In an ideal world, every bar would have activities. That way, life would never be boring, and every bad date could be saved by a round of skee-ball or Pictionary. But our world isn’t quite there yet - so we put together a list of our favorite places to drink and play games. Get some friends together, then head to one of these spots and try to make it through an hour of shuffleboard or Scrabble without getting weirdly competitive.
Royal Palms is almost exactly like the deck of cruise ship. The only things missing are the sun, the ocean, and the ship itself. And while those things might seem essential, they really aren’t. With 10 shuffleboard courts and an infinite supply of board games, you don’t really need anything else. This place is massive, and it’s a classic spot for a birthday party or any other kind of group hang in Gowanus. If you have 10 or more people, you can reserve your own court, and there’s usually a food truck there serving something like pasta or tacos.
Some bars have a video game or two, but Barcade is filled with them. Each of the three NYC locations has an abundance of vintage game machines, and they also have a lot of craft beer. It’s like a playground for people who are old enough to feel nostalgic for a Ninja Turtles game that wasn’t based on a film by Michael Bay. Stop by with some friends, or bring a date if you’ve already demonstrated maturity and would now like to play Street Fighter.
If you miss college, and you happen to spend time on the Upper East Side, go to Earl’s Beer & Cheese. It’s a little bar on Lexington between 97th and 98th, and it’s decorated kind of a like a dorm room. There are some Christmas lights and stuffed deer heads on the walls, and you’ll probably see some people playing Jenga or Trivial Pursuit here. It’s perfect for when you want to hang out with a beer and distract yourself for an hour or two, and they serve grilled cheese and corned beef sandwiches that your college-aged self would have liked to eat every night.
Maybe you’ve seen pictures of old people rolling balls in a town square in Italy. That’s bocce. Union Hall has two indoor bocce courts, and they’re first-come-first-served (unless a bocce league is using them). So go ahead and learn how to play. It isn’t hard, and it’s good for groups, because everyone will be equally bad at it. The courts might be full when you get there, but you can always just grab a cocktail and wait on a couch. This place feels like the library in a hunting lodge, so it’s also pretty good for date night.
Jack & Fanny’s is one of our favorite casual cocktail bars on the UES, in part because there’s a lot of room and the cocktails have names like “Boulevardi Hayyyy.” As an added bonus, there’s also a bocce court in the back. If it’s occupied, you can always hang out nearby and heckle the players until someone says something like, “Hey, I’m thinking about fighting you.” And once you get tired of that, there are some couches up front where you can hang out with your friends.
Maybe you’ve been afraid of boredom ever since you forgot to bring a book or laptop on your last international flight. Go get a drink at E’s Bar in Morningside Heights. There’s a big area in the back filled with tables, board games, a couple of pinball machines, and some dart boards. There’s also a jukebox and a big menu of things like burgers and nachos, so all in all, you have plenty of activity options.
Technically, staring at a big fish tank is an activity, and you can do that at Dive 75. But if that isn’t fun enough for you, you can also play one of the many board games hidden in the back corner of this little Upper West Side neighborhood bar. You can even turn them into drinking games, and no one will judge you. Just claim the couch all the way in the back under the portrait of Steve Zissou, and hang for as long as you want.
Fat Cat isn’t where you have a first date, and it isn’t where you have a second, third, or fourth date either. It just isn’t romantic. But it does have games. This West Village bar has ping pong, pool, shuffleboard, foosball, checkers, chess, and probably a bunch of other things that we’re forgetting. That’s what you come here for. Sure, it kind of feels like the common area of a frat house, and you have to pay a cover - but at least they have live music, and they’re open until 5am every single night.
Ace Bar looks pretty average, but it has plenty of space, the drinks aren’t expensive, and your activity options include pool, skee-ball, and darts. And that’s why this place is one of our favorite bars in NYC. Just know that it gets busy on weekends, so either show up early or be prepared to stare passive-aggressively at people while you wait your turn to play games.
Two-Bit’s is a good spot to grab a drink and play some arcade games, including that one where you hit a punching bag to show your friends you care how strong they think you are. It might not be as big as Barcade, but it also doesn’t get as busy, and while it isn’t especially charming or attractive, it’s a good place to kill time on the Lower East Side. Stop by the next time you and a friend don’t want to be the first ones to a party, and find a fighting game so you can mash all the buttons until you probably lose.
Blue Ribbon Kanpai Garden is at the 60 LES hotel, and they have a great outdoor patio. It might only be on the second floor, but you can just think of it is a really low rooftop that’s great for day drinking. They have ping pong and board games, so go with a few people who aren’t super-competitive and won’t be upset if you beat them at ping pong or board games. Although beer pong is also an option, and in that game everyone wins.
The Diamond feels kind of like a college rec room. There’s shuffleboard, some kind of ring game, and a cutout of Pa Ingalls from the television series Little House on the Prairie hanging on the wall. They also have a very nerdy beer selection, which fits in with the whole college feel of the place. So stop by for a low-key hang with that one friend who’s always talking about that one type of beer you can only get in Colorado.
Freehold has a great backyard, and if drinking outside isn’t a fun enough activity for you, they also have some ping pong tables. This is a big bar in Williamsburg that feels a lot like a hotel lobby, and it gets packed on weekends - so the ping pong tables tend to be occupied. But if you head indoors, you can find a few semi-hidden skee-ball machines in the back. They also have Big Buck Hunter, if you want to shoot some deer without experiencing any residual guilt.
Technically, this country club has a golf course. Although, also technically, that golf course is a mini-golf course - and it’s the worst you’ve ever seen. Also, this “country club” is actually a dive bar. They do have Big Buck Hunter, however, and bad mini-golf is better than no mini golf at all. So if you’re in Williamsburg (not Bushwick, despite the name) and you want cheap drinks and a few games, come here.
When you want a real mini-golf experience, go to Brooklyn Crab. You’ll have to travel all the way to Red Hook, but the space is huge, with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and you can always go buy a dresser at Ikea afterwards. This is a seafood restaurant that specializes in crab and lobster, and it happens to have a great backyard full of games. If it’s nice out and you want to eat shellfish and play something, make a trip over.
Nowadays is a huge outdoor bar, and ideally it’s where you’d start every weekend in the summer. This place is in Ridgewood, and it’s worth making a trip out every once in a while, even if you don’t live nearby. You can hang at a picnic table outside, have some drinks, and play ping pong. Or, if you come on a Sunday afternoon, you can take part in the dance party known as Mr. Sunday.
The Bad Old Days is essentially the first off-campus house you lived in when you were in college, but with legal alcohol, and in Ridgewood. It isn’t huge, but there are a couple of small couches, and some shelves filled with books and board games. There’s also an old Nintendo attached to a little television at one end of the bar. They do a good Happy Hour with beer-and-shot specials and $6 wine, and they occasionally host bingo nights, too.
Maybe you need something a bit more exciting than a board game, and/or you’ve been watching a lot of Vikings on the History Channel. You should enjoy Kick Axe Throwing, a big venue in Gowanus where you pay $35 for the opportunity to throw an axe at a large wooden target. It’s a fun place to go with a group, and if you’re thinking that there couldn’t possibly be alcohol here, you’d be wrong. There’s beer and wine - and the whole setup is actually much less dangerous than it sounds. Employees keep a close watch over everything, and there’s no actual person-on-person combat.