Best Bars list, which listed it second in 2015. Drinks are served in two discrete spaces: The first is the downstairs Taproom, where you can have “craft beer, bottled punch, and whiskeys of the world"; the second is the upstairs Parlor, which features “72 historically-accurate cocktails dreamed up by the 19th century’s most celebrated bartenders.” The names, however, aren’t very 19th-century (and frankly, not all of the ingredients are, either). Take the Snake Charmer, for instance, a concoction of mezcal, New York and Oregon gins, blanc vermouth, yellow chartreuse, and gentiane. Whatever time and place they’re trying to evoke, no one who comes to drink here really seems to care; the cocktails and service are just so great, that’s all that matters.