Where To Go When You’re In The Mood For A Martini
This is not a guide to the best martinis in New York City. This is a guide to the best places in New York City for when your shirt is tucked in and you’re feeling dignified. For when the fiery capitalist spirit is melting your soul. Or for when you just read a page of War and Peace after getting out of the sauna, and now you need to rehydrate.
And that’s because martini is a mood. It doesn’t matter if the glass was pre-chilled or if you prefer your martini dry, dirty, shaken, stirred, with gin, or with vodka. What matters is the setting in which you drink it. And, of course, the martini has to be great too. These are the best bars and restaurants for when you’re in the mood for a martini.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
You’re not going to find a sexier environment in Flatiron to do your best “shaken, not stirred” Bond impression than the British steakhouse Hawksmoor. Hawksmoor is all high ceilings, dark wood, and chic green leather, with a gorgeous walk-in only bar. The ceilings say “You made partner,”’ but the lax dress code and lively bar ask “What’s this celebration really going to look like once you ditch your co-workers?” Filicudi lemon oil, hibiscus pickled onions, and yogurt-washed Grey Goose give their Ultimate Martini options some style the Monopoly men at a classic New York steakhouse could never pull off, and they’re served at an icy -12 degrees.
photo credit: Lizzie Munro
Get your Gatsby on at Gage & Tollner, a bar and restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn that feels like a relic of old New York because it is. The restaurant opened in 1892, and still has the revolving door from the original construction—and bartenders in ties tied with aristocratic precision. The upper-crust atmosphere is enough to bring us back whenever we want to play make-believe, but their martinis also happen to be damn near perfect. Order the Turf Martini, a retro drink composed of gin, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, absinthe, and an orange twist. All martinis are served in a frosted glass accompanied by a sidecar to hold the leftovers.
Martinis taste best with white tablecloths and someone playing the piano. You’ll get both at Bemelmans Bar, inside the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side. Yes, this place has pricey cocktails, but you should go out of your way for a martini here, because Bemelmans is an iconic NYC experience. If you’re lucky, Bill Murray might also be having a martini in the corner while someone plays the piano. You can order dishes like lobster tacos and beef sliders, but that’s not necessary because the best thing to eat here is the free snack mix that’s on every table.
photo credit: Natalie Black
When you step into this lounge at the top of a residential building in FiDi, you'll think you're in the type of place where a dapper British spy says witty one liners while drinking martinis before jumping off the roof because taking the elevator is too much trouble. This bar feels fancy, but you can come here dressed casually, and they limit the number of people in the indoor lounge to around 35, so it never feels crowded. The real reason to come to Overstory, however, is the huge outdoor terrace, which wraps all the way around in an uninterrupted circle and has a surprisingly large number of tables and chairs.
photo credit: Annie Schlechter
Lobby Bar in Hotel Chelsea looks like the elaborate foyer of a chateau that was last renovated in the 1970s. It feels like the kind of place where your boss’s boss would grab a drink with their art advisor, and it’s a nice escape where you won’t hear any music, only bits of conversation from people wearing thick-rimmed glasses. Claim a barstool or a couch in the fern-lined garden room, and drink a house martini made with minimal vermouth and a to-the-brim pour of ice-cold gin or vodka. It’ll hit you fast, so get some fries to eat on the side, or plan an after-drinks dinner at El Quijote next door.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
This cocktail lounge is three floors above its sister restaurant Zou Zou’s in Manhattan West, and the space gives us Twin Peaks Red Room vibes. It has velvet chairs and black and white tiles as well as a huge outdoor terrace that's a welcome escape when the weather’s nice and it gets too crowded inside. Their signature martini, the Dirty Zou, is served with a setup that allows you to mix grape leaf/dill brine with olive oil-washed vodka in whatever proportions you want. (You pretty much end up with two full cocktails for the price of one.)
Temple Bar in Nolita opened in 1989, then closed in 2017, and now it’s back in its original location. The space maintains its old hardwood-Art-Deco feel, but the cocktail program feels completely up to date—largely on the strength of a long martini list that includes a version made with apricot and absinthe. This might just be the darkest bar in Manhattan, and it's a good place to try to spot someone you recognize from social media—but don't forget to make a reservation. It can be tough to get a table, and the front bar area isn't nearly as pleasant as the clubby back room.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
The Grill feels like the kind of place where Roger Sterling would go for a three-martini lunch or The Rat Pack would smoke cigars all night at a booth in the corner. In other words, this restaurant in the old Four Seasons space in Midtown makes you feel like you’re a bigger deal than you actually are. While the square bar isn’t as fancy or heavy on production value as the dining room, it overlooks the dark, attractive space, and is a good way to feel important without committing to a whole (very expensive) dinner. Order a Tuxedo, which has fino sherry in it, an Alaska, which is made with Chartreuse, or anything else from the martini menu here.
A foolproof way to justify all of your turtlenecks is by drinking martinis at Smoke on Broadway and 106th. It’s a little jazz club that brings in noteworthy musicians from all over the world to play on an intimate red-curtained stage. If you want to eat dinner while catching a show, we recommend making a reservation in advance to ensure that you get a table. But you could also show up, sit at the bar, and fall into a conversation with an ex-mayor of Philadelphia or someone else who could probably give you some good life advice.
Clover Club in Cobble Hill is the kind of place that will suddenly help you understand how robber barons must feel. As you look around at the curtain-covered windows, working fireplace, and red leather booths, you’ll feel ready to take on an antitrust case. Or, at the very least, you'll feel ready to drink another martini. Their excellent classic one comes with equal parts dry and sweet vermouth.
Harry’s is a classic steakhouse a block from Wall Street that tends to be filled with people who look like they took off their ties on the walk over. Join them in the dark, slightly underground dining room if you want to pair your martini with some jumbo shrimp cocktail and dry-aged filet mignon—or if you just want a drink after work, get a bar seat in the casual bar room. The martini here is old-school in that it’s relatively heavy on vermouth, and it comes with a sidecar on ice.