One day, someone will ask you where you go out, and you’ll just stare into space for a second or two and then say, “I don’t.” This might happen when you’re 23 or it might happen when you’re 63. If it happened already, this guide’s for you.
Below you’ll find two lists of options. The first has a bunch of relatively calm bars that are trendy but not too sceney, and the second has some places where people who don’t need this guide already know they’re supposed to go.
calmer Bars WHERE NO ONE WILL SPILL A DRINK ON YOU
Not all bars serving high-end mixed drinks have hidden entrances or smart casual dress codes. Existing Conditions is a great example. This experimental cocktail spot in Greenwich Village infuses bourbon with waffles and clarifies juices with centrifuges - but you won’t feel out of place in jeans and a t-shirt, and the no-standing policy means it never gets too crowded (although there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait). Come with a date, or a friend who’ll enjoy drinking a bottled martini that comes from a vending machine.
If you’re looking for a spot with views in Midtown, but you don’t want to nudge past a quarter of the JP Morgan fixed income desk to order a drink, Ophelia is a good option. It’s a rooftop bar with wraparound views of Midtown and the East River, but it’s not rowdy, and most of the space is full of tables and couches where you can sit and drink expensive cocktails with unusual ingredients like cedar smoke. You’ll pay about $18 each for them (which may remind you why you stopped going out in the first place), but they’re good.
You want to drink in a place that’s not your apartment, but the further you can be from a DJ, the better. Go to Threes Brewing, a big brewery in Gowanus where you’ll drink some very good beers just a few feet from where they were brewed. Sit at a table in the ivy-covered backyard while you listen to music that wasn’t made on a computer.
The Polynesian is a tiki-themed bar on top of the Pod Hotel near Times Square. Based on that description, this place could easily be terrible, but it’s actually a great spot to drink cocktails and eat some very good bar food. Sit inside if you want a relaxed situation with table service, or if you’d prefer to order at the bar, get one of the standing tables on the big outdoor terrace overlooking Midtown. Either way, order the rum cocktail that comes out on fire in a skull-shaped glass.
Patent Pending is a speakeasy hidden behind a coffee shop, and like Existing Conditions, it has a no-standing policy, so it stays pretty calm. You should make a reservation, but the speakeasy situation isn’t over the top - it just feels kind of like a cave that someone decided fill with leather booths and Edison bulbs. Do cocktails start at $16? Why yes, they do. But they’re also very well-made, and you’re paying for the opportunity to sit in a cool little room and not have to shout your drink order at the bartender.
If we had to rank all the bars in Midtown, Bo Peep would be somewhere near the top of the list. It’s down a flight of stairs beneath The Ragtrader on 38th Street, and it feels like a study in someone’s home from the 1920s, with antique lamps and velvet furniture. Plus, every night there’s a pianist playing in the corner. This place is both fun and relaxing, and not many people seem to know about it. Also, random employees will occasionally step up to the mic and sing a song.
BusIER places for when you really want to go out
Elsewhere is a big music venue in a warehouse in Bushwick, and it has three different spaces: a large room for bigger acts, a small one for more up-and-coming ones, and a rooftop. They host ticketed shows in all of them, but if it’s warm outside, you should be on the roof. On the weekend, you’ll have to pay a cover, but there’s plenty of room, and it’s a fun place to dance with people from all over the city while the sun goes down. The roof closes at 11pm, but if you want to keep your night going, just walk over to Jupiter Disco afterward.
Think back to when you used to close down bars on the LES. Or your friends used to do that and tell you about it. If you want to relive those days without actually shedding a drop of sweat on a dancefloor, go to 169 Bar. It’s divey and has really cheap shot and beer combinations, with colorful string lights that make it feel like a perpetual party. There are always crowds here, but it’s still never particularly tough to get a bartender’s attention (and you can also just text your order in from a table). Hang out till close and you’ll feel 24 again. Until you wake up in the morning.
The Breakers took over the Williamsburg space that used to be the Battery Harris, but kept a similar setup. There’s a large outdoor space with tables and a view of the BQE, and an indoor area with a DJ and a little elevated dance floor. It’s fun, but it isn’t overwhelming clubby, and there’s some good bar food for when you get hungry and start wondering why you’re out past midnight when you could be in bed watching British people help each other bake things.
Rooftop bars have a tendency to be uncomfortably packed with people on the lookout for their next vodka Red Bull. But Broken Shaker is actually pretty cool. There’s a retro tiki theme here, but in reality it feels less like a tiki bar and more like a place where Jeff Bridges’ character from The Big Lebowski would hang out and drink a white Russian. There’s a big, dark indoor bar area where you can either just drink or sit down and eat some food, with outdoor patios on either side. The only downside is that there will almost definitely be a line to get in. Since you don’t go out very often, roll the dice.
We typically wouldn’t send you to a place where you’ll need to wait in line for the chance to talk to a doorman who, depending on your shoes, might let you drink on a rooftop. But you’re here because you told us you really want to go out. The Public’s rooftop has a great view, the crowd mostly consists of people who haven’t yet realized that age is a thing, and you can either hang out on the patio or take pictures of the view through floor-to-ceiling windows, then send said pictures to all the people who incorrectly suspect that you never leave your home.