If a friend asks you to get drinks tonight and you recommend going out on the Upper East Side, the most likely response will be seven mostly random emojis followed by a, “Seriously, where should we go?” But this neighborhood has plenty of good options for any type of drinking situation. Whether you’re looking to have a few cheap shot and beer combos, a high-quality cocktail with a date, or something in between, here are the best places to drink on the UES.
The Upper East Side isn’t the first or second or 12th neighborhood that comes to mind for fun late-night bars, but that doesn’t mean you need to head across the park or 70 blocks south just to take 2am shots of tequila with strangers. Instead, go Jack & Fanny’s, and either get a booth with some friends or challenge a few strangers to a game of bocce (with the loser buying a round of tequila shots, of course).
Walk into Ethyl’s Alcohol And Food, and you’ll feel like you’re in Times Square in the 1970s. The walls are covered in ’70s memorabilia, the bathrooms are filthy, and there’s a disco ball. Also, the whole place smells like incense, the walls are lined with mirrors, and pretty much all the music you’ll hear was made before 1980. Did we mention there’s a disco ball? It’s a charming place, and it’s where you should be drinking whiskey when you’re in the mood for something on the divier side.
2nd Avenue Deli is a classic spot for corned beef sandwiches and matzo ball soup, and now, against all odds, they have a very cool bar hidden above their very normal space at 75th and 1st Avenue. It’s up a flight of stairs behind a door with a little neon sign, and it’s one of the best places for a date on the UES. The bar is filled with candles and antique light fixtures, and if it weren’t for John Mayer on the stereo, this place would feel like something from the 1920s. The bar food is also some of the best in the city - definitely get the duck blintzes.
Eli’s Night Shift is another one of the best early-in-the-game date spots on the UES. Grab a couple bar seats in the attractive-looking, always crowded space, and either order something from the highly local draft beer list or get an excellent cocktail, like the one with rum, mint tea, and sparkling wine. If you want to transition from drinks to dinner, they serve some really good bar snacks as well.
The Penrose is from the same people who own The Wren, and like that Noho bar, this place pretty much always has a crowd. It’s one of the few spots on the UES where you’ll find something resembling a scene, so it’s perfect for when you want to have a good cocktail and wind up talking to a stranger who went to school with your cousin. Just be aware that the bar area up front tends to be packed with people on first dates, and the odds of your getting a seat on a Friday or Saturday night are about the same as finding an empty subway car that doesn’t smell bad.
This is a consistently crowded restaurant on the Upper East Side that works for everything from date nights to fun group dinners, but the separate bar area up front is also useful when you’re just looking for drinks. They serve really good cocktails, like one with strawberry and black pepper mezcal, as well as quality wines by the glass and beers on tap. You wouldn’t spend the whole night here, but it’s a solid option for after-work drinks or low-commitment dates.
Earl’s feels like it could be a small-town bar: it’s divey, but more in an “everyone’s wearing their intramural basketball team T-shirts” way and less in an “everyone smells like well whiskey” way. There’s naturally an excellent beer selection, and there’s also naturally a lot of food that involves cheese.
The Subway Inn is not the kind of place you come to drink a fancy cocktail or a glass of dry riesling. It’s a place you come for a beer or a whiskey soda (or whatever your preferred liquor + mixer combination is), because sometimes it’s pretty refreshing to drink at a place that doesn’t give a sh*t about bitters or designer tonic. Especially when that place has been around since 1937. It might have gotten a new location a couple years ago, but The Subway Inn is still one of the more iconic places to drink on the Upper East Side.
“You can’t be all things to all people.” That statement is mostly true, unless you’re The Jeffrey. This place is great for craft beer people, outdoorsy people, sports people, food people, coffee people, and fancy cocktail people. And most importantly, it’s really great for people who often find themselves anywhere near the Upper East Side or Midtown. Come by yourself to watch a game, come with a friend to catch up, or come with a crew of 15 who all want different things. Everyone will be happy.
The Guthrie Inn
The Guthrie Inn is a narrow, red brick space with leather seats and an always-on-point playlist, so it’s an excellent choice for casual cocktails. Start your next date night here, and then head next door to Earl’s for some tipsy grilled cheese eating.
This British pub is a full-blown restaurant, and a good one at that, but there’s also a sizable front area with plenty of seating and even some TVs. Do you call soccer “football”? You’ll like it here.
One of your friends wants to watch the Rangers game, another claims he’s eaten nothing but a Fiber One bar all day, and you haven’t gotten any vitamin D since last weekend. Bedford Falls is a big spot that has something for everyone, with a room up front that feels like a sports bar, tables throughout the space, a long food menu, and a nice back patio. They also do Happy Hour until 7pm every day, as well as various other drink specials each day of the week.
Five Mile Stone is essentially an overachieving Irish pub. It has two floors and some very nice wallpaper, and feels like an old-timey house where all the furniture and appliances were replaced with a couple of bars and a bunch of tables. It’s a great place for some casual drinking with a group, there’s a huge menu of all your standard bar foods, and it gets pretty loud and busy (in a fun way) on the weekends. So if you’ve been spending so much time at The Penrose that you run into someone you’ve dated every time you go there, start using this place as an alternative.
Doc Watson's is a useful place to know about because it works for almost any type of casual drinking situation. It’s open from noon until 4am every day, and the sidewalk seating and backyard work if you want to drink outside while the sun is still out. If, on the other hand, you want to hole up with a dark beer and drink away your sorrows while watching any New York sports team you may support, there’s a long bar and a dining room with a lot of TVs. And if you and some friends are looking to start or finish the night in an aggressive and affordable way, they also offer cheap Happy Hour specials until 7pm and after 11pm during the week.
The Upper East Side has an excess of places where you can get a relatively cheap drink and watch sports on a big flat screen TV, but Duke’s is one of the most fun. From the outside, it looks like a big, cheesy sports bar - and that’s because it is. But it has plenty of room and lots of TVs, and you can eat a big plate of buffalo wings while you watch Duke play some other team in basketball.
Bondurants has a big draft beer selection, and a much bigger American whiskey one. So if you’re a fan of either, you should make your way to this low-key spot, sit at the horseshoe bar, and try some varieties you’ve probably never had before.
As you’ve possibly gathered by now, the Upper East Side has a good number of pubs that serve good beer and cocktails. The Milton is another one. Use it if you’re in the 90s and want to grab a drink and perhaps watch soccer on TV someplace with super friendly bartenders.
The Auction House
The Auction House kind of feels like a reenactment of Eyes Wide Shut. Red velvet couches, paintings of naked ladies, candles and chandeliers, dim lighting. Except imagine that without any of the weirdness or pretension. This is actually a nice, relaxed hang.
Bemelmans isn’t a place you’re going to visit every day: the drinks are over $20 each, there’s live music, and the walls are covered in fancy painted gold wallpaper. Make of all that what you will. But it’s a New York classic, and a place worth visiting at least once, for a special occasion.