You’re hungry, and you want to go someplace with a little bit of a scene. That said, you’re not exactly looking for a bar where it takes 30 minutes and a security detail to get to and from the bathroom. What you need is one of the restaurants on this list. Here are 16 places with good food and a fun crowd, all of which have bars where you can hang out for a solo meal or night out with some friends.
Action at the bar in Williamsburg used to mean drinking PBRs in a sticky-floored spot with nothing but a dartboard on the wall, and in the future, it’ll probably entail large-format cocktails on the roof of an Equinox overlooking the river. Right now, it can be summed up pretty well by the scene at Four Horsemen, where people crowd into a small space owned by a famous musician (James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem) to drink and learn about natural wines while sharing really good small plates like housemade bread and cured fish.
You and a client in town from Charlotte bonded over a shared passion for ’80s Billy Joel, and decided to go out after your last meeting. You’re wearing suits, but you want a somewhat sceney space where you won’t get strange looks for pulling out that video of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” in concert after a martini or two. Sit at Locanda Verde’s long bar, order cocktails and some very good pastas, and make friends with other people who enjoy ’80s Billy Joel (a.k.a. everyone).
Fedora feels kind of like a dinner party at a friend’s apartment, but rather than drinking rum and Dr. Pepper on a couch that’s been given away three different times, you’ll get high-quality American food in the basement of a brownstone in the West Village. Sit at the bar and get some of the best chicken in the city, along with rum cocktails that have more interesting mixers than Dr. Pepper (like pear cider and cherry bark bitters).
Assuming you don’t have access to Bobby Axelrod’s penthouse, Manhatta is just about the most impressive place to get drinks in New York. This French restaurant is on the 60th floor of a building in FiDi, and the bar area, which is walk-in only and more casual than the prix-fixe dining room, has floor-to-ceiling windows with views that will make even long-time New Yorkers want to take photos. It’s mostly filled with crowds of people who work within a couple blocks of the Bull, but the setting and high-end bar food, like mini croque madames topped with quail eggs, make it worth a trip from anywhere in the city.
This Tribeca bistro is packed every night, and the crowds of people drinking natural wine and eating duck frites or lobster with curry butter sauce keep the energy level high. The bar area up front is especially buzzy, as it’s filled with walk-ins having drinks and dinner, as well as groups waiting for their tables in the dining room.
Ruffian is a 19-seat wine bar, but it has as much going on as places 10 times its size. All of the food on the rotating Mediterranean menu is cooked behind the bar in full view of everyone, and the small room quickly fills up with smells of toasting bread and frying bacon. They also blast old-school hip-hop from the speakers, making the usually-packed space even louder. You can’t make reservations, so this place is great for last-second dates, or a solo meal where you break the ice with strangers by asking which of the 250 natural wines they’re currently drinking.
Playa Betty’s feels like a San Diego beach party as imagined by a New Yorker who has never been to California. But while the surfboards on the walls, palm trees, and “Hang 10” burrito may seem kitschy, this is really just a fun place to drink margaritas and eat big portions of Mexican food on the Upper West Side. The bright, rectangular bar is no exception, and if you’re looking to share buckets of beers or play drinking games with strangers, this is one of your best options in the area.
There’s no shortage of places to get a cheeseburger and $4 High Life by McCarren Park, but none is quite as comfortable as Bernie’s. This American spot from the people behind Frankel’s looks a little like an upscale TGI Fridays. But it doesn’t feel kitschy, and while you might be drawn to one of the shiny red booths, the bar is a great place to hang out, chat, and eat some very good comfort food.
This is one of the most versatile bars in New York. It’s an upscale cocktail spot that gets its fair share of dates, as well as business groups who can share stories about that epic convention in Miami in ’88. The dark space gets packed pretty much every night, and the standing-room-only area is a great place to have a few excellent cocktails with a friend. There are booths on the ground floor and tables upstairs, but you can also order the full food menu at the bar. Definitely get the dry-aged burger or chicken pot pie with truffles and foie gras.
There are a lot of crowded bars in Midtown East, but if you don’t want to eat buffalo wings next to a guy in a Messier jersey or $33 tuna tartare next to a commodities trader from Dallas, go to Crave. The dark space has a long bar that gets a mix of Happy Hour crowds drinking martinis, dates sharing ceviche and oysters, and solo diners who told their real estate agents that proximity to work was the most important factor in choosing an apartment. You’ll probably make some friends if you get the chocolate chip cookie topped with ice cream for dessert.
Gramercy Tavern has a dining room where you can get a prix-fixe menu that costs as much as your August ConEd bill, but the best way to experience this NYC staple is the walk-in only bar area. They serve an a la carte menu of things like cavatelli with goat sausage and monkfish in lobster sauce, along with a thick, rare burger with bacon and just the right amount of cheese. You probably won’t end up taking shots of well whiskey or dancing to “Call Me Maybe” here, but you will get fine-dining-quality food without feeling out of place in jeans and a (nice) T-shirt.
Llama Inn is a not-very-expensive Williamsburg restaurant with a cool-looking space and very good food. As a result, it’s packed every night, which makes it great for both people-watching and actually striking up conversations. Whichever way you want to use it, the bar in the middle of the big, colorful room is an ideal place to take everything in. Get some high-quality Peruvian food and listen as the person next to you says that pisco sours “don’t even taste like they have alcohol” four different times.
Legacy Records is surrounded by Penn Station, Times Square, and Port Authority. And while neon-heavy chain restaurants set the bar pretty low in that area, we’d recommend this place no matter where it was located. It’s from the people behind Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones, so you can expect tasty Italian food, as well as one of our favorite duck dishes in the city. The opulent space has a big horseshoe bar that looks like it belongs on a futuristic cruise ship that probably also has the ability to fly, and you’ll probably be surrounded by people who work somewhat nearby.
Two of our favorite things about Oxomoco, a Mexican spot in Greenpoint, are the space and the cocktail list. Enjoy both of them when you drink an oversized frozen margarita underneath skylights and hanging vines at a bar that looks like an Aztec shrine to alcohol. It’s usually packed with people waiting for their tables, and people who were waiting for their tables before they realized that they could just hang at the bar for the night. Start with some snacks like chile-lime popcorn and spiced mango, then get the tlayuda (a huge tortilla topped with melted cheese, grilled corn, and hot sauce) with another round of margaritas.
You and some people from the marketing team talk about going to Vegas every other day. But rather than actually going and then spending a weekend deleting Instagram stories minutes after posting them, just get post-work drinks at The Ragtrader. This spot right below Bryant Park looks like it could be a hotel bar in Vegas, and it gets packed daily with people who want to talk sh*t about their bosses and ask strangers where they went to college before taking the subway back to Williamsburg or LIC.
If you’re treating The Spaniard as a restaurant, then the crowds three-deep at the bar, backing into your table as you try to eat buffalo duck wings and a dry-aged patty melt, will take away from your experience. But assuming you aren’t put off by people reaching over your shoulder for cups of ice to add to their rosé, the bar is a fun spot to meet someone new while eating high-end pub food and drinking cocktails or any of the 100 types of whiskey on the menu.