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NYC

Where To Go For A Casual Cocktail

Ten years ago, your cell phone had buttons and you had to crawl through a trap door in a nail salon to get a decent cocktail. But now good drinks are all over the place. And that means you don’t have to pay $20 for a decent old-fashioned, and you don’t have to dress like you’re getting bar (or bat) mitzvahed when you go out to get one. So the next time you want a good cocktail but you don’t want to deal with any of that fancy business, try one of these places.

The Spots

Bearded Lady

Prospect Heights
686A Washington Ave

The cocktails at Bearded Lady are tiki-inspired, and they’re as good as they come. If you’ve never had a Painkiller, order one here. It’s like a pina colada, but for people who aren’t on a beach in Florida in 1975. This is a nice little neighborhood bar in Prospect Heights, and it doesn’t get that crazy on weekends. Also, the bar seats are nice (and very yellow), and there’s a pool table in back.

Mother's Ruin

Nolita
18 Spring St

Mother’s Ruin is very close to the ideal casual cocktail bar. They serve excellent drinks, and you could even come here in sweats (as long as they’re nice sweats and you haven’t actually been working out). This is a little welcoming bar on Spring Street where drinks don’t cost a fortune and they even serve some decent food. So stop by and get a slushy with some alcohol in it. It might be a little crowded, but that’s because this is one of the few cocktail bars around here that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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If you’re in Bed-Stuy looking for a cocktail, try Casablanca. It’s a little bar with old-timey vibes where you won’t spend a fortune on your drink. It’s perfect for a low-key cocktail on a weeknight or something a little rowdier on weekends. Come on Friday or Saturday, and there’ll be a crowd and DJ. Get something in a martini glass and spill it on someone while you dance. That’s a classic meet-cute, Hollywood-style.

Photo: Noah Devereaux
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Hotel Delmano might be the best date spot in Williamsburg. It’s dark, cozy, and anything goes (except for standing). They also make a lot of good cocktails here. The bartenders aren’t mixologists, however, and if you accuse them of being such, they might punch you. Not that they’re especially violent - they’re just more laid-back than anyone you’ll find in a lab coat or suspenders. Come here on a first date (and have a decent personality) and you’re set. It sort of feels like a little hotel that might be haunted.

This is a cocktail bar in the shadow of the BQE, and the only formal thing about it is the fact that the bartenders wear ties. Other than that, it’s casual. Sit at the bar and have a Manhattan or grab a little table in the corner and get a little privacy. This is the perfect place for that. If you’re on a first date or you have some shady dealings to conduct, we highly suggest this bar.

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Another perfect example of a casual cocktail bar, the Wayland is an East Village classic that we talk about probably too much. But if you’re looking for a well-made cocktail and some friendly, neighborhood vibes, it’s one of your best options. It feels a little like a cabin, they make good drinks, and it’s perfect for first dates.

When you first walk in, you expect this place to be stuffier. Maybe it’s the lack of a sign. Just know that this place isn’t uptight. Sure, it isn’t a dive, but it’s not like you have to shine your shoes and keep your voice down. Come here if you’re looking for a good first-date spot in the East Village. It isn’t huge, but they have a long bar and a few booths that are perfect for getting to know someone you may or may not get to know that well.

Dante

Greenwich Village
79-81 MacDougal St.
8.2
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Dante is equal parts restaurant and bar. Late-night, however, it’s mostly just a bar. The cocktail list is deep, and they do some interesting things with Campari. So if you’re a negroni fan, this is the place. Or if you like frozen grapes in your drink, they have those too. Walk in anytime. You won’t need a reservation, you’ll probably be able to find a seat at the bar, and there’s a good chance you’ll talk to someone with an Australian accent.

Fresh Kills Bar

161 Grand St
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The cocktail program here rivals anything you’ll find behind a phone booth or up a hidden set of stairs. But at Fresh Kills, you don’t have to mess with any of that stuff. Just walk in and grab a seat at the long bar or see if you can find an empty booth. We aren’t saying it won’t be busy, but no one’s going laugh in your face here if you can’t pronounce Fernet Branca. (They’ll do that behind your back.)

Here’s a fun fact: if a bartender can make a sazerac, that’s a decent bartender. Now, you probably won’t want a sazerac, but it’s nice to know the bartenders here can make one. This place does serious cocktails in a laid back atmosphere, and if you just want a beer or a shot, no one’s going to judge you. They also host live music in the back, and there’s a backyard for summertime drinking. And if you’re hungry, there’s a full-on restaurant downstairs.

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The Hamilton is at the northern tip of the Upper West Side, and it’s a nice, casual place to get a good cocktail. Sure, they have a set of house rules, but one of them involves a 5% discount for Tinder dates. So bring a Tinder date. The bar itself isn’t huge, but there’s a large selection of whiskey and your date will probably appreciate the fact that it’s named after that one guy from that one musical.

Caledonia Bar

Upper West Side
424 Amsterdam Avenue
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We’re going to go out on a limb and guess that assume that Caledonia is owned by the same people who own The Hamilton because A) they offer large supply of whiskeys and B) they have the same house rules. This is also the sort of pub where you can order a cocktail and not feel like a jerk. They won’t mind making you a Manhattan.

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This is a neighborhood bar on the Upper East Side that specializes in bourbon and the sort of food you want to eat alongside it (pimento cheese, tater tots, deviled eggs, etc.). The American whiskey list here is extensive, but if that isn’t your thing, they also have a good number of craft beers on tap. Needless to say, they also make some solid cocktails.

Photo: Michael Breton

If you’re going on date on the Upper East Side, Seamstress is a safe option. Your date will think you’re incredibly considerate for choosing a place that doesn’t smell like urine, and they also serve a lot of food. Seamstress is a restaurant/bar where you can grab a table or a barstool and eat some small plates while you drink your way through their 60+ cocktail offerings. The space is also pretty large, so feel free to come here with a group.

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