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The Best Cocktail Bars For Special Occasions

PHOTO: Noah Devereaux

If you’re reading this, congratulations. You have a special occasion to celebrate, and we’re happy for you. Here’s where to go. These bars are all fancier than wherever you usually drink with friends, and you can show up to any of them in a tux or a ball gown, if you happen to be coming from a wedding (maybe your own). Although they don’t all have dress codes, so take a look and find one that sounds right for your next celebratory night out. If you want to drink a $20 cocktail in a t-shirt, there are options here for that too.

The SPots

Death & Co

East Village
433 E. 6th St.
7.8
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Before “craft” cocktail bars were everywhere and bartenders started carving their own ice cubes as if ice machines were never invented, there was Death & Co. It’s one of the original fancy cocktail spots in the city, and it’s probably somewhat responsible for the term “mixology.” And, while it isn’t quite as cool or unique as it used to be, this is still an impressive place to bring an out-of-towner, a date who’s always wanted to come here, or a friend who just passed the bar. Just know that this place doesn’t take reservations, and, since it’s just one narrow room with a few booths and a bar, there will most likely be a wait.

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PDT is another one of the original NYC cocktail spots (from this millennium), and it’s hidden behind a phone booth in the Crif Dogs on St. Mark’s. Once inside, you’ll find a dark space with a low ceiling, a few booths, and a taxidermied bear on the wall. And if you get hungry, they serve fancy hot dogs from the place above them. It gets very busy, so try making a reservation. They only take them same-day (starting at 3pm), and you have to call a phone number. This one: (212) 614-0386.

Little Branch is behind an unmarked door at the corner of 7th and Leroy, and, from the outside, it looks sort of like a bomb shelter. Walk down the stairs to the basement, and you’ll find a little room with a couple of bar seats, a row of booths along one wall, and maybe even a small jazz band playing live music. It’s usually pretty dark in here, and it’s pretty unpretentious for a speakeasy-type bar. We aren’t saying you should wear sweats, but you can get away with jeans and sneakers.

Pegu Club

SoHo
77 W Houston St
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Pegu Club has been around for a while now, and you’ve probably walked by it many times without realizing. It’s on the second floor of a two-story building on Houston, and it would be good for a relatively quiet drink with a client downtown. The space is just one long room with a bunch of armchairs and low tables, and it feels a little like the lobby of a hotel that would have a full-length pool and some very nice sheets. So if you have an acquisition to discuss or you want to pretend that it’s the early 2000s and you’re thinking about becoming an angel investor in Facebook, come here.

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The Rose Bar is behind large velvet curtains on the ground floor of the Gramercy Park Hotel, and the walls are decorated with photos of celebrities like Tupac, Brittney Spears, and Paris Hilton. This should give you some idea of what goes on here. Expect pricey drinks, the occasional semi-famous person, and a space that feels like a Victorian parlor for people who have considered waiting in line for a Supreme drop. Just know that this place turns into a club with a doorman at 9pm, at which point bottle service becomes a thing here.

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Walk into Casa Apicii, take a left, go up the staircase, and you’ll find Bar Fortuna. It’s about the size of a one-bedroom apartment, and it’s filled with little tables, velvet couches, and bookshelves full of alcohol and Italian-language posters. Unlike your average one-bedroom apartment, however, the walls are painted black, and there’s a full bar in the corner. Stop by if you want something nice, but relatively low-key, maybe for a 30th birthday. One of the two small rooms here is available to be rented out in full.

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The rooms at Dear Irving all have a different theme. One is art deco, and another looks like a place where Marie Antoinette would have hung out with her very best friends. This place is on the second floor of an apartment building a few blocks south of Gramercy Park, and you should make reservations well in advance if you want to drink here.

This is the bar on the top of the William Vale Hotel, and the view will remind you why you choose to remain a resident of this crowded and expensive city. There are floor-to-ceiling windows through which can see the Manhattan skyline and parts of Brooklyn, and there are plenty of tables where you can drink outside in the summertime. If you want to play it safe, make a reservation, otherwise you may find yourself in a line in the hotel lobby waiting to get up here for a while.

The Campbell

Midtown
15 Vanderbilt Ave
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Midtown is like an intervention. Nobody chooses to be there. But if you work in the area or have to meet someone there for upscale drinks, you should know about The Campbell. It’s a big space in what used to be the office of a 1920s financier, and it’s great for grabbing a drink with someone who wants to spend a little money and talk about whatever NYC things are currently making them mad (the Knicks, the MTA, etc.). Try to get a table on the upper balcony.

At Top of The Standard, the color scheme is gold. The bar is gold, the tables are gold, and the ceiling is, in fact, gold. So it’s safe to say that you’ll be spending some money here. But if you’re looking for a bar with a view, this is one of the best in the city. It’s one large, open room with high ceilings and fancy booths that make you feel like you’re on a yacht that you could never afford. This place becomes members-only around 10pm, meaning it essentially turns into a club with a doorman and a very strict list.

Photo: Adrian Gaut
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Every year, Brooklyn becomes more like Manhattan. For evidence of this fact, go to Brooklyn Heights Social Club. It’s on the top floor of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, and it feels like something you’d find in the Meatpacking District. Seeing as how it’s in Brooklyn, though, it isn’t quite as irritating, and it’s a good place to drink a well-made cocktail and stare at the Brooklyn Bridge. Although like any place in the Meatpacking District, this place turns into a club once the sun sets. So try to get here early, and be open to the fact that there might be a loud DJ.

7.5
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When old-school places with oysters and fancy drinks started coming back in style around the time that people started taking both Christian Bale and Batman seriously, Clover Club was there to take advantage. And it’s still managed to stay relevant - most likely because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This place has exposed brick walls, a bunch of tables along the wall where you can have a drink, and you can wear either a suit or a t-shirt here. Although you should probably play it safe and wear something in between.

7.8
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If you want to get a drink and eat some excellent food in a space that feels like a billionaire’s library, go to the Nomad Bar. It’s in the bottom of the Nomad Hotel, and they happen to serve one of our favorite burgers, some excellent desserts, and the fanciest chicken pot pie you will encounter. The space has very high ceilings and some nice armchairs, and it’s good for either an impressive date night or a drink with some people who haven’t been to a dive bar for at least two decades. If you need a place to drink with friends or family after you all see Bruno Mars or Rod Stewart at MSG, this is an excellent option nearby.

The Raines Law Room

48 W 17th St
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To get into Raines Law Room, you have to go down a set of stairs on 17th, then pull on a little chain attached to a doorbell beside an unmarked door. Next, you’ll enter a dark space filled with armchairs, couches, and a large number of people on dates. There’s no standing room here, and it generally stays pretty quiet, so it’s a good place to go if you want to be able to drink and have a conversation that you can actually follow. There are also a few curtained-off areas, if you need to discuss a merger or a bank heist, and there’s a secret patio in the back for when it’s warm outside.

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The Freehand Hotel currently has a few different venues. There’s the main dining space Simon & The Whale on the ground floor, and, up a flight of stairs, you’ll find Studio (an all-day restaurant), as well as The George Washington Bar. This last place is just a small room with some couches, rugs, and chandeliers - and, when you’re here, it feels like you’re at a cocktail party in the home of a person who sometimes attends fashion week. You don’t really have to dress up to come here, although you should definitely look presentable, as there’s a decent chance you’ll see someone you know through some form of social media.

Photo: Adrian Gaut
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If you ever need to impress a person who owns several oil fields and/or a yacht named after a deceased pet dog, bring them to the bar at the Baccarat Hotel. Cocktails here start at $26 and top out around $450 (for something made with gold leaf and Louis XIII cognac), and there are bar snacks such as caviar and truffle grilled cheese. It’s a long room with black-and-white checkered floors and some marble busts lying around, and if you brought an oligarch here they would probably say something like, “I have those very same chandeliers.”

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If you were shooting a movie, and you needed to convey the fact that a scene was taking place on the Upper East Side, Bemelmans would be a solid choice. It’s the bar in the bottom of the Carlyle Hotel, and it’s where you can drink a martini while you listen to live jazz. There is, however, a cover charge once the live music starts (around 9:00 or 9:30pm), and you will most likely spend a large amount of money on your drinks. But this place is an NYC classic - and you should probably come here at least once.

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