New bars open all the time in New York - some Elvis-themed tiki bar or place serving beers made exclusively by Flemish monks probably just opened around the corner from wherever you’re currently located. But there’s nothing better than a classic.
So we made this list of our all-time favorites - the places we find ourselves returning to over and again. They’re the standbys that make this city what it is. In other words: the Greatest Hits.
If you live in New York, you should drink at them all. If you’re visiting, check out as many as you can. Some of them are cocktail bars, some are dives, and some are something in between. All of them are essential New York watering holes.
Added 10/21/2019: Ruffian, Marie’s Crisis, E’s Bar
Maison Premiere has aged extremely well. Nothing about this bar is phoned in - the cocktails are actually worth their price tag, the staff knows exactly what they’re doing, and the back garden is immaculate. It feels like a spot where you’d have an Old Fashioned before running into Mark Twain on a riverboat, and as far as we’re concerned, it will probably always be the greatest place in Brooklyn to drink cocktails and eat oysters.
Bar Goto is the coolest bar on the Lower East Side, and anyone you bring here will immediately think you are cool, too. They focus on Japanese whiskey-based drinks, and also serve some excellent bar snacks, including spicy miso chicken wings that are in our running for best wings in the city. The small space falls somewhere in between casual and nice - it’s the perfect place for any kind of one-on-one meetup with someone you’re looking to impress.
The ceiling at Marie’s Crisis is lined with the sort of string lights you’d dig out of a discount bin at Duane Reade on December 26th, and there’s an ancient TV in the corner that, as far as we know, has never been turned on. There’s also an upright piano in the middle of this cash-only West Village basement, and that’s the main reason why you come here. Every night of the week, a pianist plays show tunes (and only show tunes), and everyone is encouraged to sing along. So go ahead and learn some stuff from Rent, The Little Mermaid, Le Mis, and Company, because they pretty much always play those, and if you don’t join in, you’ll look like a tourist.
Greenpoint has a ridiculous number of bars. Dive bars, sports bars, cocktail bars, beer bars, outdoor bars, bars in the back of laundromats - this neighborhood has them all. But you’re not reading this because you want to know about every bar in Greenpoint. You’re reading this because you want to know about the one bar you should go to in Greenpoint. And if you enjoy beautiful spaces and expertly-made cocktails, that bar is Ramona - guaranteed to impress anyone, with enough room for a group of 20.
Ruffian is a wine bar, but you don’t need to care about wine to love this place. This constantly packed East Village spot blasts old-school hip hop, and the small room is filled with smells of toasting bread and frying bacon. Bartenders encourage you to taste various wines, and rather than lecturing you about mouthfeel and quaffability, they’ll use descriptors like “funky as f*ck” while pointing to the “Beach Sipping” or “Stoop Sipping” sections of the wine list. Of course, you’ll also have a great time at Ruffian if you do care about wine, and you can chat with the extremely knowledgeable staff about the 250 natural wines served here. Just don’t mention mouthfeel or quaffability.
Despite the fact that it’s all the way at the bottom of the Financial District near the Staten Island Ferry and the DMV, you should at some point get a drink at The Dead Rabbit. It’s essentially the nicest Irish pub you’ve ever seen, with an old-fashioned taproom on the first floor and a cocktail-focused parlor on the second. The drinks and food are excellent, and they pull off the “old New York” thing quite well. Entertaining tourists? Skip the Statue Of Liberty and the Seaport and bring them here instead.
Hotel Delmano isn’t actually a hotel - although it does sort of feel like a hotel lobby from the 19th century. This cocktail bar looks slightly run down, but in a charming sort of way, and if someone told us it was haunted, we’d probably believe them. The no-standing policy keeps things relatively mellow, and the whole place feels cool in a way that’ll remind you of the Williamsburg that existed before the neighborhood got an Apple Store. This also happens to be one of the best date spots in the city.
Once you arrive at June Wine Bar, you have very little reason to leave. This place is primarily a natural wine bar, but they also have great cocktails and serve dinner and brunch (consisting of small plates like squash tempura, scallop crudo, and pork terrine). Those are all things you come here for. But you end up staying because of the extremely pleasant hardwood-and-mirror-covered space, and a secret, string-light-covered backyard. You could start or end your night at June Wine bar, but this is your warning that anyplace you go before or after will seem disappointing in comparison.
There are a lot of “famous” hotel bars in New York, and while some of them are nice places, they also make us feel like tourists who don’t know where else to go. The Nomad Bar, which is connected to the Nomad Hotel and its restaurant, isn’t really a hotel bar. What it is is a place with high-quality drinks that makes you feel just fancy enough, but is full of people who actually live here. Come here to feel just a little bit special, but not that special. If New York has taught you anything, it’s that you’re only a little bit special, right?
169 Bar does its own thing: there’s a cheetah-print pool table, a painting of dinosaurs, some lawn furniture, a few palm trees, and lots of multicolored lights. It’s a weird place, and everyone fits in. In the daytime, it looks like an indoor garage sale, but at night it’s consistently fun and busy. Lazy drinkers can text an order from their table, and if you’re hungry, there are dumplings. 169 Bar is essentially a clubhouse for the Lower Lower East Side, and it’s the perfect place to start your night.
If every bar except E’s Bar disappeared from the Upper West Side, we would, of course, be a little upset. But life would go on, and we’d still manage to get out of bed in the morning - because E’s Bar is really all you need. This neighborhood spot is perfect for a burger and a beer by yourself, it’s great for group hangs (there are plenty of board games), and you can book the back area if you want to throw yourself a birthday party. Think of this place as an extremely nice dive bar or a big rec room that you don’t have space for in your apartment. It’s exactly where you’d drink if your life were a sitcom with an ensemble cast and a live studio audience.
A lot of birthdays between the ages of 26 and 32 happen at Lavender Lake, and that should tell you a lot of what you need to know about this Gowanus spot. There’s a really nice outdoor area as well as a big indoor area, the beer and cocktail varieties are plenty, and the food is even good. If it’s a nice Sunday afternoon, this is one of the best places to drink a cold one.
A Long Island City staple, Dutch Kills is a dark, narrow cocktail lounge that’s usually full of Queens people who like to drink things that taste good. It can be tough to get a seat on weekends, but this bar is worth a visit even if you don’t live in the area. Pair it up with a visit to Casa Enrique or Mu Ramen, and you’ve got a well-planned evening on your hands.
To us, Spring Lounge is the epitome of a Greatest Hit. It has all the necessary components of a classic New York City dive bar. Smells of old socks and dust? Check. Random European tourists? Check. Great jukebox? Check. Giant shark hanging over the bar? Also check. We’ve never had a bad time at Spring Lounge, even though it’s always crowded and never smells perfect. You won’t, either.
If Williamsburg were a vampire, you’d have to drive a stake through The Commodore to kill it. Go out around Bedford Ave, and you will most likely end up at this bar. The space is dark, the music is loud, and you will probably see someone you know. The house cocktail is a piña colada with an amaretto float. Don’t question it, just get one. You might look dumb with the tall plastic hurricane glass, but, by the second round, we doubt you’ll care. If you get hungry, The Commodore has you covered with its burgers and fried chicken.
Close your eyes and imagine the perfect neighborhood bar. You probably just pictured something like Bearded Lady in Prospect Heights. This place has great cocktails, but it’s casual enough that you can stand around with a beer, and it’s just as good for a small group hang as it is for a first date. The interior (with its teal floor) looks a little like a lounge from the 1960s, and there’s a pool table, a big wraparound bar, and some sidewalk seating in the summertime. The next time you’re in the area, stop by, get a tiki drink, and make some new friends.
The Wayland looks a little like an upscale cabin in the woods, and it’s good for a casual date or an even-more-casual cocktail by yourself while you stare out one of the big windows. The cocktails are tasty, sometimes there’s live music, and you will want to eat everything on the menu. This is what you call a “feel-good bar,” so go here and feel good.
For all its shopping, tourists, and people who have money to spend on unnecessary things like a seventh drink, the Soho/Nolita area is strangely lacking in good bars. Enter Sweet & Vicious, a dive bar that’s earned its place on this list for two reasons: a killer back patio, and dangerously strong frozen margaritas. This is a great place to plan a coworker drinks hang - just don’t blame us if you wake up with a headache tomorrow.
Big leather booths, inexpensive shot + beer combos, two large rooms plus an outdoor space - on paper, these are the reasons you come to Bushwick’s Three Diamond Door. But in reality, you come here because it has all of those things, plus the kind of feel-good energy that makes you want to move in. Not quite a dive, but definitely not fancy - this is the kind of middle-ground spot that’s perfect for most drinking situations.
Union Pool is where you go to meet up with a group of friends and possibly wind up talking to someone you’ll date for three weeks. There are a couple of indoor spaces as well as a big backyard - and in the summertime, that yard is where you’ll find everyone. The drinks are cheap, there’s a taco truck in the back, and on weekends most of Williamsburg tends to be present. When you want to be shoulder to shoulder with a lot of drunk and happy people, Union Pool is the place to go.
Look for the “ON AIR” sign on 9th Street, and walk downstairs into the underground cave known as Sake Bar Decibel. There’s graffiti on the walls, the lights are tinted red, and the sake list is long and fairly cheap. Everyone who’s ever been here has been delighted by the experience (it’s a fact), and everyone who’s been here has walked out drunker than they realize (also a fact).
If there were a front patio Hall of Fame, Harlem Tavern would be one of the first inductees. The patio here is huge, and it takes up pretty much the whole northwest corner of 116th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. In the summertime, sit at a table out there and drink a strawberry daiquiri out of a mason jar. Or, if it’s the time of year when you’re putting on multiple sweaters before you leave the house, hang out in the large indoor area. There are lots of tables and booths, and they have a huge menu of some pretty good bar food. Essentially, this place is like the nicest pub in your neighborhood - but bigger and better.