Do your plans tonight involve meeting a former coworker you haven’t had a real conversation with in a few months? Or maybe a college friend who recently quit her job and suddenly wants to catch up? Or maybe you finally agreed to let your neighbor set you up with his nephew?
Your best move for navigating any of these slightly tricky situations is to go to a bar that serves good food. It’s the ideal noncommittal setup that allows you to meet for a drink, and if that’s all the time you need, be on your merry way without any awkwardness. If you end up having a better time than expected, this solution also ensures you won’t have to bail when you realize you haven’t eaten since noon. These spots have your bases covered either way.
Lighthouse is good for a whole range of casual situations. You can eat healthy here, or you can have a burger. You can also bring a date, or you can come here for drinks and a snack with your parents (or yourself). You can get a whole spread of mezze plates, or you can just have a chicken sandwich and get out for less than 20 bucks. The outdoor atmosphere is casual, and the Mediterranean food is consistently excellent. Plus, beers start at $5.
This Basque spot on East Broadway is open for outdoor dining every day, and it’s ideal for a drink and some snacks outside. We especially like the gilda skewer with tuna and the delicate potato croqueta, which has a bechamel center that tastes like the lovechild of chicken noodle soup and macaroni and cheese. Think of Ernesto’s as the perfect neighborhood spot to drink some interesting wine and catch up with a friend. Although (unlike other neighborhood wine spots), they serve a mountain of potato chips and ham.
If you live near Cobble Hill, it’s possible Clover Club is already your go-to drinks spot and you’ve had lots of very enjoyable nightcaps here. While Clover Club’s drinks are fantastic, the food - like mac and cheese with smoked bacon, and steak tartare on housemade focaccia - make it a good option for some snacks, too.
This Italian bar and cafe is from the team behind Via Carota - and it’s located directly across the street on 7th Avenue. It’s an excellent place to order a negroni and some arancini outside. The menu is short, and consists of snacks that are both very Italian and very small, so this is not a place for a full dinner - it’s a place to stop by during the day, or kick off your night. Just be aware you may have to wait for a table during peak hours.
If you’re meeting someone who gets excited about wine (or someone you want to impress with your own excitement about wine), head to Ruffian. This bar in the East Village has over 250 wines - most of which are natural options from small producers in southern and eastern Europe - and a very knowledgeable staff that’s happy to discuss fermentation methods, or to tell you what’s “funky as f*ck,” depending on your preference. Along with great wine, this place has a comfortable outdoor set-up built in front of their spot on East 7th Street.
The huge rooftop bar at City Vineyard is one of the best places to grab an outdoor drink downtown. It’s off the Hudson River running path in Tribeca, with great views of FiDi and the Hudson, and the big selection of wines here includes a bunch of affordable, on-tap options made nearby at City Winery. To go along with the views and wine, there’s solid bar food like fried calamari, oysters, and a burger with gruyere and tomato aioli.
If you want to relaxed bar atmosphere on the LES, check out Bar Goto. It’s a little Japanese-inspired cocktail bar that does some very good appetizers, including excellent spicy miso chicken wings. Just get here on the early side if you don’t want to wait - they only have a couple of sidewalk tables.
Leyenda makes some of the best cocktails in Brooklyn, and the mezcal, tequila, and cachaça-based drinks are reason enough to come to this Cobble Hill bar. But this place also serves some very good Latin food, like pork tacos with pineapple and enchiladas topped with thick mole. All of the above is best enjoyed on the patio out back.
We can’t quite figure out if Bar Beau is primarily a cocktail bar or restaurant, which, for the purposes of this guide, actually works out quite nicely. This Williamsburg spot has a bunch of tables on the sidewalk, and dinner served every day starting at 5pm. There’s an entire menu section dedicated to shared snacking items like marinated olives and polenta fritters with scallop.
Terre serves natural wine along with cheese and charcuterie, which sounds about as unusual as Georgetown hats in Kips Bay. But what sets this Park Slope Italian spot apart is in the details, like the fact that over 100 wines are served by the glass, and the large number of options you have when it comes to imported meats, cheese, and olive oils. Terre also serves housemade pastas and a few entrees, but you should primarily keep this place in mind for glasses of obscure, often-funky wines and small plates in their sidewalk cafe with a date.
This all-day cafe was basically made for casual meetup scenarios. It’s also not the kind of place where you’re going to be tempted to eat until you’re stuffed - not because the food isn’t good, but just because it’s more of a meet-up-for-a-drink spot than anything. We recommend it for pretty much any kind of company.
Not only has this Williamsburg Peruvian spot set up a block of heated cabins on its sidewalk, but they’ve also included woven light fixtures, insulated curtains, and complimentary blankets in each one. You can make a reservation for snacks and drinks through their website or by calling 718-387-3434. Plus, they’ve got new menu items like hot black bass ceviche and banana and queso helado ice cream cake.
When you’re “meeting someone for a drink,” you often have very little idea how your night is going to play out. You could hit it off - or you could awkwardly talk about the weather and TikTok’s influence on pop music for 45 minutes before someone makes up an excuse to leave. It’s stressful. Which is why you need a place that will mitigate that stress - not with $22 cocktails. Enter Maiden Lane, a bar that’s particularly good at just being a normal bar - with crab dip and a sidewalk patio at the ready.
People can’t resist an alcoholic slushie (or three), and Mother’s Ruin knows it. In addition the rotating selection of frozen drinks, they also serve wine on tap. This outdoor area gets loud, so don’t plan to have a super intimate heart to heart. Do plan to order the fried chicken sandwich and Old Bay waffle fries, though.
You rarely find a good cocktail bar with a great burger. But a good cocktail bar with a great burger, on the Upper East Side? That’s something special. Use Eli’s (and their sidewalk patio) for anything from a first date to a professional hang.
If you like the idea of pairing high-quality cocktails with some very good seafood, then you should try Grand Army in Boerum Hill. They have an excellent raw bar as well as some other dishes, like fluke crudo and a charcuterie platter with shrimp sausage, that will make you want to eat a full dinner here in the very near future. The corner sidewalk patio is a great backdrop for a hangout of any variety.
Epistrophy is casual enough that you wouldn’t feel weird about showing up post-workout, but not so casual that you’d feel weird about meeting up with your former boss there. Its Nolita sidewalk space makes it pretty perfect for most kinds of hangouts, and in addition to classic cocktails and a solid wine list, they also have a lengthier menu (Italian) than most of the other spots on this list.
A cocktail bar first and restaurant second, The Happiest Hour is where you go when you need an A+ cocktail and something tasty to soak it up. Their sidewalk setup gets busy, so think of Happiest Hour when you’re looking for more of a party environment than a quiet night. Also, it’s imperative you get a tiki drink and one of our favorite burgers in the city.
There are a lot of reasons you might end up at Station House for a drink. It’s a short walk from Forest Hills LIRR and Subway stops, it serves good cocktails and draft beers, and it has a bunch of TVs playing sports. Whatever your reason for being here, you should order some food - like a massive burger topped with melted cheese, fried onions, and braised brisket, or the poutine.
Blondies shows games on indoor and outdoor TVs, and attracts the sort of crowd who specifically came to watch those games. But just because it’s a serious sports bar doesn’t mean you can’t also get some good food here. There’s standard bar food like burgers and waffle fries, but you’re really here for the crispy buffalo wings doused in hot sauce, which are some of the best in the city.