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 at least $17 for each one (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 to fill with leather booths and Edison bulbs. Do cocktails start at $17? Why yes, they do. But they’re 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, there’s a pianist playing in the corner every night. 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
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 dance floor, 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 Battery Harris, but kept a similar setup. There’s a large outdoor area 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 overwhelmingly 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, as well as several 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, you might as well give it a shot.
Make Believe is another rooftop, and it gets a little rowdier than Broken Shaker. It’s on the Lower East Side (on the 7th floor of the Sixty LES hotel), the crowd here is a little bit younger, and there are couple of outdoor areas on either side for when it’s nice out. There’s also a DJ setup in the corner, and if you come here late at night on a weekend, you’ll probably wind up dancing under some strings of pink lights while attempting to hold a conversation with a stranger who’s pretty decent at beer pong. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a fun spot.
Dancing on a rooftop is nice, but if you prefer dark basements that feel entirely disconnected from the outside world, go to Black Flamingo. It’s a vegan Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg that turns into a bar at night. Upstairs, there’s a lounge area where you can drink and talk to people who also enjoy drinking, and down below there’s a dance floor that gets pretty packed on weekends. It’s perfect for when you’ve spent the past dozen Saturdays at home watching Frasier reruns and finally decide you need to go out, be somewhere loud, and get home at 4am.
There are a lot of nightclubs in New York City, and almost all of them feel like dystopian worlds where Top 40 is the only music genre and your status is determined by how many bottles you own. But Bossa Nova is more like a dive bar that just happens to have a smoke machine and an extremely good sound system. It’s ideal for when you want to dance to electronic music in a dark room in Bushwick, and it’s typically too loud to have a conversation - which is fine, because you have plenty of conversations at work, in your apartment, and with people who apologize for bumping into you on the L train.