Sometimes, it feels like there are only a few different types of bars. There are neighborhood dives where a detective might question someone on an episode of Law & Order, for example, and there are also sports bars, cocktail lounges, and all of those places where you can put some gel in your hair and buy a bottle of vodka. If you’re looking to branch out, here are 15 spots that aren’t like any others.
Some of these bars have live music, a few have games, and others are just one-of-a-kind places where you might have a drink or two then wonder if you’re lucid dreaming. All of them will make you feel like your life isn’t just the same day on a loop, and they’ll help you entertain any friends or out-of-towners who assume you know every single good place to drink in the city.
You woke up this morning in the mood to drink a cocktail out of a teacup in a room that feels like a secret chamber in a 19th-century sea captain’s haunted mansion. That’s what Banzarbar is for. This place is hidden behind an unmarked door on the second floor of a restaurant (Freemans) at the back of a little alley, and it’s just one candlelit room with a couple of tables and a U-shaped bar. The cocktails have names like Even Keel and Deception Island, there’s an optional five-course tasting menu, and - if you really want to feel like a 19th-century sea captain - order the whole fried octopus called The Kraken.
Chances are, you’ve played with a cat before. And while you were playing with this cat, you might have encountered some catnip, sniffed it, and thought, “I wonder what that tastes like.” If you’d like to finally find out, go to Undercote. In order to get here, you enter the restaurant Cote, head down a flight of stairs, then walk into an extremely dark room filled with glass-enclosed displays of various plants. It feels like a cross between a nightclub and the nocturnal animal exhibit at your local zoo. The cocktail list is constructed like a field manual filled with illustrations of exotic-looking plants. Drinks are incredibly expensive ($20 and up, mostly), but there are also some one-of-a-kind beverages, such as one that incorporates catnip - which, it turns out, is weirdly delicious.
Intuitively, you might think that drinking and axe throwing go about as well together as staring at an eclipse then trying to pilot a fighter jet. But at Kick Axe Throwing, there are a bunch of staff members on hand to make sure everyone stays safe. This place is in a big warehouse-like space in Gowanus, and it’s filled with stalls where you get to throw little axes at wooden targets. For $35, you get 70 minutes of throwing, and you can drink while you do it. Essentially, it’s a bar with one very entertaining activity (like darts times 100), and the skills you pick up here might even help you survive when a giant solar flare takes out your power grid.
You were probably meant to be on Broadway. But, due to circumstances and/or your singing voice, you wound up bounty hunting or thinking up ad campaigns for dog food companies. If you’d like the opportunity to sing show tunes before an audience, go to Marie’s Crisis. Every night, this divey little basement bar in the West Village has a pianist who plays various songs from musicals, and everyone’s invited to sing along. You never know what song is coming up, so it helps to have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything ever performed on Broadway, but you can always just request a song or hang out at a table in the corner and enjoy the feeling of being in a room where no one cares how well they’re singing.
The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
Some bars have games, and others feel like Pleasure Island from Pinocchio (before all the kids turned into donkeys). Royal Palms belongs in that second category, and it’s pretty much a giant daycare center for adults. There’s shuffleboard, a huge supply of board games, several bars, and enough room for you and every single person you encounter on any given day. It looks kind of like an indoor cruise ship, and it’s a classic spot for big-group birthdays when you don’t want to have to worry if anyone is going to get bored and start saying passive aggressive things about you.
Hidden Pearl is a very small, minimalist space with a few potted plants and a blue-and-white color scheme, and it mostly just feels like an extremely nice and pleasant neighborhood cocktail bar. But unlike most neighborhood cocktail bars, this Greenpoint spot is hidden in the back of a ramen place (Wanpaku), and the Japanese-inspired cocktails are made with ingredients like shiso, yuzu, and miso-infused bourbon. Bring a date, get the drink with passionfruit and coconut that comes in a big glass chalice with a flower on top, and avoid telling other people about this place.
If you wanted to, you could build a fake time machine out of a cardboard box, ask a friend to get inside, then carry that box to Oscar Wilde, open it, and say “Ta da.” And, for at least a few moments, your friend might think the time machine worked. As the name suggests, this place is Oscar-Wilde themed, and it appears to be a fairly accurate replica of a 19th century aristocrat’s home (we assume). It has multiple chandeliers, a marble fireplace, wood-paneled walls covered in old paintings, 26 clocks all set to the time of Oscar Wilde’s death, and too many other antique knick-knacks to count. Bring a date or a group of friends, and maybe wear an ascot or some kind of tall hat.
The theme at Joyface appears to be “1970s bedroom.” And what do you do in a 1970s bedroom? You hang out, sit on a waterbed, talk to some friends on your velvet couch, and show off your disco ball and paintings of tigers. You can do all of these things at this East Village bar, and if you want to drink a cocktail, you can reach your hand into a bowl filled with the names of various ingredients, and have the bartender make something based on whatever you pull out. This place gets packed, and it’s a great spot to hang out for an hour or two and accidentally ask someone out who’s very good friends with the last person you dated.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
The Honorable William Wall
You know that scene in a movie when the hero is about to get defeated, then a third party shows up to save the day? That third party is The Honorable William Wall. It’s a floating bar anchored near Ellis Island, and it’s just sitting there, waiting to save you from the humid, crowded summertime version of NYC that tends to smell like warm garbage. In order to get here, you have to take two different boats, but it’s worth it because the view is excellent, it doesn’t get too full (because boats sink with too many people), and you can bring your own food. If you want to hang out on the equivalent of a houseboat with a fully stocked bar, start making plans. (This place opens for the season on May 11th.)
You typically aren’t supposed to drink out of beakers because they tend to contain things like caustic solutions and bright green liquids that hardly ever give you superpowers. But at Yours Sincerely, beakers are the glassware of choice, and all of the cocktails come out of unlabeled taps on the wall behind the bar. That might sound gimmicky - and yeah, it kind of is - but this is actually a great spot to grab a casual cocktail in Bushwick. It’s a dark, narrow space with a couple of tables in the back, and you can use it to impress a date who’s never heard of this place or a couple of out-of-towners who might immediately text their loved ones to explain how they’re currently drinking out of beakers.
Dear Irving is a single bar divided into a few different sections, and each section has its own theme. One has a 1920s theme with beaded curtains and Art Deco light fixtures, another looks like a penthouse living room from the 1960s, and there’s also space with gold-trimmed velvet furniture that feels like a chamber at Versailles where various members of the royal family would pet dogs and take naps. Depending on which decade or century you currently identify with, you can sit in any one of these rooms. Just be sure to make a reservation, and plan on spending a significant amount of money. Cocktails here aren’t cheap - but that’s what you should expect from a place where you can sit on a velvet couch and press a button to call your server.
From the outside, Mezcaleria La Milagrosa looks like a laundromat. It even says “Havemeyer Laundromat” on the awning. But walk inside, and you’ll find a fake storefront with a host in the back who’ll lead you through a fake freezer door to a dark, wood-paneled space that’s about the size of a medium U-Haul. And, despite the fact that its been open for a while now, this place still kinda feels like secret. Bring a date, and you’ll immediately look two to three times cooler than you actually are. You can grab a good cocktail and hang out at the little bar, or you can make use of the minuscule dance floor beneath the disco ball all the way in the back.
Walk inside the Gramercy Park Hotel, take a right, and you’ll find the entrance to The Rose Bar. Just from the name and the fact that it’s off the lobby of a hotel in Gramercy, you might assume this is the kind of place where you’d grab a drink with your grandparents or an old boss you only kind of liked, but it’s just about the opposite. It’s a high-ceilinged room with velvet furniture and portraits of celebrities like Lil’ Kim and Britney Spears, and late at night it’s pretty much a club where you might catch a free performance from someone you’ve heard on Spotify. Granted, it can be a little difficult to get in after about 9pm or so, but the place opens at 5pm, so can you can always come early. Hands down, this is the coolest bar in Gramercy, and it very much does not feel like a hotel bar.
Sometimes, speakeasies feel too quiet and serious, like they’re trying to memorialize some period in the early 20th century when everyone was probably way more productive. But at the Back Room, you can walk around with a teacup full of alcohol and make conversation with some people who will most likely be eating dollar pizza on a sidewalk somewhere at 4am. This place is hidden down a secret alley on Norfolk Street, and it’s a big room filled with paintings, chandeliers, and furniture that looks like it was purchased at a yard sale outside Ebenezer Scrooge’s townhouse. Bring a group, claim a couch or two, or hang out near the bar and make new friends.