What are the best bars/lounges in NYC?
May 14, 2012 8:13 AM   Subscribe

What are the best bars/lounges in NYC?

I've been working in midtown Manhattan for over a year (contract position, I fly into town for 4 days every week) and I've been stuck in a rut. I go to the same safe places. What are some really cool bars/lounges for a 40 year-old, reasonably adventerous woman?
posted by jen14221 to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Death & Company - speakeasy aesthetic, cocktails.

Zum Schneider - German Beer Hall

Both in the LES.
posted by deanc at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2012

I adore McSorley's on East 7th street (between 2nd & 3rd ave.) They 150+ years' worth of stuff on the walls and two kinds of beer: light and dark.
posted by usonian at 8:28 AM on May 14, 2012

(That is to say, light colored and dark colored. It is definitely not 'lite' beer.)
posted by usonian at 8:28 AM on May 14, 2012

This is a bit of a specialty of mine. Top cocktail bars in Manhattan include:

Amor y Amargo
Angel’s Share
Booker & Dax (modern techniques)
Death & Company
Experimental Cocktail Club
Flatiron Lounge
Lani Kai (tiki-ish)
Little Branch
Mayahuel (tequila and mescal focused)
Milk & Honey
Pegu Club
PKNY (tiki)
Vandaag (genever and akvavit cocktails)

Any of these places serves great drinks in an adult atmosphere.
posted by slkinsey at 8:34 AM on May 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

I second everywhere on slkinsey's list, particularly Amor y Amargo and Mayahuel. They are both owned by the same people who own Death & Co and Vandaag. They're all really close to one another (within a few blocks) so you could do a little walking tour and have a drink at each. Mayahuel and Vandaag also have amazing food, while Amor y Amargo and Death & Co have decent small-bite menus.
posted by bedhead at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2012

Almost forgot! JBird on the Upper East Side just opened recently and has great cocktails. 75th between 1st and 2nd.
posted by bedhead at 8:54 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

slkinsey knows what he's talking about. You can get a wide-ranging cocktail education in NYC if you go to all those places.

A lot of cocktail places are very wedded to the old timey cocktail revival style stuff that's heavy on the whiskey. If you want to check out something different, Mayahuel and PKNY are places that do a cocktail theme that is *not* speakeasy style.

My personal favorite "lounge" spot is B Flat in Tribeca. It is a small jazz bar, underground, owned by the same people as the more popular Angel's Share in the East Village. There is a minimal snacks and food menu that's decent and solid cocktails in a great atmosphere. If you're into jazz, look for live band nights. I took lessons for a while from a guy who I met playing keyboard there.

One spot that's a little different is the Raine's Law Room. It's heavily pretentious and is more of a "bring-a-date" place, not a "hang-out-on-your-own" joint but I've never let that stop me. They have a cool oval bar table in the back you can stand around and nice couch seating.

A lot of these places can be tough to get into as they fill up easily and places like Milk and Honey require reservations prior or you'll have to put your name down and come back (same with Angel's Share, Death & Co, in my experience). One of the things I like about B Flat is that you can usually just show up and get a seat. Flatiron Lounge is also a place that can get crowded but usually has enough room to stand around and enjoy yourself.
posted by musicismath at 9:05 AM on May 14, 2012

I always thought Dutch Kills, a terrific cocktail bar in a random industrial corner of LIC, was magical.

I loved the beer list and the excellent food at Jimmy's No. 43, but it got really crowded there.
posted by melissam at 9:17 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

To offer you some Brooklyn choices: Clover Club (Cobble Hill) and Maison Premiere (Williamsburg) are excellent cocktail spots. Clover Club is more loungey, with couches and chairs and a back room with a fireplace.

I like Pacific Standard (Park Slope) to sit back and relax; there are cozy couches and bookshelves and a nice variety of beers on tap.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:22 AM on May 14, 2012

My favorite bar in the world is Burp Castle, on 7th street near 2nd Avenue. It's a Belgian beer bar covered in murals of monks getting up to shenanigans. The best part, though? It has an enforced 'no loud talking' policy. If things get too rowdy, the bartender shushes the whole place.

But it's not uptight! I'm a regular and go there every Monday, and I have met the most amazing people just sitting at the bar. Because of the small size and the quiet atmosphere, it's really easy to strike up conversations with the strangers around you. I've made some really great friends just doing this.

If you're there between Saturday-Wednesday, the bartender will be a woman named Ash, who is a beer wizard and a great lady. Tell her Whitney sent you.

I'll also second Pegu Club, Vandaag, Clover Club, Maison Premiere, and Mayahuel.
posted by whitneyarner at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh also I really liked the 20s feel and the cocktails at Henry Public. ALso in Brooklyn, but substantially out of the way, is Lot2, which is not really a bar, but has an excellent list of cocktails and seriously good food.
posted by melissam at 9:44 AM on May 14, 2012

Depends what you are looking for in a cocktail bar.

The Milk & Honey / Dutch Kills / Little Branch family are more about classic cocktails with 4-5 ingredients made very well and less so about infusing liquors; the basis of their cocktail lists really is classic drinks with some modern modifications/variations but most of their cocktails have a very clear lineage that traces back to something from an earlier era.

Whereas PDT, Mayahuel, Death & Co. infuse liquors and use more nouveau ingredients and have more complicated cocktails (sometimes with a lotmore components - like eight or nine). It should be noted that PDT, Mayahuel, and Death & Co all have their lineage from Pegu Club, so, similar philosophies.

slkinsey's list is great. Here's some of my commentary on them:

Amor y Amargo - East Village. A great bitters focused bar with excellent housemade vermouth, it is rather small, but casual and fun, and without the same kind of door policy you will find elsewhere. Try their housemade vermouth in a negroni or one with one of their specialty bitters, such as the tiki bitters or hellfire bitters. Allows standing. Spanish inspired snack menu.

Angel’s Share - East Village. Japanese speakeasy style bar hidden inside of a restaurant, on the 2nd floor of a building. No loud talking, no standing, no parties greater than four. The drinks here are good but not as good as elsewhere. Japanese snacks.

Booker & Dax (modern techniques) - East Village. Connected to Momofuku Ssam Bar and serves some of their dishes as light snacks. Experiment, modern. I love the Chartruth, the Lady of the Night (a centrifuged bloody mary)m Jenny & Scott. The tables are standing height with tall stools. The drinks are pretty potent. They also use techniques like liquid nitrogen to chill glasses and red hot pokers to make warm drinks/set them on fire. The bar itself is kind of small, though, so it might be awkward to be a party of 1 at a table. No standing.

Death & Company - East Village. Dark, speakeasy, with a huge menu broken down by spirit and shaken vs. stirred. Great bartenders who can easily go off menu. Less classic focused and more nouveau drinks with several different ingredients. However, there can be a wait later on in the evening. We like to go on Sundays around 6-7pm. In the winter months, the drafts by the door make the seats nearby chilly. I recommend the Meridien Daiquiri and the Grass Kilt. Small plates menu. Sister bar to Mayahuel, Amor y Amargo, and a few others.

Flatiron Lounge - Flatiron. Art deco theme, more classic focused, allows standing, so it can get hectic as the night goes on. A classic that was one of the first artisanal cocktail bars in NYC. Tends to get a bit of an earlier crowd than the others because a lot of people work in the Flatiron/Union Square area and it opens a little earlier than the others (4pm vs 6pm for the East Village ones). Try a Devil Went Down to Georgia, with Bulleit bourbon, freshly squeezed lime juice, creme de peche, and a dash of Tabasco. No food but they give you some party mix. Julie Reiner also has two other cocktail lounges: Lani Kai and Clover Club (pre-Prohibition style drinks).

Lani Kai (tiki-ish) - Soho. Great happy hour, Monday - Friday, 5pm - 7pm, where the cocktails are only $8. It's a more upscale tropical/Hawaiian hotel bar with original drinks than kitschy tiki. Their orgeat is handmade, they garnish with fresh orchids, etc. Tables and a small bar at ground level, a larger bar and lounge with a fireplace on the lower level. On Mondays, Brian Miller and a rotating cast of partners do Tiki Mondays, where they do an all new menu every week. You can order snacks downstairs, but the full food menu is only upstairs. Love their poke, pork buns, and ribs. Everything I've had there is great, but the menu does not have a lot of stirred, boozy drinks. Usually not that hard to get in since the space is big, but can get rather loud.

Little Branch - West Village. Opens at 7pm. Not the best place for a solo drinker as the bar doesn't have any seats. More classic focused. Great pisco sours, American Trilogy, Old Fashioneds, etc. And they really encourage you to get to know the bartenders and have them craft a drink to your palette and preferences. Can get a line out the door on weekends. Live jazz, but only Sunday through Thursday, later into the night. No food.

Mayahuel (tequila and mescal focused) - East Village. Tequila and mescal focused with a huge menu of originals. The decor is kind of Dia De Los Muertos. They don't have a huge bar, but they have a larger lounge upstairs. No standing allowed. The chorizo croquettes are great. Try the Loop Tonic, Tratcho Hecho, Smoked Palomino, Slight Detour, Oaxaca Old Fashioned, etc. It's usually not that hard to get in. Phil Ward is some sort of tequila genius (before he opened Mayahuel, he was at Death & Co, and before that Pegu Club).

Milk & Honey - Lower East Side. On a very, very quiet block. Tiny, a bar with only 4 stools, and 5 booths. No standing, no loud talking, don't disturb the neighbors, no parties more than 5 people. Very, very dark. They don't open until 8pm or so. More of a "classics" and "forgotten classics" philosophy, where you specify what you like (refreshing vs boozy, favorite spirits, etc) and they make something for you, like a Champs-Élysées or Aviation or Last Word. No food. $16 drinks, cash only.

PDT - East Village. Dark, speakeasy, taxidermy themed. "Hidden" inside a hot dog joint, you must enter through a phonebooth. All original drinks on the menu. Tiny space, fills up rather quickly, but a party of 1 might work OK as there is typically space at the bar. Go earlier (around 6pm) rather than later. Tables are reserved (3pm via phone, same-day) but the bar is first come first served. Get a Benton's Old Fashioned, Imperial Blueberry Fizz (with champagne), the Sixth Street (curry, egg white, ginger, guava, lime, lemon, gin), or a Mezcal Mule. Has been written up a lot so sometimes feels a little touristy due to the people who come in (and order a vodka soda) just because it's "cool" to go there. Hot dogs, tater tots, etc. in terms of food. I love the Torres Tots and the John John Deragon (everything bagel inspired) hot dog. I believe the cost of drinks is at $15 each now, other places are still $13-14.

Pegu Club - Soho. Modeled after a late-19th century British officers club in Burma in terms of decor. 2nd floor of a building, so it feels bright and airy early on in the evening. Nice, big bar. They allow standing but cut off the capacity later on in the night, so there's sometimes a line outside. Audrey Saunders is a cocktail goddess and many of the drinks you have today in other cocktail bars originated here. The Gin Gin Mule, Jamaican Firefly, The 50-50 Martini, Little Italy. I also like the French Pearl and the Pisco Punch. They have excellent seasonal specials as well. Recently I had a great mezcal and guava cocktail. Great smoked trout deviled eggs.

PKNY (tiki) - Lower East Side. Small, narrow bar, with bar stools nailed to the ground, so slightly less comfortable than other places. The decor is kind of 1980s tiki mashed up with graffiti artists and lots of kitsch. They have a huge, huge menu of tiki drinks. Tiki classics and riffs on them. Try a Missionary’s Downfall, Mai Tai, Suffering Bastard, Cradle of Life.

Vandaag (genever and akvavit cocktails) - East Village, this is actually a restaurant, with a bar. Modern, clean decor. Large windows. Lots of tile. Lots of yellow and blue. Can get a little loud. Usually not too hard to get a seat because it's a restaurant. Katie Stipe who does the list here is the significant other of Phil Ward of Mayahuel, but I don't believe there is an ownership connection (Brendan Spiro runs Vandaag, Ravi DeRossi runs Death & Co, etc).

JBird (Upper East Side) is excellent and run by two bartenders, one from Death & Co, and another from 1534 (among other places). They have a full food menu as well. Try the Honey-Nut Old-Fashioned, North Garden, Everyman After All, or a Behind God's Back.

I love Raines Law Room (Flatiron), but it is definitely not really set up for solo drinkers. They have a kitchen that you can stand in and watch, but no proper bar with stools. The rest of the space is lounge furniture with semi-private booths (curtains!), so if you're just one person I'm not sure where they'd put you. The setup seems geared more towards couples and small groups.

However, the same people who run Raines Law Room also run Lantern's Keep in Midtown, in a hotel. They do have a real bar there. It's a smallish room off the hotel lobby, but with the same attention to detail (freshly squeezed juices, etc) at Raines. Some of the bartenders there also work at Milk & Honey. This might be more convenient to you dependent upon where you're staying.

Maison Premiere (Williamsburg) is excellent as well. However, after work, the competition for bar seats is quite fierce due to the oyster happy hour ($1 oysters). It calms down after 7pm, since that is when happy hour is over. It can also get pretty loud in there. Hopefully it'll be better now that the back garden is open.

Are you open to cocktail programs at restaurants? I am a fan of bar at The NoMad (especially the very comfortable Library Room), the lounge at Eleven Madison Park, bar at Vandaag, bar at Peels (they have two, upstairs and downstairs), the bar at Fatty Cue.
posted by kathryn at 10:51 AM on May 14, 2012 [17 favorites]

« Older People who do x are more likely to y   |   Please rec some good learning materials Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.