There are a few frustrating realities about living in New York. One is that it’s really hard to take the subway from north to south Brooklyn. Another is that city squirrels are uglier than country squirrels. And a third is that you’re going to have to wait if you want to eat at some of the best restaurants.
Once you’ve come to terms with the whole “having patience” thing, it’s time to make a plan. Here’s our guide to where to hang out near 10 great restaurants in the city that consistently have long waits. For each spot, we’ve listed a few bars where you can hang out until your table is ready - all of which are a lot more fun than re-lacing your sneakers or reorganizing your phone apps for the third time.
al di la
This Park Slope spot can go either way with waits. It’s possible you’ll show up on a Friday and be seated within a few minutes, but it’s also possible you’ll have to wait an hour. Either way, once you’re in, you’ll feel like you want to spend your whole evening here, sitting in front of a plate of simple, excellent pasta. (Which is probably why the waits can get long to begin with.)
If you end up in the hour-long-wait camp, walk to the end of the block on Carroll Street and hang out at Mission Dolores. This is a beer bar with an outdoor space (where you might see dogs) and some pinball machines and board games. If you’re having a casual date night or going to Al Di La with your family, this is a fun place to wait.
If, on the other hand, you’re feeling slightly fancy and/or romantic, get a cocktail at Blueprint. There are no dogs here, unfortunately, but the bar stays open until 2am, in case you need a post-dinner spot, too.
We can’t really think of a time of day when Roberta’s isn’t crowded (especially when it’s nice outside - they have one of the largest and best patio setups in the whole city). So it’s very possible you’ll have enough time to go get a tattoo of their Bee Sting pizza before you can actually eat it. It’s just part of the experience.
If you’re not feeling the tattoo idea, try Benelux, a casual beer bar that’s named after the union of three European countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). There are a bunch of tables where you can sit and Google things about the EU, and there’s also a full menu of bar food, in case you have a hanger situation on your hands.
Or, walk in the opposite direction and check out El Cortez - a tropical-feeling ’70s-themed bar with Tex-Mex food and tiki drinks. This place has a bit more of a party atmosphere.
Waits at this popular Italian spot in the West Village can be extremely long (think three+ hours), and they won’t text you when your table is ready - you either have to hang out here, or come back at the appointed time and hope things work out. All that being said, if you’re willing to commit...
Finding The Garret is slightly trickier than finding most other bars (it’s up a flight of stairs inside the Five Guys on 7th Avenue), but that’s part of the fun of coming here. That, and the cocktails and loud Top 40 they play.
Blind Tiger is a relaxed bar very close to Via Carota with one of the largest and best beer selections in the neighborhood. It’ll probably be busy, but you’ll at least be able to get in the door. Hang out with your arms crossed by the big bar and you may even be able to get a table within a relatively short amount of time.
Most people who hang out below 14th Street will probably want to eat at Kiki’s at some point during their time in NYC - because it’s fun, it’s not too expensive, and the Greek food is very good. For all these reasons, there’s usually a long wait on weekends (it’s walk-in only).
169 Bar is exactly .01 miles away from Kiki’s, and it’s one of our favorite bars in the area, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and there’s always a fun crowd. The setup is dive-y, with neon flashing dinosaurs on the walls and fish tanks with baby dolls in them. Also, you can text your drink order in from your table.
If you’re hoping for more of a low-key evening, or if you’re on a date, Bar Belly is another nearby bar that stays a little quieter. There’s a Happy Hour from 5-7pm every day except Sunday, with deals involving $1 oysters and $8 and $9 cocktails and wine.
Eating at Lucali takes more commitment and effort than you put into most birthdays. There are supposedly a limited number of reservations, but if you don’t get one of those (and you probably won’t), plan on showing up early. They don’t open until 5:45pm, but they start taking names around 5:00, so get there a bit before then if you’re hoping for one of the earlier seatings (otherwise, you might be looking at a three-hour wait).
Lucali is BYOB, and it’s a great place to drink a nice bottle of wine. If you want to start your wine-drinking experience early, go to June Wine Bar, which is small and intimate, and has a lot of natural wine options. You can also get beer and cocktails, and during the week, there’s a Happy Hour from 5-7pm with deals on drinks and snacks.
It’s very possible you’ll have enough time to see a full-length film before your meal at Lucali. So don’t rule it out. The theater is a 10-minute walk from the restaurant, and you can see their schedule here.
More pizza that people are willing to wait for. Rubirosa has been known to give two-hour wait times on a Tuesday night (usually it’s slightly faster than they say, though). You want the vodka pizza, and some of the pastas, too.
Spring Lounge is pretty much as divey as Nolita gets. This is where you go if you just want to sit at a wooden table with some people you like and drink some beer before your table’s ready.
For something slightly more romantic, try this nearby wine bar. Part of the charm is how tight it is in here, and the fact that they open the big windows in the front when it’s nice outside.
Getting a table at Uncle Boons - which isn’t far from Rubirosa - can sometimes take even longer. On a Friday night, you could be looking at a three-hour wait to eat some excellent fried rice with crab meat and khao soi in a space that feels like a treehouse.
If it’s the weekend or even a Thursday, Mother’s Ruin will feel more like a crowded concert than a bar (just without the live music). But maybe that’s exactly the kind of evening you’re looking for. We support you - you should celebrate the fact that you’re finally eating at Uncle Boons.
If you don’t like crowds or tight spaces, Vig Bar might be more your speed. This is an ideal work Happy Hour spot, so you’ll probably see teams of people who sit together at desks all day. There’s a lot of space, and a Happy Hour until 8pm every day.
Technically you can make a reservation at Au Cheval up to a week in advance (mostly for really early or really late seatings). But the majority of people eating cheeseburgers and fried bologna sandwiches in this upscale diner have all followed the same routine: they walked in, put their names in, and waited between 2-3 hours.
If you walk past the coffee shop on the first floor of Au Cheval, then go down the stairs, you’ll see a closed door with an ominous red tint coming through the little window. This is Au Cheval’s bar, and for some reason, it doesn’t get very busy. Just know that it’s incredibly dark down here (like won’t-be-able-to-read-the-menu dark), and the cocktails are mostly $18. Time goes by way faster in this basement - plus, they serve some really good fries and other snacks.
Belle Reve is full of surprises. It’s a bar, but it also serves food you won’t find at most bars (like a watermelon salad). It’s also a place where you might find a DJ on a Tuesday night at 8pm and either absolutely no one dancing, or a full team of people who work at ZocDoc doing the electric slide. We like how unpredictable it is here, and the fact that there are lots of big booths where you can sit down.
Since you’re probably not going to feel the healthiest you’ve ever felt after eating at Au Cheval, you could try to balance things out here first. They have a no-commitment membership (which means you can cancel immediately) for $15.
La Contenta has long waits on weekends because it’s incredibly small, and also because it serves some of the best Mexican food on the Lower East Side. Nothing on the menu costs more than $25, and once you sit down, you should plan on ordering a bunch of things (like their perfectly-fried fish tacos, and queso with goat cheese and chorizo).
If you’re with someone who’s easily impressed by secrets, you could tell them about your middle school nickname. But maybe that nickname was too embarrassing, in which case, just bring them to The Back Room while you wait for a table at La Contenta. It’s a speakeasy bar next right next door, and it has a fireplace, some embroidered couches, and cocktails that come in tea cups.
For something more casual than a hidden speakeasy with teacup cocktails, try Black Crescent. It’s about a five-minute walk from La Contenta, and it has dollar oysters all night. There are a bunch of high-top tables and it never gets too loud.
St Anselm is a spot where people line up at 5pm to get really good steak without paying traditional steakhouse prices. It feels trendy and old-school at the same time, like a record player or anything Urban Outfitters is currently trying to market.
St Anselm shares a backyard with the very cool beer bar next door, and you can walk between them once your table is ready. The beer options here change all the time (they also have some wine), and there’s a very overwhelming chalk board with all of your choices, as well as some helpful bartenders to make it slightly less overwhelming.
The Commodore is right across the street, and it’s where you should drink something frozen and potentially make new friends while you try to find seats. Also, if you can’t wait any longer to eat, order some of their bar food. Fried chicken is the perfect appetizer for steak, right? Right.