There are few dining moves we enjoy more than plopping onto a swiveling stool, surveying a buzzy room like a hawk on a perch, and eating a burger or a big bowl of coconut crab curry at a restaurant’s bar. Whether you’re alone or with a casual date, sitting at the bar screams, “I’m a sophisticated person who doesn’t need the whole table song-and-dance to have a good time.” At the bar, you can read a book, chat with a bartender, or stare directly into a bottle of blanco tequila until you’ve realized your life’s calling.
All the restaurants below would be ideal for a spontaneous Wednesday night out or a Saturday afternoon where you can walk in somewhere on a whim (when was the last time you planned a dinner at the bar far in advance enough to make a reservation?). You probably won’t have to order a million small plates to be full at any of these places - and you’ll be surrounded by other New Yorkers doing the same thing. Enjoy.
Waltzing into Gramercy Tavern is the ultimate checkmate move of dining at the bar in NYC. Unlike their buttoned-up dining area where they exclusively serve a five-course tasting menu, Gramercy Tavern offers an a la carte menu in their tavern. Come and peruse their menu of sub-$35 dishes by yourself after an especially hard day at work, or the next time you and a friend are feeling spontaneously carnivorous. We pretty much always order the bar burger, which comes with a thick patty, smoky bacon, melted cheddar, and smoked onion aioli. Eating this burger by yourself might be the most solo fun you can legally have above 14th Street.
Contento in East Harlem serves delicious Peruvian dishes like mahi mahi ceviche bathing in leche de tigre and crispy pork katsu with vinegar-soaked slaw. Aside from their well-executed small plates and great wine selection, Contento was built with accessibility in mind. It’s the only place in NYC we’ve been to with a lowered bar counter designed so that anyone can hang out there with a glass of wine and a plate of octopus in black chimichurri sauce.
If you’re looking for a place in Astoria to sip a habanero mango cocktail garnished with a torched sprig of rosemary in between bites of chicken enchiladas, consider Ruta your new pal. This Oaxacan restaurant has a long bar (with chairs that have backs, we’d like to add) that’s perfect for you and a date. Our advice? Let the mole and Patrón flow like tap water, and try the gooey chori queso with warm corn tortillas.
For this one, we’d suggest you bring someone you’ve already seen naked. Quarters are tight, candles are tiny, and the classic French bistro food swims in butter - the whole place has simply got the je ne sais quoi of a horny little Lower East Side restaurant. Our order typically includes Le French Diner’s octopus grilled to suction-cup-chewing perfection and the hangar steak served with a side of crispy-creamy scalloped potatoes.
Anyone who likes diners, eating mozzarella sticks in red vinyl booths, and Americana nostalgia will care for Bernie’s like a lioness cares for its young. That is to say, you’ll come check on how this Greenpoint restaurant is doing periodically and with tremendous fondness. We love coming here with a group, but it also works well for a martini and a wedge salad at the bar, or possibly just a brownie sundae that’s decadent enough to turn around your entire week.
We would all be lucky to live within walking distance from Kingston’s sweet jerk chicken and fried plantains. But if you live by 116th Street in Harlem, you are the chosen ones in this particular context. And, if you decide that your life’s regularity comes in the form of late-night meals at the bar involving loud reggae and rum cocktails, this Jamaican spot is great for that too (they stay open until 2am on weekends).
You can get away with ordering just one thing at this Noho Thai spot’s bar and leaving satisfied. Their burnt-orange-colored coconut crab curry will turn your life into a slow-motion montage set to the delightful ukulele cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” that people play at weddings. It’s a little sweet with a good amount of spice and big chunks of crab hidden on the bottom, and we often eat it without any of the rice on the side. Order this creamy curry and nibble on some complimentary shrimp chips. Just don’t make it too obvious that you made a better decision by sitting at the bar instead of waiting two hours for a four-top like everyone else.
Via Carota is a walk-in-only Italian restaurant in the West Village that has multiple-hour waits more often than not. But one of the benefits of eating alone is that you won’t need to worry about that. Our strategy is to come at an off-hour on a weekend afternoon (around 2 or 3pm). Bring a book and get the big salad or toast with butter and anchovies, plus an order of the tonarelli cacio e pepe and a Negroni for good measure. Then wait about five minutes for the Negroni to kick in and sigh while you congratulate yourself on a life well-lived.
Like the best bars where you can eat dinner, Long Island Bar in Cobble Hill is a scene and a half. It has the energy of a fancy retro diner, and when you’re sitting at the bar, you’ll probably be surrounded by people inhabiting the sweet spot demographic of earning a salary but not yet bearing children. Order a martini and their minimalist burger with a squishy bun, two patties, and a lot of cheese. Both in combination make for a very compelling case to stop by this place even if you don’t live in the area.
Cervo's and The Fly are two of our favorite spots in the city - but before those places existed, there was Hart’s. It’s from the same people, and it’s just one tiny room with an even tinier bar in the shadow of the Franklin subway stop tracks in Bed-Stuy. The menu changes frequently, but it pretty much always has some type of fresh ricotta dish and their signature clam toast. Get both of those things, or try the juicy, pink-in-the-middle lamb burger with the optional (read: mandatory) anchovies. You might have to wait for a spot, but you’ll have a better shot at getting seated at the bar than those over-zealous souls waiting for a table for five.
If you’re on the Upper East Side, there’s no better sushi bar for a solo meal than Sushi Seki. The $44 dinner is our dream sitting-at-the-bar meal since it comes with nine pieces of fish and a handroll. Plus, you’ll get to witness a mirage of off-duty chefs, East 60s locals, wealthy teenagers, or possibly a couple who drove in from Long Island in a vehicle that’s significantly nicer than your apartment. Call 212-371-0238 to make sure there’s room for you if you’re stopping by on a Friday or Saturday night.
Out of Lowerline’s 12 or so seats inside, our favorite place to sit is at the bar. It’s here that you’ll get to dine across from the Mets-hat-wearing owner who’s from Louisiana and shucks oysters while shooting the sh*t with regulars (hi John). We always order the same thing when we come here: a cup of seafood and okra gumbo and half of a fried shrimp po'boy. The muffaletta and a plate of hot, rich seafood etouffée work well too, though.
Kazunori was built for quick, relatively antisocial dining at the bar. Their original Nomad location is ideal for a weeknight when you don’t want to speak to anyone while you eat a few hand rolls. Consider this place a more affordable alternative to a proper sushi bar, since you can get a set of four handrolls for $19. We especially like the creamy crab and sea bream if they have it (both of which come in the set of four).
Not unlike a Frank Ocean song, this Greenpoint spot is sexy in a comfortable, journal-before-bed sort of way. There’s a fireplace, a tiny kitchen in plain sight, and golden beams of light pouring through wooden blinds. Achilles Heel may appear to be a bar where you only consume liquid, so you might spot your neighbors ignoring the food menu. Don’t be like them. You’ll find a rotating menu of vegetable-focused snacks, including some of the best food we’ve ever had from a place that calls itself a bar. The portions aren’t huge, so we’d recommend starting with two dishes and seeing how you feel after that.
The menu at this Prospect Heights restaurant is centered around French and Japanese yakitori. Meaning you can sit in a comfortable bar seat (with a back) and order a couple skewers of duck a l’orange meatballs or one with scallops and sauce maltaise. Our recommendation is to bring someone else to join you at the bar, since you’re going to want to try a bunch of different stuff - including the mini pours of cocktails. Another thing: look up while you’re there. They grow mushrooms above the bar.
Yet another delicious burger to eat at the bar. Red Hook Tavern was opened by the people who run Hometown BBQ, and you can think of their burger as a distant cousin of the one at Peter Luger. It’s a minimalist sandwich with one thick patty, some salty melted cheese, and a bunch of semi-sweet onions resting on top like they’ve had a long day. Red Hook Tavern also offers a ton of great wine, so bring a date when you want to eat one of the city’s finest burgers.
Klom Klorm is Bushwick’s best Thai restaurant. That’s certainly one reason to visit. Another is that you can stop by for a quick meal at their small bar without having to wait. Klom Klorm serves sub-$20 staples from a few regions, like herb-packed northern Thai sausage and a tangy papaya salad that tastes like it’s happily honeymooning with a bottle of fish sauce.
Unless you enjoy lines, appearing in the background of other people’s family photos, and paying ridiculous amounts of money for bottled water, you probably tend to avoid tourist-heavy destinations. But Grand Central Oyster Bar is a spot worth seeking out. Between the low vaulted ceilings, the tile floors, and the definitely-real ghost of Cornelius Vanderbilt, this NYC institution still maintains the energy of 1913 (when it first opened). There are several different seating options, like bars, U-shaped counters, and table sections where you can get in and out pretty quickly. Order some oysters and a martini - or more from the seafood-heavy menu, if you have time - and you’ll feel a lot better about being in Grand Central during rush hour.
Walter’s in Fort Greene is where you go for a consistently good plate of food in a setting that feels like an old-school bar. The employees might be dressed like they’re waiting for someone from 1910 to travel forward in time and demand a plate of oysters, but don’t be fooled - this place is as casual as any other neighborhood spot. Come in a T-shirt and eat a French dip with a friend. Alternately, sit by yourself and eat something with fries while you Google the person who just joined your company.