Like most post offices and the last four chain bookstores in NYC, most bars in Harlem are located on the big avenues. So if you were feeling particularly reckless, you could just walk up and down Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X Boulevard and hope you find a good place to drink. But if you want to know about the best options for your specific situation, just read this guide. It has everything from cocktail bars with open mics to spots to brag about how much you know about IPAs, and plenty of places to gather both the first and second tiers of your friends. There are also a few jazz bars, including the one where bebop was first invented. So no matter what type of place you’re looking for, use this guide for 13 great options in the neighborhood.
If you want to learn about micro breweries (or brag about how much you already know about them), this is the best place in Harlem to do it. Harlem Hops serves a lot of hard-to-find beer, specifically from small-batch breweries and businesses owned by people of color. And if you don’t really care about the different flavor notes in East and West Coast IPAs, you’ll appreciate the backyard - it has tables made out of barrels and a big mural wall.
On any given evening, there will probably be dates happening at 67 Orange Street. This is a cocktail bar on Frederick Douglass Boulevard with two floors and wood everywhere. The upstairs is pretty spacious, but there’s a lower level that has perfect lighting for hiding from your responsibilities and/or sunlight.
Paris Blue first opened in 1968, and they have hosted jazz shows there almost every night since. It’s fully a dive bar (if you order anything with liquor, it may come in a plastic cup), but unlike most dive bars, Paris Blues has amazing nightly performances without any covers, as well as tons of framed portraits of famous musicians who have performed there and may or may not haunt the bar to this day.
Another good place to see live shows without paying a cover is Harlem Nights, a ski lodge-looking bar in Strivers’ Row. In addition to live comedy and music, Harlem Nights has a daily Happy Hour that runs from 4-9pm. There’s a big bar where you can sit and drink discounted mango margaritas out of mason jars, as well as a bunch of high top tables and spots near the stage.
Mess Hall shares a backyard with the coffee shop next door. So you could theoretically hang out here all day (and you should, it’s very nice). The inside of the bar space is casual and pretty narrow, but there’s enough room to sit and play board games with some friends or hang out with a date and share a flight of beer.
If you need a place to sit around with a few friends and drink a beer or two after work, Harlem Ale House is a perfectly relaxed place to do it. The menus are all on iPads here, and every table has several phone chargers. Aside from those two technological details, this divey neighborhood bar could really have existed in any era that included sports on TV, chicken wings, and beer).
Minton’s Playhouse is one of the most famous Jazz bars in Harlem (and all of New York). It originally opened in the late 1930s, and it’s where bebop was born. These are good enough reasons to warrant a visit, but in case you need some more, they have a huge, sleek space and shows happening here almost every day. Also - this place shares a kitchen with The Cecil, in case you want to eat some steak or clams casino beforehand.
More so than being a bar or a restaurant, Lenox Saphire is a place to party. They have drink specials and DJ nights almost every day of the week. There’s a bar area as well as a full-service dining room and outdoor patio (the food here is a mix of American and West African). Look at their schedule and prioritize coming here on Monday nights - when you can get a $5 flavored martini.
Maybe you’ve been in love with someone for several years, and this person finally agreed to get drinks with you. Or maybe your parents are visiting, and you need a relatively quiet bar with comfortable chairs. Plan to get drinks at Sugar Monk. It’s a tiny cocktail lounge with green velvet chairs, tropical wallpaper, and heavy curtains on the windows. The drinks here are both very good and very complicated. They contain things like Arabian jasmine, absinthe foam, and bergamot bitters and are pricey (most cocktails are in the $15-$18 range), but if you’re looking for an impressive spot where you can have a conversation, this place is worth it.
Corner Social is a lot of things rolled in one. It’s a place where you can sit down and have a kale salad and some salmon with a friend, and it’s also a place where you can show up on a Friday night and listen to a DJ play for a crowd as big as any you’ll find in the Meatpacking District. The space has brick walls, wooden ceiling beams, plenty of tables, and a fireplace in one corner, and there’s plenty of patio seating on warm days. It’s a great spot to meet up with a group (especially if some people are hungry), just be aware that you might have to wait for a table on weekends.
Much like Greenland and the Mall of America, Harlem Tavern is mostly remarkable because of its size. It has a big indoor space with a long bar, lots of tables, and some medieval-looking chandeliers, and it also has a patio out front that’s about the size of a regulation basketball court. So if you’re looking for a spot to drink with a big group outside, this is your best option in the neighborhood. And if you get hungry, there’s a huge menu with burgers, quesadillas, fish and chips, and just about anything else you’d ever want to eat in a bar. We like the steak sandwich, and we also like having a few frozen drinks on the patio whenever the weather’s above 72 degrees.
Moca is a neighborhood lounge that occasionally hosts events like erotic poetry open mic nights. So if you’re looking for a spot to listen to strangers express themselves through suggestive words that occasionally rhyme, this is where you should be. It’s a dark, loungey space with some comfortable banquettes along the walls, and it’s a good spot for some low-key drinks with a couple of people you need to catch up with.
Archer & Goat is in the bottom of a townhouse just below 120th Street, and it’s an attractive space with white brick walls, a small backyard, and lightbulbs in bunches hanging from the ceiling. It’s about equal parts restaurant and bar, and while you don’t need to eat a full dinner here, there’s a bunch of food like roasted duck, a burger, and some pretty solid arepas. The next time you need to grab a drink with coworkers, some parents, or someone who wants life advice and for some reason thinks you’re capable of providing it, get a few bar seats or a table out back.