In order to help you figure out which new restaurants are worth going to, we created The Hit List, our guide to recently-opened spots that are actually worth your time and money. We actually get off our asses and scope these places out - just because a place is new, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good.
We’re now doing the same thing for bars. We’ve taken on the (very challenging) task of drinking in many of New York’s newest spots for it. Frankly, some of them were empty, and some of them smelled weird - but there were also quite a few we liked a lot, and which we think you should consider checking out. From bars on a barge to bars where you have to serve the beer yourself, check out the Bar Hit List below.
New to The Bar Hit List (as of 1/28/19): Joyface, Peppi’s Cellar, The Rockwell Place
If Austin Powers decorated a bar with whatever he could grab on a shopping spree at the ’70s equivalent of Bed Bath & Beyond, that bar would look like Joyface. This cocktail spot in the East Village has plush couches and rugs in various colors, paintings of tigers on the walls, a spinning disco ball, and a waterbed in the corner. Also, there’s no drink menu. Instead, there’s a bowl filled with the names of liquors and mixers - just pick a couple of them at random, and the bartender will make you a cocktail using those as key ingredients. It all sounds gimmicky, but the drinks are actually good, and you can always just order a standard cocktail if you prefer. Get a gin martini or some Frankenstein mixed drink with mezcal and coffee (it actually wasn’t bad), and hang out by the fireplace with a date.
Not a lot of people seem to know about Peppi’s Cellar - and that’s probably because it’s hidden below a restaurant in Nolita that hasn’t even opened yet. It’s a big underground room that feels like a carpeted wine cellar in the bottom of a castle, and it’s ideal for a date or some drinks with clients who appreciate good cocktails (and/or jazz, because they play a lot of that here). On top of all that, there also happens to be a very large whiskey selection. So stop by if you want to hide for a few hours and drink something brown in a subterranean room that your friends and coworkers haven’t already been to.
The Nets are currently better than the Knicks (and Nets tickets are also cheaper), so we’re always interested in new spots to hang out before or after a game at the Barclays Center. Like The Rockwell Place. This Fort Greene cocktail bar is just one long room with high ceilings, a couple of skylights, and a bunch of little tables - and it’s perfect for when you need to grab a good drink or two in a place where the floors aren’t sticky and no one is trying to play beer pong. It should also help you convince a date or still-skeptical friend that you’re both fairly cool and somewhat grown-up.
Devon is a new LES spot with obscure drink names (like “The Knowable Universe (compared to the size of a mustard seed)”) and a full menu of upscale bar food. The cocktails (including punches) are the focus here, but they also have beer and wine. And while you might come here mostly to drink, don’t be surprised if you see a grilled cheese and immediately change your mind. Food-wise, everything we’ve tried here is good - especially the monkfish katsu sandwich and the artichokes. Whether or not you end up eating something, Devon is a good place to know about for group drinks or a date in the area, since it’s cool but doesn’t get as rowdy as some of the neighboring bars.
The Garret in the West Village is a speakeasy-type place hidden above a Five Guys, and the Garret in the East Village is one of our go-to first-date spots (it also happens to have a taqueria in the back). Now there’s a third Garret location on Broome Street, and it’s great for when you’re in the general vicinity of Soho or Nolita, and want to grab a drink at a cool place that smells better than Spring Lounge. It’s a little tropical-themed space with a bar on one side and a couple of booths on the other, and it works for small group hangs or dates when you aren’t sure if you’ll want to stay for three minutes or three hours.
Close your eyes and picture your ideal neighborhood bar. If you just imagined a big place with TVs, board games, a couple of pinball machines, and a jukebox, you’re going to like E’s Bar in Morningside Heights. There’s a long bar up front and a big area in the back where you can sit at a table and order from an iPad, and it’s a great place for a beer and a burger with a group. There’s also a dart board for when you have a few drinks and feel like throwing projectiles. You’ll probably appreciate the original E’s Bar, too - it’s about 30 blocks south on the Upper West Side.
The dimly-lit space at St Ends in Crown Heights feels a little like a furniture boutique, with mismatched couches, lounge chairs, distressed mirrors, and side tables topped with desk lamps. But there’s also a 15-seat marble bar, where you can get some of the best cocktails in the neighborhood (like one with rye, campari, and mole bitters). If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, they serve wine and beer, too, both of which are discounted during Happy Hour until 8pm. Come here with a date and sit on a couch inside or at a communal table on the patio out back.
Off the top of your head, you should be able to name at least one great place where you can get a drink on the Upper West Side. It’s a valuable life skill that’ll come in handy whenever you visit Lincoln Center or start dating someone who lives on 82nd Street. And if you don’t already have a place in mind, use The Owl’s Tail. It’s a new bar on 75th Street that feels like a cocktail party in someone’s living room. The space is on the smaller side, with a bar in one corner and some tables along the wall, and it’s perfect for a casual date night. The staff is friendly, there are candles on the tables, and overall this place is significantly nicer and cooler than your average neighborhood bar. Plus, they serve oysters and some small plates like chicken wings and dumplings.
During the day, Bar Beau is just a little storefront where you can get a cup of coffee. But if you stop by after 5pm and walk to the back, you’ll find a bar that looks like it belongs in a boutique hotel where patrons dress well and the sheets have a high thread count. It has white brick walls, a long marble bar, and lots of small tables where you can sit with a date. It doesn’t get too crowded at the moment, so it’s ideal for when you want to have a cocktail in Williamsburg without having to shout your order or wait for a seat, and they also have a small menu of things you can snack on. The chicken liver mousse is great, and the lamb/beef burger with sambal mayo is a good choice, too.
Katana Kitten is the kind of place that makes you feel about 50% cooler as soon as you walk in. It’s a new cocktail bar in the West Village with Japanese movie posters on the walls, ’60s classic rock playing over the speakers, and boilermaker beer-and-shot combinations with Japanese whisky and sake. The top floor has string lights, a few tables, and a long bar, but the basement is table-seating only. Don’t skip the bar food - the burger and crinkle fries with seaweed flakes on top are really good.
A hotel bar in Tribeca doesn’t sound particularly interesting to, well, anybody, but Primo’s is actually a great new place to drink. This cocktail bar off the lobby of the Frederick Hotel looks like a set from The Life Aquatic, with conch shell lights, colorful velvet furniture, and servers in matching red jackets. Along with a whole page of coffee-based cocktails, they serve classic drinks as well as beachy ones, like the very good daiquiri with grapefruit and lime. There’s also a separate room in the back that opens later in the night, with a bar, DJ, and dance floor.
If you spend time around Kips Bay, you know there are plenty of bars serving pitchers of Harpoon IPA and showing replays of Mets games on 20 different TVs. Stay Gold is not one of them. This is a new cocktail spot on 3rd Avenue from the team behind The Up & Up - an upscale bar in Greenwich Village - but this place is more casual than that one. You can have drinks like a frozen one made with bourbon, IPA, ginger, and lemon, and there’s also a big backyard full of picnic tables and hanging lights.
To get to The Hidden Pearl, you have to find the semi-secret entrance all the way at the back of Wanpaku, a ramen place in Greenpoint. But once you get inside, this place doesn’t really feel like a hidden bar or a speakeasy. It’s just a tiny spot with a skylight and a few nice tables, and the staff is extremely friendly. The Japanese-inspired cocktails are excellent, and you can order snacks like pork buns and tuna on crispy rice. Make a reservation, and bring a date. It’s perfect for that.
The Polynesian is a hotel bar near Port Authority that is worth a trip to Midtown. Yes, you read that right. This tiki-themed rooftop cocktail bar from the people behind Carbone and The Grill kind of looks like a spot where Jack Sparrow would hang out if he ditched the pirate stuff and got a job in finance. There’s a big wraparound patio outside with views of the Empire State Building, as well as a bunch of tables and booths inside. They serve cocktails in glasses shaped like skulls, treasure chests, and sailboats, and bar snacks like shrimp dumplings and mini bacon bbq burgers that are way better than the $31 kobe beef sliders you’ll eat on other rooftops nearby. All of which is to say, The Polynesian is impressive - take a third date or some out-of-town clients here.