The Best Bars In The East Village
There are a lot of bars in the East Village. Here are the ones we like best.
Sometimes, we feel like the East Village should start a bar relocation charity for neighborhoods in need of good drinking establishments. (Toss a couple of those random places on 1st Avenue up to Midtown East!) Until that happens, there are a lot of bars to sort through. Whether you’re looking for a quiet wine bar, a place to play darts, or a spot where you can dance beneath a disco ball, here are the top places to drink in the East Village.
photo credit: Spilled Milk Creative
The cool thing about Wiggle Room is that you can use it in a couple different ways. The main floor has a few nooks that surround a long bar where you can sit with a date and explain why you think marriage is antiquated—but the basement has a whole different vibe. It has squiggly pink neon lights, a disco ball, and a dance floor. If you’re planning to stay until this place shuts down at 4am, get a few of the espresso martinis they have on draft.
HiLot is from the team behind Joyface (another bar on this list). There’s no standing room here, and the space looks like a fancy home from the 1970s, with plaid carpets, fringed lamps, and a mirrored ceiling. It’s essentially a speakeasy that isn’t hidden, and it’s a great option for when you want to go out but don’t necessarily need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with folks who might spill their cocktails on you.
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If you’re not paying attention, it’s entirely possible for you to end up here instead of HiLot (or vice versa). Doesn’t matter, both places are cool. This bar has banquettes up front and a shiny black L-shaped bar next to a DJ station playing tunes all day. On Mondays, you can sign up to take over the turntable for half an hour with your own vinyl. It never seems to get too wild here, but if you need an escape, you can walk through the kitchen to get to a surprisingly big backyard.
At this hidden bar, you’ll immediately notice the Basquiat-inspired art and the creepy family portraits of people who look like they lock their children in the attic. The other things that’ll get your attention are the glow-in-the-dark graffitied bathrooms and how big the space is, which is fairly unusual for a downtown speakeasy. All their house cocktails are $16, and if you get hungry, you can conveniently order anything from their attached sister restaurant, Chicken & The Egg.
After spending an hour or two at Accidental Bar, you'll walk away knowing more about sake than when you walked in. The selection here is riddled with descriptions like “for my geeks!” and “holy water for the god of sake,” and all of the food on the short menu is meant to bring out different flavors in your beverage. Most of all, this small place just feels like a party where you could either hang with your friends or take a date.
Mister Paradise feels a bit like an anomaly. The cocktails here are super ambitious and filled with atypical ingredients (salted watermelon, charred corn milk, etc.), but we get the feeling that if you ordered a glass of rosé with a few ice cubes here, the bartenders wouldn't immediately ask you to leave. This place is more fun and laid back than it is pretentious, and the space features soft lighting and big pleated booths. Whether you're drinking with a group or planning a first date, Mister Paradise should be plan A.
What happens when you put a waterbed in a bar then round out the vibe with a disco ball and a bunch of weirdly squishy furniture that was probably found at a yard sale in 1983? You get Joyface. When it's a Saturday night and you absolutely need to stumble around in the dark and feel the flickering lights of a disco ball on your face before lowering yourself into a decades-old armchair, this place should be your number one choice. It's fun. But if you come before 11pm, you might be the only one here.
photo credit: Briana Balducci
Speaking of bars that don't get busy before 11pm, here's Ding-a-ling. Similar to Joyface, this place has a vaguely-1970s theme—and it also happens to be about half a block from Joyface. So how do you choose between the two? Ding-a-ling feels like more of a let's-listen-to-loud-music-and-dance sort of place, whereas Joyface feels like a basement party. We have yet to spend a night dancing at Ding-a-ling, but we have heard that the late-night lines to get in are pretty long. Think of this place as a retro, semi-glitzy bar/club where you can eat a hot dog if you get hungry. It'll probably be a scene when you stop by.
The Garret East @ Borrachito
Like The Garret West, The Garret East is a speakeasy (hidden behind a taqueria), and it's much more tolerable than most speakeasies. It feels kind of a like a lively living room in here, with a big bar area, a couple of booths, and a back area covered in sofas. Use this place as a Saturday night compromise the next time one of your friends wants to go to a club and you're thinking about calling off the friendship.
Avenue C is filled with fun bars suited for everything from a nice date to getting wobbly at 2am. The Wayland is one of those places that manages to do it all—and that's probably why you'll see a crowd here whenever you walk by. The frequent live music is certainly a draw, but the cocktails are great too, and the food menu is perfectly respectable, with items like a pernil sandwich and fried oysters. Make this your go-to weeknight drinking spot.
The Wayland has been our longtime go-to for great drinks, good food, and a scene that can be anything from date night-ready to straight-up rowdy. Goodnight Sonny is from the same people, and it lives up to the standards set by its sister establishment. But while The Wayland is far from the subways on Avenue C, Goodnight Sonny is on a prime 1st Avenue corner. Versatility and convenience is a tough combination to beat.
There are dive bars, and there are cocktail bars. Sometimes, it's hard to find the in-between: a normal bar. A place where you can get a beer/shot combo or a cocktail (that won’t cost $22), where the setting is nice without feeling overly fancy and where you could easily have a first date or a friend group hang. Maiden Lane is one of these places. It's a normal bar, done really well. Even better news? They serve a bunch of tinned fish that you can snack on.
photo credit: Jeff Bell
PDT (Please Don't Tell)
A lot of bars claim to be “speakeasies.” And while none of them actually warrant that title—alcohol has been legal for a long time, folks—Please Don’t Tell is about as close as you can get to the real thing. You enter not just through the hot dog shop Crif Dogs, but through a vintage phone booth within Crif Dogs. Which means that once inside, along with the excellent cocktails, you can also enjoy a hot dog (or a few). The space is small, and you should come with a date you’re trying to impress. Make a reservation beforehand if you can.
Holiday Cocktail Lounge
Holiday Cocktail Lounge has been around pretty much forever. (Leon Trotsky apparently used to hang out here, if an establishment’s Marxist pedigree is important to you.) This place looks like a dive bar that you'd find on a quiet street in a state where gambling is legal, but, incredibly, they do serve delicious cocktails here. In other words, Holiday Cocktail Lounge is pretty great. It's casual, it doesn't get unreasonably packed, and it's a good place to start your night.
Death & Co
This classic, 6th Street speakeasy is actually just as good as it was when you went on a date here six years ago. Bonus feature: The food’s pretty good too. (Expect small plates like shaved fennel with anchovies and buttermilk fried chicken.) Reservations aren't accepted here, so we fully encourage you to swing by and try to grab a bar stool the next time you want to drink a perfect cocktail in a small, dark space.
Ace Bar is for college reunions and anyone who's ever been on a first date and thought, "I wish we could play darts instead of having this conversation." This place is all about games: pool, darts, pinball, skee ball. It’s great for big groups, although it does very much feel like a college bar on weekends. This is the East Village, after all.
Amor y Amargo
Our friend once ordered a gin and tonic at Amor y Amargo, and the bartender said, “Sure.” The bartender then delivered what was actually a gin cocktail with club soda and grapefruit bitters and quinine syrup. That’s because this is a “bitters tasting room,” and all the cocktails on offer are made accordingly, with bitters. No bottles of Schweppes here. The space is minuscule, but this is an East Village institution that you should check out at least once.
This divey bar has two key features that draw most of its fans in: a large and excellent beer selection and a large and excellent backyard patio. Unlike most East Village “backyard patios,” the one here is not simply a dark alley with two broken lawn chairs where the bartender puts out the trash at the end of the night. This is a real patio.
Sake Bar Decibel
Head down the stairs past that flashing “On Air” sign and you’ll end up in a graffiti-covered cave of sake. Tables fill up quickly here, so don’t come with a big group, but do come if you want to experience one of the coolest and most unique rooms in the city.