If you work or live in Midtown, then you know there are a lot of bars. You also probably know that too many of them fall on extreme ends of the spectrum. It can feel like every place is either a depressing dive characterized by stale beer and permanently sticky floors, or a fancy cocktail lounge where you’ll pay $23 for a martini and sit next to a mutual fund CFO visiting from St Louis. When you want a place to grab drinks with co-workers or friends in the area, you probably just want a casual bar that’s neither a mess nor particularly upscale. A spot where you can catch up with an old colleague without standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 400 Rangers fans or getting an eye-roll from the bartender in suspenders when you say that you’ll just have a beer. So next time you need a place for casual drinks, skip the bright chains and the dark dives, and use this guide to find a normal bar in Midtown.
Grabbing a drink around Times Square doesn’t have to mean deciding between tall boys at TGI Fridays and $24 cocktails at a hotel bar. The Long Room is only a couple blocks from where tourists are paying money to take pictures with a guy still wearing his $29 Batman outfit from Halloween, but it’s a low-key spot where you’re more likely to see after-work crowds than families wearing matching I Heart NY shirts. They have a lot of beers on tap and a big whiskey selection, which you can drink at the long, narrow bar up front or on leather couches or communal tables in the large, loungey space in the back.
The Shakespeare looks like a pub you’d find in the English countryside rather than a couple blocks from Bryant Park and Grand Central, but you’ll quickly realize that you’re not in Gloucestershire when the Happy Hour crowds stream in for $5 beers and $6 wines before 7pm. If you can get a table or you come during less busy times, this is a great place to meet friends for drinks and high-end bar food in Midtown.
Hudson Malone is a good utility spot to know about in Midtown. It’s a few feet from the Lexington Ave E/F/M, so the big, two-floor spot fills up with after-work crowds. If you don’t want to exchange business cards with with those people from the agency three floors down from you standing by the bar, you can sit in the more loungey space upstairs.
When your friend says, “Let’s go check out a beer bar near Bryant Park,” you may assume that their office moved to Midtown, or they need someone to drink with after their ice skating date didn’t pan out. But The Ginger Man actually has enough going on that you should check it out whenever you want a big space with a huge beer selection (around 70 options on tap) in a convenient location. The back room looks like the common room of a grad library, so keep it in mind when you want to drink beers on a couch that’s not in your apartment.
When you think of a suspendered bartender making good cocktails in Midtown, you probably think of $22 martinis in small, dimly lit lounges attached to hotels. Tanner Smith’s, on the other hand, is a big, bright space with a long menu of well-made house cocktails that are all about $16. Up front, there’s a long bar and a few tables, and open space for standing when they don’t have live music. This place is in the middle of the Theater District, and the big booths towards the back of the space work well for group drinks and bites before or after a show.
The Horny Ram is usually filled with people a couple years out of college who probably recently learned how to do their taxes. Come here and listen to loud music on the relatively crowded ground floor, or hang at the more low-key upstairs bar that has a small balcony overlooking 2nd Avenue during nice weather.
Faces & Names has caricatured paintings of celebrities on the walls and it’s a few blocks from Times Square, but it’s actually pretty low-key and is one of the best spots to get casual drinks in the mid-50’s. Up front there’s a square bar and some two-tops, while the back area has another bar along with lounge chairs and booths around a fireplace. You can come solo for a beer after work, or hang with a big group before a show.
Valhalla may look like a random bar in the East Village, but you won’t find any pong-appropriate light beers at this casual spot in Hell’s Kitchen. Most of the 40 beer draught beers are pretty rare and none are cheaper than $8. The one-room space can get a bit loud after work, but you can usually find seats at a picnic table or the long bar.
Redemption is one of the many casual bars in Midtown that describes itself as a lounge, which we’ve never understood. While this place does have a couple booths towards the back, it’s a brightly lit bar that offers good drink specials every day. Keep it in mind when you want to grab a drink a block from the Lexington Ave E/F/M and lounge for a bit after work.
The bartenders at Stag’s Head take their beers pretty seriously, and you’re probably going to get something you like whether you ask for “anything that’s like Stella” or “something rare and ultra hoppy.” This dark bar in Turtle Bay also has some picnic tables in the backyard, which is one of the better spots casually drink outside in Midtown.
Atwood is a bar in Midtown East that has sports on TV, but it’s not the kind of spot where a guy in a Jets jersey stands on his chair when they score in the first quarter, and is sleeping in a booth with wing sauce on his cheeks by halftime. You can sit at the communal table by the entrance with a group and drink house cocktails, or sit in one of the cool wrought-iron stools at the bar and watch sports on the various flat screens. The ground floor and the upstairs area, which they open during Happy Hour, have doors that fully open when it’s nice out.
If you’re looking for Happy Hour within walking distance of Columbus Circle or the Theater District, the one at Alfie’s lasts from 11am to 8pm (Mon-Fri). The one-room space has tables along the walls, a long bar with a couple TVs, and some standing tables in the middle of the room that work well for small groups. They also do drink specials after midnight if you’re craving beers and cheese curds after nursing a Jack and Coke for three hours at Wicked.
If you work in Midtown East, Cornerstone is a good place to know about for casual drinks after work. The long bar and high four-tops fill up around 5pm, but the second floor has more seating and another bar. If your co-workers frown on watching soccer or baseball at your desk, you can also come to Cornerstone for a burger and beer at lunch and watch in peace.
Lilly’s looks like the kind of college town bar where grad students get beers after exams or pick-up rugby games. The exposed brick and long wooden bar make it feel civilized enough to meet an old colleague after work, or you can get drinks with college friends who all also work in Midtown now, and end up singing along to “Come On Eileen” at one of the six-person high-tops. Either way, make use of a long tap list and Happy Hour everyday till 8pm.