Someone from your kickboxing class wants to hang out, but no one really knows what “hang out” means anymore—and it doesn’t help that our collective communication skills have been reduced to sending each other flame emoji reactions on Instagram. You like this person, but you don’t like like them, so now you need a spot where you can make it clear that you're just friends. Here's where to go. This guide has a bunch of casual, non-romantic places where you can grab a drink and avoid any candlelight that would make you look even more irresistible.
The Shakespeare @ The William
The Shakespeare is a large, cozy bar that does a great job of recreating a British pub where you'd hang out with your “mates.” (Do they call it mate-zoning over there? Very confusing.) But portraits of Shakespeare and other super dead British people make this place decidedly unromantic, and they'll remind your potential admirer that love only ends in tragedy. This pub is a favorite after-work stop for Midtown’s nine-to-fivers, so you’re more likely to see people shit-talking their boss than you are to come across any couples gazing into each other’s eyes.
Merriam-Webster defines "hang out" as “to spend time idly or in relaxing or socializing,” and that’s the definition you’re going to go with lest anyone accuse you of leading them on. Earl’s Beer and Cheese is a cozy bar with a common-room feel that asks nothing more of you than to spend time idly, with zero pretense or pressure. Grab a seat at the communal table and order perhaps the least romantic of foods: a big pot of beer cheese.
Our favorite, tried-and-true friend-zone spots are makeshift group settings where you can bring your own group or find one to infiltrate as if you haven't been living in New York long enough to mind your own business. At the Rookery, the vibe is generally “the more the merrier.” Long tables and a U-shaped bar make it easy to chat with the friendly bartenders or the people next to you if your friend seems like they’ve got some heart-shaped beer goggles on. The crowd skews young too, so you'll probably meet someone who hasn't realized that other people are the worst, and they might feel inclined to introduce you to all of their friends. Just be careful about what you order on the cocktail menu. Go for the “Left on Read” over the “Cuffing Season” cocktail to prevent any mixed messages.
This is the little cafe on the ground floor of the Standard East Village with enough collared shirts and tourists around to keep things from feeling too date-y. It’s a good spot to catch up with a co-worker who lingers at your desk a little too long or an old acquaintance visiting the city who seems to be trying to fit both the Empire State Building and a vacation fling into their 3-day business trip.
We’re not going to perpetuate any stereotypes about theater kids being big dorks too busy singing show tunes to have a real romantic life. What else do you think is going on at all those steamy late-night rehearsals for Oklahoma? But the show tunes part is true. At Marie’s Crisis, you can sing along to musical numbers being played on the piano all night, and, unless you come with the person you’ve been in a tumultuous will-they-won’t-they friendship with ever since you were cast as Tony and Maria in West Side Story, it shouldn't get too romantic. This place is loud and ruckus, and every song is a group activity.
Friend, comrade, bud, boon companion—you’ve called your pal everything but their name, and they still don’t get it. To be fair, boon companion sounds far from platonic, but the rest were pretty clear. It’s becoming apparent they still intend to broach the subject of taking your relationship further, but good luck trying to do that at Houston Hall. It’s a huge space with a big projector and people acting foolish in fun-to-watch ways. Turn your boon companion’s attention that way anytime you need to whack-a-mole the words “I’ve been thinking…” coming off the tip of their tongue.
Corner Social isn’t exactly a date spot. Or at least it’s a very hectic one. During the day, you can catch up over kale and quinoa salads (there’s no way kale is an aphrodisiac) if you’re looking for somewhere to have a friendly meetup. But as day turns to night, this place builds into a party with loud music, which will present you with the perfect opportunity to mill around the large crowd and show off your wingman skills.
A person in your improv class asked you to hang out, and you said “Yes, and why not meet for an ale at the tavern,” in an Elizabethan accent without realizing you weren’t doing a scene. Of all the taverns, Tavern29 is probably your safest bet. This is an old (built-in-1864 old), unpretentious place where people hang with friends and maybe watch the game on TV. Also, unless you’ve got a key to the park, Gramercy is a weird place to try to have a steamy date in the first place.
The Smith isn’t even a friend zone. It’s neutral ground. It’s whatever you want it to be. There’s not much going on at the Smith that’ll stimulate good conversation, let alone any of the other senses, really. (If, after bringing someone here, you still haven’t convinced them that perhaps you aren’t so interesting after all, it’s worse than you thought.) Grab a drink at whichever Smith location you’re around when you need to ensure that you make no new memories that your acquaintance can look back on as the moment they knew you were the one.
Your friend set you up on a blind date. You don’t go on blind dates, because it’s not the 50s. But then she reminds you that things aren’t going great for you in this decade either, so you agree to a friendly coffee date with someone she met at summer camp 15 years ago. You do not have high hopes. But just in case, meet up at The Roost. You can start the date comfortably situated in the friend zone at the coffee shop in the front, then move to the bar hidden in the back if things are going well.
Your childhood friend thinks you’re the Joey to their Dawson, and you need to explain to them that just because you’ve been friends since that show was actually on the air doesn’t mean you belong together. For a hard conversation with someone you actually care about, we suggest The Bonnie in Astoria. It’s still warm and intimate enough to show you value your friendship, without being too romantic. Hopefully, this gentle push into the friend zone ends with a good-natured pact to marry each other if you’re still single in a decade.
Nothing Really Matters
This is another one for when friend-zoning requires a conversation. When you’re letting someone down gently, it’s important to be kind, communicative, and firm. But after that, it might be time to flee. Conversation has lulled, and you’re both looking around for a piece of wall to stare at. If you think this is a possibility, meet up at Nothing Really Matters. It’s a bar under a subway station, which makes it easy for you to get out of there as soon as you finish your cocktail. The name of this bar will send a nihilistic message, sure, but hopefully that message is also helpful and liberating.