Union Pool is a classic Williamsburg bar that’s sort of like a big town square where everyone is aways kind of drunk and looking for someone new to date. It’s great for when you want to meet people, and it’s also great for when you want to get vomit on your shoes while you wait in line for the bathroom. In other words, you might have a love/hate relationship with this place. If you’re ready to move on (at least for the weekend), here are some fun alternatives.
If you’re thinking about going to Union Pool one night, but walk by and notice a very long line, you should take that as a sign and just go to Rocka Rolla instead. It’s a 1970s rock-themed bar that looks like something from the movie Dazed & Confused, and it’s only about two blocks away. This place tends to always be just the right amount of busy, and they serve a frozen coffee cocktail that will give you both a brain freeze and a hangover. It’s delicious.
Just a few blocks north of Union Pool and Rocka Rolla, you’ll find a bar called The Breakers. It’s sort of like a miniature, ’80s-themed version of Union Pool, and it has a tiny raised dance floor in the corner where you can hang out under a disco ball and jerk your limbs around after a few whiskey gingers. There’s also a counter where you can get a great fried chicken sandwich, and no one will stop you from eating it on the dance floor.
If Union Pool were a person, it would be a college junior who just tried tequila for the first time - and if Freehold were a person, it would that junior’s older sibling who just bought a studio apartment on the Williamsburg waterfront. It’s a little sleeker and slightly more grown-up, but it’s still very much a party on weekends. The space looks like a big hotel lobby without the actual hotel attached, and there’s a little dance floor in the corner that you should make use of once it gets late enough. Just be sure to get here before 10pm if you want to avoid a long line at the door.
You’re on the Lower East Side, and some friends are trying to convince you to go to Union Pool because they’re new to the city and have “heard good things.” Just tell them that Union Pool is the worst (which it sort of is), and direct them to 169 Bar instead. Here you can hang out, drink cheap beers, and play pool in a space that looks like a tropical-themed indoor rummage sale. There are palm trees and strings of lights, and while it tends to draw a decent crowd (especially on weekends), you won’t see a line snaking out the front door.
Diamond Reef is a bar on the southern edge of Bed-Stuy where you can drink a cocktail that will make you feel like you’re closer to a beach than you actually are. It has an outdoor patio and an indoor area with green leather booths, and it works pretty well for a first date - which is not something you can say about Union Pool.
Much like Union Pool, The Johnson’s is livelier than your average bar, and it’s a good place to meet new people you may or may not awkwardly run into on the subway three years from now. It looks kind of like a rec room from the 1970s, and it has a pool table for when you finally give up on finding a meaningful connection with someone, and decide to play a game instead. Also, drinks are pretty cheap, so you can hang out here for a few hours on a Saturday night without having to spend so much that your bank will dispatch a messenger to see if you’re OK.
For some reason, there seem to be a lot of ’70s-themed bars in the city at the moment. The Flower Shop is another one, and it’s in a two-story space on the Lower East Side. The ground floor is a restaurant, and down of a flight of stairs you’ll find a big bar area with orange carpets, a big pink fireplace, and a pool table. It’s the closest you’ll get to a retro house party on the Lower East Side, and it tends to attract people who only just recently stopped throwing parties at their parents’ homes.
Royal Palms is a giant indoor bar in Gowanus, and it has one thing Union Pool doesn’t: games. Like board games, but also (unsurprisingly) a bunch of shuffleboard courts. It’s pretty much just a big indoor playground for people who are old enough to consume alcohol, and it reminds us a little of Pleasure Island from Pinocchio. Only you won’t turn into a donkey here.
If you’re on the Upper East Side and you’re looking for a place where you can hang out with a group and possibly meet a future ex or two, Jack & Fanny’s is your best option. Sure, The Penrose is just across the street, but this place feels slightly less like a meet-and-greet at Kappa Kappa Gamma. It also has a few couches and a bocce court, and if you don’t look outside the front windows, you can pretend you’re about 90 blocks south on the Lower East Side.
We could have gone with something classier here - but Union Pool isn’t an especially classy place, and if you’re looking for something like it, you’ll probably enjoy Jake’s Dilemma. It’s a bar on the Upper West Side where you can play beer pong around a bunch of people who never left college (at least in spirit), and it’s perfect for when you want to chug a drink, high five someone, and sing along to a song you don’t know.
As a rule of thumb, a disco ball in a bar means that you’re going to be hungover in the morning. If you’d like proof, go to Doris on a Saturday night. It’s a neighborhood bar in Bed-Stuy where the lights go down around 10pm, when a DJ starts playing vinyl and a disco ball begins to spin around like an intoxicated person trying to find his or her cell phone. If you want to stay out late and talk to strangers, come here. And if you stare at the disco ball for too long and hurt your eyes, take a breather on the back patio.
One thing we like about Union Pool is that it’s fun and somewhat charming despite the fact that it sometimes makes you think, “Wow, I need to leave this place.” And we feel the same way about Ace Bar in the East Village. This bar gets packed, but the drinks aren’t overpriced, and it has two pool tables, a few dart boards, and a couple of skee-ball machines. Think of it as a big college bar where you can still hang out after you graduate, and claim a big booth when you get tired of talking to people who won’t remember you in the morning.
Don’t overthink things. If you’re looking for a place that’s like Union Pool, you can always just try Union Pool. Sure, you might be a little tired of it, and you might see 5 or 10 people you’ve dated here - but after a beer-and-shot combo or two, you won’t care too much about where you are anyway, and you’ll start telling strangers you invented the iPad mini. For at least a few seconds, you’ll feel like you don’t have anything to worry about beyond whether or not you still have your wallet and cell phone. Which is why you came to Union Pool in the first place.