New bars open all the time in New York - some Elvis-themed tiki bar or Filipino beer garden probably just opened around the corner from wherever you’re currently located. But there’s no better place to drink than a classic.
So we compiled a list of our all-time favorites - the places we find ourselves returning to over and again. They’re the standbys that make this city what it is. In other words: the Greatest Hits.
If you live in New York, you should drink at them all. If you’re visiting, check out as many as you can. Some of them are cocktail bars, some are dives, and some are something in between. All of them are essential New York watering holes.
Places that were super cool when you were 21 typically don’t age well. Mother’s Ruin is the exception to that rule. Today, the bar where you went on your internship payday for a $14 alcoholic slushie is still as excellent as ever. It’s perfect for an after-work drink, it’s perfect for impressing your out-of-town friends (tell them to order a Dirty Martini and watch them be mystified when it comes out blood red) while you wait for your table at Rubirosa, and it’s perfect for a nightcap and Old Bay fries at 3am. Moral of the story: Mother’s Ruin is never a bad decision.
Despite being one of the original speakeasy-style fancy cocktail bars, and despite the fact that the novelty of speakeasy-style bars is officially dead, Maison Premiere has aged extremely well. And that’s because nothing about this place is phoned in - the people here truly care about the details: the cocktails are actually worth their price tag, the staff knows exactly what they’re doing, and the back garden is immaculate. As far as we’re concerned, MP will probably always be the greatest place in Brooklyn to drink cocktails and eat oysters.
Another classic NYC speakeasy that’s still got it? Death & Co. More than 10 years after it opened, this is still one of the greatest temples of craft cocktails in this city. Whether it’s a stop on your East Village one-two punch date night, or you’re making drinks and food here your main event - this place never disappoints.
There are a lot of “famous” hotel bars in New York, and while some of them are nice places, they also make us feel like tourists who don’t know where else to go. The Nomad Bar, which is connected to the Nomad Hotel and its restaurant, isn’t really a hotel bar. What it is is a place with excellent drinks that makes you feel just fancy enough, but is full of people who actually live here. Come here to feel just a little bit special, but not that special. If New York has taught you anything, it’s that you’re only a little bit special, right?
The only bar worth going to in the Financial District is a place worth going even if you avoid the Financial District like it’s the Elmo in Times Square or Murray Hill on St. Patrick’s Day. The cocktails and food are good, and they pull off the “old New York” thing quite well. Entertaining tourists? Skip the Statue Of Liberty and the Seaport and bring them here instead.
Maybe it’s the lack of nearby subway lines, but The Wayland feels like an escape. The inside looks like an upscale cabin in the woods, and sometimes there’s live music. It’s good for a casual date or an even-more-casual cocktail by yourself while you stare out one of the big windows. The drinks are excellent, and you will want to eat everything on the menu. This is what you call a “feel-good bar,” so go here and feel good. If you’re in Alphabet City and you need a bar that isn’t a dive, The Wayland is your best bet.
Did you imagine your life in New York would be a slightly more realistic, slightly grittier version of Friends? Botanica is the place you probably imagined you’d hang out. With cheap drinks at happy hour, kind of grimy floors, and worn-in velvet couches, Botanica is the bar of your 16-year-old self’s dreams. And somehow, it’s still located on Houston, across from a new CVS and down the block from a very overeager REI store. Soho landlords: please don’t raise Botanica’s rent - thanks.
169 Bar does its own thing: there’s a cheetah-print pool table, a painting of dinosaurs, some lawn furniture, a few palm trees, and multicolored lights. It’s a weird place, and everyone fits in. In the daytime it looks like an indoor garage sale, but at night the vibes are consistently low-key and fun. Lazy drinkers can text a drink order to their table, but it’s more fun to walk around and scope out the crowd. 169 Bar is essentially a clubhouse for the Lower Lower East Side, and it’s the perfect place to start your night.
A lot of birthdays between the ages of 26 and 32 happen at Lavender Lake, and that should tell you a lot of what you need to know about this Gowanus spot. There’s a really nice outdoor area as well as a big indoor area, the beer and cocktail varieties are plenty, and the food is even good. If it’s a nice Sunday afternoon, this is one of the best places to drink a cold one.
Black and White is an all-purpose bar. Come here with a date, or come with a bunch of friends. It’s in a basement near Union Square, and the lack of natural light encourages intimacy. The booths in the back are perfect for an all-night group hang, and the music is consistently good. It isn’t especially trendy, but that’s a good thing. Go on a slow night and have it all to yourself, or go on a weekend and enjoy the house-party vibes. Other bars in the area have multiple televisions and extensive cocktail lists, but Black and White has soul. And that’s harder to find.
A Long Island City staple, Dutch Kills is a dark, narrow cocktail lounge that’s usually full of Queens people who love a stiff drink. It can be tough to snag a seat on weekends, but this bar is worth a visit even if you don’t live in or frequent the area often. Pair it up with a visit to Casa Enrique or Mu Ramen and you’ve got a high-quality evening on your hands.
Greenpoint has a ridiculous number of bars. Dive bars, sports bars, cocktail bars, beer bars, outdoor bars, bars in the back of laundromats - this neighborhood has them all. But you’re not reading this because you want to know about every bar in Greenpoint. You’re reading this because you want to know about the one bar you should go to in Greenpoint. And if you enjoy beautiful spaces and expertly-made cocktails, that bar is Ramona - guaranteed to impress anyone, with enough room for a group of 20.
Long before it was making cameo appearances in Aziz Ansari TV shows, Ace Bar was playing a leading role in our East Village rotation. We’ve been coming to Ace Bar since before The Infatuation was a thing, mostly whenever we had a big group rolling around Alphabet City after dinner and looking for something to do. Ace Bar has darts, pool, skeeball, video games, and an extensive vintage lunchbox collection, and that’s why it’s a great place to bring some people who like activities. Drinking is an activity, right?
You know how even the cocktail bar in like, the airport, now has a long menu of cocktails with clever names and which are served in those 1920s glasses that are way too easy to spill? Employees Only is basically responsible for that. Open since 2004, with a semi-hidden entrance and a psychic sitting out front, Employees Only has somehow never gotten gimmicky or pretentious, and those too-easy-to-spill drinks are still really good. Weekends are a crowded, fun time (it’s a good place to meet slightly drunk people), but you can still usually snag a seat on a weeknight.
To us, Spring Lounge is the epitome of a Greatest Hit. It has all the necessary components of a classic New York City dive bar. Smells of old socks and dust? Check. Random European tourists? Check. Great jukebox? Check. Giant shark hanging over the bar? Also check. We’ve never had a bad time at Spring Lounge, even though it’s always crowded and never not stinky. You will too.
For all its shopping and tourists and people who have money to spend on unnecessary things like a seventh drink, the Soho/Nolita area is strangely lacking in bars - and severely lacking in bars with outdoor space. Enter Sweet & Vicious, a (by all accounts, kind of gross) dive bar that’s earned its place on this list for two reasons: a killer back patio, and dangerously strong frozen margaritas. This is a great place to plan a coworker drinks hang - just don’t blame us if you go heavy on the frozens and wake up the next morning not remembering anything that happened after you told Steve you liked his shirt.
Every neighborhood has a local bar, but few neighborhoods have a local bar like The Crown Inn: always full of people (but not so packed that you want to run away), with a fantastic bourbon selection and an excellent back patio, and a high likelihood you’ll chat with some regulars. The Crown Inn is yet another reason you should be spending more time on Franklin Ave. in Crown Heights.
Big, comfy leather booths, $6 shot + beer combos, two big rooms plus an outdoor space - on paper, these are the reasons you come to Bushwick’s Three Diamond Door. But in reality, you come here because it has all of those things, plus the kind of feel-good vibe that makes you want to move in. Not quite a dive, but definitely not fancy - this is the kind of middle-ground spot that’s perfect for most drinking situations.
If Williamsburg were a vampire, you’d have to drive a stake through The Commodore to kill it. Go out around Bedford Ave, and you will most likely end up at this bar. The space is dark, the music is loud, and you will probably see someone you know. The house cocktail is a piña colada with an amaretto float. Don’t question it, just get one. You might look dumb with the tall plastic hurricane glass, but, by the second round, we doubt you’ll care. If you get hungry, the Commodore has you covered with its burgers and fried chicken.
Clover Club was one of the first spots to make craft cocktails a thing in Brooklyn. But unlike its Manhattan peers, getting into Clover Club has never been a hassle - which is why it’s always been our go-to post-dinner after a meal in Cobble Hill or Carroll Gardens. There are big comfy booths, there’s plenty of bar seating and standing room, and it has an old-school look without being kitschy.
An Upper West Side pub with a beer selection that will test your dedication to drinking beer. There are so many things to drink here that they have a 100 beer club. At first, we thought you could only get into it if you drank 100 beers in a row, but it turns out you just have to try 100 different beers over a lifetime. Either way, we challenge you to it.
Union pool is where you go to meet someone other than your future spouse. You probably won’t end up doing the crossword together, but you will have fun. Because that’s what you do at Union Pool. In the summertime, it’s really just one big backyard hang. The drinks are cheap, there’s a taco truck in the back, and, on weekends, most of Williamsburg is present. Go with friends, or go alone and make new friends. When you want to be shoulder to shoulder with a lot of drunk and happy people, Union Pool is the place to go.
The Rusty Knot has three things we love: comfy chairs, a pool table, and tiki drinks. The inside looks like a rec room from the sixties, and if you get a seat in the window you can watch the sun as it sets over the Hudson. It gets crowded on weekends, but, if your group claims the pool table, this makes you defacto masters of the bar. The Caribbean theme suggests vacation, so eat a pretzel dog to soak up the extra drinks you order.
Look for the “ON AIR” sign on 9th Street, and walk downstairs into the underground cave known as Sake Bar Decibel. There’s graffiti on the walls, the lights are tinted red, and the sake list is long and fairly cheap. Everyone who’s ever been here has been delighted by the experience (it’s a fact), and everyone who’s been here has walked out drunker than they realize (also a fact).