You’ll never go thirsty in New York City. From the northernmost borough, the Bronx, down to the Financial District on the southern tip of Manhattan, you’ll find plenty of great drinks to try and the never-ending activity of one of the busiest, most exciting cities in the world.
The entirety of NYC (never “The Big Apple” if you want to pass as a local) comprises five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and The Bronx. While all offer eating and drinking experiences worth seeking out, here are four can’t-miss areas for visitors where the drinking scene is especially vibrant.
East Village/Lower East Side
Start in the East Village at Donostia, one of the very few sherry-centric spots in NYC. Ease into the evening with an Adonis (equal parts sherry and vermouth) and some tapas to fuel the evening ahead. From there, it’s an easy wander up Avenue B to Pouring Ribbons, where the extensive menu of inventive craft cocktails changes every few weeks. The next stop is Amor y Amargo, a tiny spot famed for its astonishing collection of amaros and bitters from around the world.
Just around the corner is Polynesian-themed Mother of Pearl; if you can’t decide what to order, go for the Shark Eye cocktail—served in a shark tiki vessel, it’s the drink everyone wants to Instagram). Next stop: PDT. It’s been on a stretch of E. 6th Street for more than a decade now. That might make some bars feel a little long in the tooth, but everyone should go through the famously “hidden” phone booth entrance at least once, and enjoy a cocktail and a hot dog. Finish up your East Village leg at historic McSorley’s, the oldest Irish pub in NYC. No fancy drinks here: The order is light or dark ale—and maybe a slab of cheddar to snack on if you ask nicely.
Walk off that ale with a 10-minute stroll down 2nd Avenue to the Lower East Side, where your first stop is Bar Goto, run by barman Kenta Goto. Don’t get too rowdy here; this spot is known for Japan-style gentility and craft cocktails that feature Asian ingredients like sake, shochu, or Japanese whisky. (Note: the okonomiyaki is killer.) Next on the list is Attaboy, in the space that formerly housed neo-speakeasy Milk & Honey, and featuring some of the original bartenders from the M&H team. From there, it’s on to Top Hops, where it’s all about beer, beer, and more beer, including many hard-to-find craft and import brews. Wildair, one of the best wine bars in the city right now, is also worth a stop, especially if you love funky natural wines. Finish off this crawl with a stop at cider haven Wassail, which is featured in our Last Call profile. In addition to apple brews and spirits, it’s also known for excellent small plates, which is one reason for the very cool late-night industry scene.
NoMad—that’s shorthand for “North of Madison”—is a relatively new neighborhood, built almost entirely around hotels. So yes, all of the stops in this area are going to be hotel bars, but that doesn’t diminish their excellence. Marta, part of the Danny Meyer hospitality empire, is on E. 29th St., at the far edge of what’s considered NoMad, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better list of Italian wines. Within the luxe NoMad Hotel, make a beeline for the clubby Elephant Bar. Don’t despair if you can’t snag one of the barstools, just ask for directions to the more spacious NoMad Bar next door (it’s almost exactly the same drink list anyway). Both of the following are within the uber-hip
Ace Hotel but have very different aesthetics and menus: The John Dory is brightly hued and airy, ideal for wine (or martinis) and oysters, while The Breslin has a dark, cozy vibe, with spirit-forward cocktails to accompany the meat-centric menu from chef April Bloomfield.
From the Breslin, it’s an easy three to four block walk over to Maysville, which features plenty of bourbon and other American whiskeys to wash down high-end Southern food. Beer-lovers, meanwhile, will want to make a beeline for La Birreria—aka the rooftop beer bar at Mario Batali’s Eataly superstore. Also on the shortlist: the Michelin-starred ABC Kitchen, as well as the newly opened ABCV (the “v” stands for “vegetarian”). Think organic wine, spirits, and beer from local producers, and green juices galore for non-imbibers. Union Square Café also has returned to the scene, newly re-opened on Park Avenue. (Insider tip: there’s a second bar upstairs, completely hidden from view.) Finish with a nightcap at Raines Law Room; you’ll need to make a reservation for this gorgeous living room-like cocktail bar, where you push a button to “ring” for service.
Note: Brooklyn is a big place, and the following list skips around a bit. Expect to use a taxi or call for a car if you plan to hit all the highlights.
Start off in Williamsburg at Tørst, a beer bar noted for Scandinavian chic. After a brew or two, it’s time to head to Westlight, the rooftop bar atop The William Vale hotel, for classic cocktails and a truly jaw-dropping 360-degree view of NYC. (Note: catch a car to this next stop, or walk about 15 minutes.) The Four Horsemen is a restaurant/wine bar with rock star cred—it’s owned by James Murphy, frontman for LCD Soundsystem—but it truly could stand on its own vinous credits; look for a strong selection of orange wines here.
Next up is Maison Premiere, a New Orleans-style bar known for absinthe and oysters. If possible, snag a seat in the garden out back and sip under strings of twinkling lights. Below the Williamsburg Bridge, and below the lauded restaurant Aska, you’ll find the Edda Bar, a cozy space with aquavit cocktails.
From Williamsburg, take a car to The Long Island Bar, a Cobble Hill watering hole with lovingly restored midcentury décor, classic cocktails and hands-down one of the best burgers in the city. A 10-minute walk or taxi brings you to the Boerum Hill nabe and Grand Army Bar for oysters, edgy cocktails and (wait for it…) bread and seaweed butter. One last 10-minute jaunt by foot or taxi lands you in the Carroll Gardens area, home to Clover Club, one of the first craft cocktail spots in Brooklyn, which is still well worth a visit. Directly across the street is Leyenda, a lively spot that showcases spirits from South and Central America, including pisco, tequila, mescal, and plenty of rum.
Expect a mix of storied spaces and shiny newcomers in Manhattan’s commercial hub. First, stop in at Fine and Rare, an Explorers-themed space on E. 37th St., which opened in February 2017. There, you’ll find live music and plenty of high-end spirits, particularly whiskey drams. Next, it’s off to The Ginger Man. Pull up a stool at the long wooden bar and choose from the vast beer list, which includes many draft and cask-conditioned beers. Thus fortified, you’re ready to elbow your way through Grand Central Station. Gaze up at the historic painted ceiling, and then head to either the casual Great Northern Hall or the bar within the nearly hidden restaurant Agern. Both feature cocktails made with a mix of Nordic and New York state ingredients, and both provide respite from the surrounding swirl of chaos inside the train station.
Exit Grand Central (whew!) and walk up Park Avenue. Pause for a moment at 48th Street, in front of the Waldorf-Astoria, which closed at the end of February for a three-year-long renovation. Salute the passing of the historic Peacock Alley bar, then continue across the street to Gin Parlour inside the Intercontinental Hotel.
When you’ve had your fill of martinis and other gin cocktails, the King Cole Bar inside The St. Regis hotel beckons. This is the historic bar where the Bloody Mary as we know it was invented, so of course that’s the drink to try. After that, Hudson Malone is one of the best new spots to open in Midtown, ideal for whiskey drinks and burgers. Keep an eye out for owner Doug Quinn’s famous list of “Quinn’s Laws.”
Two last stops will guide you west: the ’21 Club, once a 1930s speakeasy and now a playground for the well-heeled; followed by Aldo Sohm, an upscale wine bar named for the sommelier who also works across the street, at Le Bernardin.