There are a lot of places to drink in this city.
If you want to drink liquor, there are plenty of bars to down a cheap, watery whiskey ginger, and also probably almost as many where "mixologists" with ironic mustaches will make you a "bespoke" cocktail. If it's beer you're after, you won't have any trouble finding a spot with $2 PBRs, or a place to drink the latest microbrews from Stockholm.
And then there are wine bars. When you think of wine bars, maybe you think of places with red brick walls that advertise their free hummus appetizer on Groupon, right below the laser hair removal. Or maybe you think of the place you went on a date with someone who lectured you about grape varietals.
Fortunately, wine bars don't have to be sad, pretentious, scary places. There's a whole crop of places with great wine, cool vibes, unpretentious service, and often, solid plates of small food. Whether you're meeting a date for drinks, rolling up to the bar solo, or looking for a place to grab a glass of wine before dinner, here are some wine bars that don't suck.
There are a lot of places to sit and have a drink in the West Village, and that means some of get overlooked. Gottino, for example. It never gets too crazy here. Maybe that's because they don’t serve liquor, or maybe it’s because the space isn’t that big to begin with. All we know is that this place does some good small plates and that it's perfect for a date night - so if you mess one up, it's 100% your fault.
The transition between your 20's and 30's can be a weird and confusing time. But that's what places like Brooklyn Winery are for. Come here the next time you want to have a somewhat fun night out but you don’t want to end up staring blankly into a toilet. This is a wine bar in Williamsburg connected to winery, and the space feels like a nice industrial loft.
Technically Jadis is on the Lower East Side, but it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s quieter than your average LES bar, but it still has laid-back, downtown vibes. The bar itself is in the basement of an apartment building, and it’s dark with some tables and couches. It’s good for a first date or for low-key drinks with friends, and if you decide you want to get a little less responsible afterward, all those other LES bars are right there.
The Immigrant is two bars in one. On the left they serve beer, and on the right they have wine. Why they divided it up like this, we have no idea - but at least they're doing something different. And once you get past the weird concept, you’ll find that this is a nice, normal bar. It isn’t divey or fancy, it’s just a good, calm place to have some wine and cheese in the East Village.
Bushwick is the new Williamsburg. That’s been a fact for a while now, and it’s thanks in part to places like Sunrise/Sunset. This is a casual little cafe/bar with small plates and affordable wine. If you’re in the area, it’s a good place to grab a table and hang with a few friends. They also do cocktails, although it doesn't feel like a full-on bar. Now, the question is: what neighborhood is the new Bushwick? Discuss amongst yourselves.
If you need wine, raw seafood, and some dark, moody atmosphere, there’s always Desnuda. Actually, there are always two Desnudas - one in the East Village, and one in Williamsburg. We like the Manhattan location, but the one in Brooklyn is nice too. It isn’t huge, but there’s a nice, elevated seating area and a table in back that offers some serious privacy. You can’t go wrong with either. Especially if you're into ceviche.
Bibi is a little neighborhood wine bar, but that doesn’t mean it’s lame. Actually, maybe it’s a little lame - but it doesn’t suck. It's just a nice, quiet place to have a few glasses of wine with a friend (or date). It isn’t the rowdiest bar in the East Village, but if you’re looking for that sort of action, you probably aren’t looking for a wine bar anyway. Bibi is affordable, laid-back, and perfect for a weeknight.
This is a French wine bar, but not the quiet/quaint kind. The layout is open, the vibes are lively, and it’s good for groups. Come with some friends, and get your night started here. Or maybe just hang out at the bar and eat a meat & cheese plate by yourself. The next time you're hanging around The Lincoln Center or Columbus Circle and you need a not-boring place to get a drink, come here.
Ruffian is a tiny wine bar in the East Village, and it’s where you go when food and wine take precedence over vibes. We aren’t saying the vibes aren’t good here, but this isn’t the place for a group or a date. (There just isn’t enough space.) The small plates are are more interesting than what you find in your average wine bar, however, and the wine list is perfect for wine nerds.
The Ten Bells is a great Lower East Side standby. The wine list is made up of all organic and sustainable wines, it's an appealing space, and most importantly: they have an oyster happy hour every day. There's a large menu of mostly Spanish small plates, but eating a full-blown meal here is unnecessary. Stick to the oysters and the wine, and you'll be very pleased.
If you're on the level where you're starting to geek out about wine a little, this is where you want to be drinking. Rebelle is a large modern French restaurant on Bowery, but we aren't big fans of the fairly formal dining situation in back. That said, we are big fans of grabbing drinks in the large front bar area. The wine list is highly extensive, the bartenders are highly knowledgeable, the space is pretty sexy, and bonus: it's never crowded.
The Four Horsemen is a wine bar in Williamsburg owned by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, which immediately makes it "cool." For extra cool points, all the wines here are natural, which means they're young wines that don't contain any preservative sulfites. Some people think this gives you less of a hangover - we're not sure, but we know we've enjoyed everything we've drank and eaten here. The space may be small, but whether you’re at the bar or a table this is an excellent spot for a date or small group hang. And be sure to talk up your server - these people know what they're talking about.
Terroir used to have locations all over the city, but this is the only one left aside from a summer-only outdoor High Line outpost. It's a shame, because this place is great. It tends to attract a more corporate crowd due to its location, but it's still relaxed, and the food is excellent. Order the meatballs. You won't regret it.
The East Village has plenty of spots for two-for-one drinks, unlimited mimosas at brunch, and sports on TV. Harder to find are comfortable, civilized places for having a nice glass of wine and getting your adult on. Not that this is a stuffy, boring wine bar by any means - all wines are on tap, so if you squint a little you can almost pretend you’re at a kegger.
Casellula is a “cheese and wine cafe," and the order of those words is important. There's nice wine here, but the emphasis is on the cheese - it was started by the guy who used to run the cheese situation at The Modern. It's located in a comfortable little room in Hell's Kitchen, and is probably the best place for a low key drink on this side of town.
Located in the ground floor of a condo building, Ardesia is another nice place to drink wine in Hell's Kitchen. The focus is on "mineral-driven" wines (does that make them healthy?), and the food is solid too - get some of those homemade pretzels.
Another bar specializing in natural wines is June, a truly excellent neighborhood spot in Cobble Hill. This isn’t the kind of place you meet your friend of a friend who wants to network, or your clingy ex-roommate you’ve been putting off. This is the kind of place you come with people you really like (or for a killer first date), on a night when you don’t need to rush. It’s comfortable, it’s charming, and it’s reasonably priced enough that you won’t be horrified by your three-hour bill.
In some ways, Lelabar is your standard wine bar: candles everywhere, a jazz soundtrack, and an intimidating list of over 200 wines you have to navigate. But there are a few things that make this place a standout. For one, it has an excellent daily Happy Hour during which normally pricey bottles are $28 and glasses are $8. We’re also fans of the u-shaped bar setup - should you be feeling social, it lends itself well to chatting with your neighbors, and to get some ordering advice from the friendly and knowledgeable sommeliers.
Don't worry about the fact that you can't pronounce the name of this place, and get yourself a drink. This French spot on Centre Street from the people who own the Experimental Cocktail Club has a lot of great happy hour offerings, and can suit lots of different situations, whether you want to roll up to the bar solo, sit one-on-one at a table, or need a semi-private room for a bigger group. The wine options are great, as is the wallpaper.
Black Mountain Wine House is the mountain cabin of your dreams, smack dab in the middle of Gowanus. If you can’t get away from the city for a weekend, this is an excellent second-best escape. Bring a date, get comfortable, and enjoy the cozy yet totally un-cheesy environment.
Wildair is the kind of place that will convince you that the only thing you need for dinner - or in life, really - is a glass of wine and some bread. Which isn’t to say that the rest of the food at Wildair isn’t great. But at this hip yet casual spot, interesting wines (read: ones we’ve never heard of), an interesting scene, and interesting conversation go a very long way.
Aldo Sohm is admittedly a bit expensive and a bit stuffy, but it is, after all, Le Bernardin's wine bar. If you're looking for an upscale place to meet for drinks (and some great small plates of food), Aldo Sohm is worth checking out.
Anfora is the wine bar next door sibling to dell'anima, one of our favorite West Village Italian restaurants. It's a great place to stop in for a drink before dinner, or to meet a friend for wine and cheese. Be warned that as it gets later, things get rowdy. Or at least as rowdy as things can get in a wine bar.