Maybe it’s because we spend most of our time in artificially-lit apartments and offices - or it could be that we just got through three straight months of being improperly dressed for the weather. Regardless, when people in this city finally have the chance to spend time outside, we get pretty excited, and as a result, most outdoor bars seem to fill up within seconds of opening. But there are still a fair number of spots that are great and usually not packed. So next time you’re looking to drink outside and would rather not spend half your daily allowance of natural light waiting in line in front of a hotel, use this guide.
Even on the six days this summer when it’s warm and sunny without being so hot you secretly want to sit in front of an air conditioner all day, Rooftop Reds won’t be crowded. That’s because this wine garden/working vineyard at the top of an unmarked Brooklyn Navy Yard building is reservation-only. The space is huge, so once you’re in, you shouldn’t have trouble finding an available hammock or space to play cornhole. Plus, many of the housemade wines are under $40 a bottle, and there’s a BYO food policy - so it’s basically like drinking wine with friends in a park, but not illegal.
If you want a bar on the water that’s big enough for large groups, but don’t want to wait behind half of Dartmouth’s Sig Ep chapter at the Frying Pan, check out Anable Basin, an all-outdoor drinking spot located behind some warehouses on the water in Long Island City. They play pretty loud trance music from speakers at the bar, so if that’s not your thing, just bring your drinks and food to the picnic tables at the far end of the space. Wherever you sit, you’ll get a nice view of Midtown.
Most people know Spuyten Duyvil as the place you go while you’re waiting for a table at St. Anselm. And while it definitely works for that, it’s also just a good spot to drink outside in Williamsburg - especially if you like beer, since you can choose from more than 100 options (they have wine and snacks, too). The big backyard is surrounded by a brick wall covered with hanging ivy, and the seat-yourself tables are constantly becoming available as people head next door for steak.
A rooftop bar at a new hotel with great views sounds like the kind of place that reaches capacity while you’re still ordering brunch. But that’s not the case with this spot at the top of the Boro Hotel in Long Island City. It’s on the small side - there are just a few couches, tables, and counter seats looking out over LIC and Manhattan - but it rarely gets packed, and it’s a nice spot for a cocktail. We also like Beebe’s (the restaurant on the ground floor), so keep them both in mind for a one-two punch with a date or small group.
This Greenpoint spot doesn’t have scenic views of Manhattan like Northern Territory or Brooklyn Barge - but it also doesn’t have as many spilled beers or pairs of pastel shorts. The huge backyard with couches and table-service has plenty of room for you to move without bumping into people, so it’s a great spot to bring a larger group (and it’s also dog-friendly, in case said group includes a couple of pets).
Bonnie Vee looks kind of like a dark pub where you’d drink after falling into debt with a dangerous bookie. But if you head to the back of this little Lower East Side cocktail bar, you’ll find an outside area with some nice padded patio furniture. You have to sit and order from a server out there, so it doesn’t get too rowdy - just keep in mind that since the space isn’t huge, you might have to wait a bit for seats.
Cape House is a seafood restaurant/bar in Bushwick with an outdoor patio roughly twice the size of its indoor space. You can pretty much always find a seat out there, and it’s a great place to eat a lobster roll or some clam strips in the summertime. They serve a burger and a fried chicken sandwich, too, in case you don’t feel like eating things that come from the ocean. Stay late enough, and you can also dance at Rose Gold, the club downstairs.
A waterfront FiDi bar with great views is never going to fly under the radar, and you shouldn’t expect to arrive at Pier A and find the outdoor picnic tables empty. But the space is so gigantic that it still rarely feels too crowded. It’s a good spot to get a pitcher of beer or sangria and some fried seafood, as long as you’re fine with occasionally being asked to take pictures of families posing in front of the Statue of Liberty.
Park Slope has plenty of outdoor spaces, like front yards of brownstones, playgrounds of competitive elementary schools - and bars like Mission Dolores. This is a dog-friendly indoor/outdoor spot with 20 beers on tap, and it usually stays pretty low-key. If you feel yourself starting to burn after that fourth pint outside, you can always head indoors to play pinball or some board games.
It seems like just about every spot between Houston Street and Washington Square Park is someplace you could drop in for a drink - dives, wine bars, NYU housing. And GMT may seem like just another dark bar on Bleecker. But what sets this place apart is its large sidewalk seating area. In the rare instance when all the outdoor tables are taken, grab any of the 30 beers on tap ($5 during Happy Hour) at the bar inside.
This bar/music venue in East Williamsburg doesn’t have much of a view - it’s just one story high - but it’s still technically on a rooftop. Try it for an outdoor group hang, or a dance party when you don’t feel like dealing with a line or a huge crowd. They occasionally host events up here, like outdoor movies and musical performances, so check to see what’s going on before you head over - there might be a cover.
L.I.C. Bar is a casual spot to get cheap Happy Hour drinks and watch sports on TV, but the real selling point here is the back garden enclosed by an ivy-covered brick wall. It’s convenient to the subway and only a few blocks from MoMA PS1 - plus, it’s rare that all the tables here are taken, even when there’s live music on the weekends.
There are a lot of big outdoor bars around Gowanus, and they all tend to get incredibly busy whenever it’s sunny out and humidity levels are bearable. So if you’re avoiding crowds, try a smaller one, like Givers and Takers. It also happens to be a great place to wait for a table at Claro (which is next door).
Hudson’s at Pier 81
If the idea of being stuck in the middle of a river for two hours doesn’t immediately give you anxiety, try Hudson’s. It’s a big boat docked at Pier 81 near West 41st Street, and every night except Monday, it leaves shore and travels around the Statue of Liberty. If you want to eat a multi-course meal here, you can reserve a table in the main dining room, but we don’t recommend that - partly because the food is overpriced and disappointing, and partly because staying indoors on a boat is like going to Paris and never seeing the Louvre. Hang out at the bar on the upper deck instead.