The Top 25 Bars in New York
Ok, we give in.
We may as well just call every drink a Manhattan.
Because they do cocktails here better than they do it anywhere else. Which makes choosing just 25 drinking dens to grace your patronage with very, very difficult.
But we like you, so we did anyway.
Behold, our hand-picked selection of the slickest cocktail bars, weirdest speakeasies, cheesiest dives and all-round best bars in New York…
Dead Rabbit | Wall Street
Voted the World’s Best Bar for two years in a row, it’s safe to say The Dead Rabbit is probably also one of the best bars in New York. A polished up, mahogany-clad Irish bar serving up craft beers, whiskies and Guinness on the sawdust-strewn ground floor, you’ll also find live ragtime piano and flawlessly concocted cocktails (listed in a graphic novel-style menu) in the upstairs Parlour. Don’t leave without trying their signature serve, the Psycho Killer – combining white cacao with banana liqueur, cacao nibs and Campari.
Maison Premiere | Williamsburg
Putting ‘premiere’ in your name is a pretty persuasive way to at least sound like the best. But following it up with 19th century New Orleans-inspired decor, tableside martinis, happy hour oysters and over 30 absinthes served up with a traditional drip is a good way to actually prove it. Just be prepared to fight it out for a table in the fairy-lit, wisteria-garlanded garden.
Death & Company | East Village
This bar makes good on its aggressively cool name, with moody, dark wood interiors, smartly dressed barkeeps and kerosene lanterns to offset the sparkling chandeliers. Said smartly dressed barkeeps have all earnt their keep from other top-notch bars like the Pegu Club, so expect cocktails swizzled to perfection.
Bemelmans Bar | Upper East Side
We’ll level with you: this place is a little sketchy.
Named in honour of the creator of the Madeline books, Bemelmans bar is an opulent, illustrated cocktail den tucked inside the swish Carlyle Hotel. And while the drinks are rightly stunning, you’re here for the surroundings, with buttery brown leather banquettes, a 24K gold leaf ceiling and walls daubed with Bemelmans murals – his last surviving public commission.
PDT | Alphabet City
Taking the whole ‘speakeasy’ thing pretty literally, entrance to PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell) requires you to dial up in a vintage phonebooth stuck incongruously in the hot dog joint next door, before the host slides back a panel and hustles you in. With walls lined with taxidermied animals (often sporting some jaunty headgear), it’s as quirky as they come, and is always totally packed. Jim Meehan (ex-Pegu Club) heads up the bar here, and while the website may be keeping (appropriately) schtum, trust us. The drinks are next-level.
King Cole Bar | Midtown
The high-end King Cole Bar is a movie location favourite, and has played host to the stars off the screen as well (Marilyn Monroe came here, as did Salvador Dali and John Lennon). With these prices, you’ll only be staying for one drink (cocktails are almost £20 a pop), but it’s worth it to take in Maxfield Parrish’s dazzling mural of Old King Cole behind the bar.
Fine & Rare | Midtown
A charming hotchpotch, Fine & Rare combines upmarket bar motifs (fancy lighting, expansive banquettes, nightly live jazz) with the eclectic (smoking old fashioneds and ladders propped up against futuristic glowing cabinets filled with rare spirits). Here the thoroughly knowledgeable barkeeps will guide you through everything from private bottlings of single malts to super-rare, small-batch mezcals de pechuga – where the spirit is distilled beneath a raw piece of turkey. Who knew?
Employees Only | Greenwich Village
The owners of this speakeasy so-named it because they thought only industry folk would be interested in grabbing food and a cocktail at 3am. Oh ho ho, how wrong they were. Still going strong after 12 years, Employees Only is one of the city’s most popular bars, thanks in no small part to the excellent craft cocktails which have won the place a slew of “World’s Best Bar” and “Best Drink Selection” awards. If you find yourself greeted by a fortune teller before entering, you’re in the right place.
Apothéke | Chinatown
We’re going to take a punt and say it’s probably been a while since you sipped on cocktails mixed by barkeeps dressed as pharmacists, in a bar that looks like a cross between a Byzantine fortune teller’s lair and a 19th century French absinthe den. So may we humbly recommend that you hotfoot it to Apotheke, where cocktails are served up in mismatched crystal glasses and are listed on the menu like medical draughts, from Stimulants to Euphoric Enhancers. Try the Mr Tallymon, which combines cognac with muddled pear, syrup and caramelised banana.
Dear Irving | Gramercy
Dear Irving. Please could you create a speakeasy comprising areas themed around four different historical eras, including – shall we say – a gilded room fit for Marie Antoinette, an art deco cocktail lounge, a 60s bar worthy of Mad Men and – sure, why not, a room themed around Abraham Lincoln? Many thanks and kind regards, everyone in New York.
Blind Tiger | Greenwich Village
This bar has certainly earned its stripes. An unfussy, unpretentious ale house, it’s been serving up rare and unusual brews since before ‘craft brewing’ became a thing. Decked out with low wooden beamed ceilings, leathery bar stools and blackboards announcing the weekly specials, it’s the kind of spot you can settle in for a long afternoon to work your way through as many of the 30 beers on tap as you can handle.
Barcade | Williamsburg
If you’ve visited Four Thieves or Four Quarters, you’ll already be familiar with the concept of arcade games + beer, and you will also probably already appreciate that it’s an unbelievably strong combination. Head to Brooklyn’s Barcade for the American version, with games for a quarter and happy hour brews on tap.
169 Bar | Lower East Side
This list is about to take a dive. Literally. Because the “funky & infamous” 169 Bar makes no sense; there are leopard-print pool tables, fish tanks, fresh oysters (not related), about 12 different colours of lighting, and an inexplicable (but delicious) menu of borscht and dumplings, served until 4am. You text the bartenders your orders. It’s owned by a man with an unbelievable music history. It is the diviest of dives. And boy are we glad it’s a thing.
La Milagrosa | Williamsburg
Ask anyone about the big freezer door at the back of this Mexican deli, and they might get a little prickly. That’s because that freezer is, in fact, an innocuous secret entrance to a hidden wood-panelled bar dedicated to the glorious cactus spirits; mezcal, tequila and agave. While the charming barkeeps rustle up a New Fashioned (mezcal, orange bitters and sugar syrup), check out the old jukebox and pick a 45 to blast out on the top-notch sound system.
NOTE: La Milagrosa is reservation only; book ahead on 718-599-1499
Blacktail | Battery Park
When a bar invites you to revisit the “devil-may-care early days of aviation”, you know you’re onto something good. A notion which can only be confirmed by the glamorous retro Cuban decor, the stained glass skylight above the (very well-stocked) bar, and the fact that it’s the follow up to the illustrious Dead Rabbit.
Lucy’s | East Village
Lucy’s is one of those classic neighbourhood dive bars you see in sitcoms – literally, since it’s frequently rented out as a film and TV location. Unsurprisingly, it’s run by Lucy; surprisingly, she’s a 75 year old barmaid with a no-nonsense attitude, a generous handful of quarters for the jukebox and little regard for stuffy conventions like “regular opening hours”.
Clover Club | Cobble Hill
Regardless of how many leaves it has, it’s already lucky that you’ve come across this. Because this Brooklyn drinking den from the er, reigning cocktail champion that is Julie Reiner serves unparalleled concoctions, from martinis made with muddled sugar snap peas, to old-recipe sharing punches in a laidback, Victorian-attired parlour, alongside brunch and the occasional jazz night.
Ghost Donkey | NoHo
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Ghost Donkey, a low- and red-lit cocktail bar with a giant white donkey overseeing proceedings. Founded by cocktail maestros Eben Freeman and Nacho Jiminez, the joint (fittingly) serves up upmarket nachos drizzled with truffle, chorizo or the (not for the fainthearted) chili de arbol, as well as cocktails shining a light on mezcal, tequila, horchata and Nicaraguan rum. Start with the El Burro, a spicy cocktail for two served out the flower-laden cart of a porcelain donkey.
Tørst | Greenpoint
The brainchild of a Danish brewer and the former head chef at Momofuku’s test kitchen, Tørst (Danish for thirst) is a minimalist craft beer haven dotted with reclaimed furniture and Scandi wood panelling. Behind the expansive, marble-clad bar are 21 taps, each of which house one of a regularly rotating selection of beers on draught, ranging from the founder’s brew, Evil Twin, to unusual guest beers like the “Even More Jesus”.
It’s holy drinkable.
ROKC NYC | Hamilton Heights
ROKC (it stands for ramen, oysters, kitchen and cocktails) does everything that it says – in an abbreviated way – on the tin. The trio of industry icons behind the bar are Shigefumi Kabashima and Tetsuo Hasegawa from the excellent Angel’s Share bar, and the Experimental Cocktail Club’s Joji Watanabe – between them, they serve up unbelievable cocktails with Japanese touches, served up in everything from eggshells to miniature garden scenes that sit atop your glass. Add to this a kitchen doling out steaming ramens and oysters to knock back at the bar, and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet date spot.
Old Town Bar | Flat Iron
Old Town Bar is one of those places that’ll feel vaguely familiar, thanks to its appearance in various film and TV shows. Either that, or because it sports a host of original features (tin ceiling, antique cash registers, sleek marble and mahogany bar) that have essentially provided the blueprint for all speakeasy-style bars since. Only here, they’ve been around since its opening in 1892 and survived all the way through Prohibition as an actual speakeasy.
Sake Bar Decibel | East Village
Making some noise in the East Village cocktail scene is Sake Bar Decibel, an atmospheric sliver of Tokyo tucked under East Ninth street, marked only by a flickering “On Air” sign. Candlelit cocktail tables surround a cramped but welcoming bar, where you’ll be able to pick the punk-styled barkeeps’ brains on the 100 sakes on offer. Occasionally they’ve been known to crack out the rare fugu hire sake, which comes served with a side of puffer fish.
Dante | Greenwich Village
Forget the inferno, Dante’s is pure heaven. Taken over in 2015 by new owners after staying a family business for a hundred years, its Victorian tin ceilings have been given the old spit and polish and its ’50s banquettes buffed up ready for a new generation of drinkers. Staying true to its Italian roots, the cocktail menu leans heavily on riffs on the sbagliato and negroni – think cocktails on tap, negroni frappes and cold brew concoctions – plus, there’s a pretty moreish list of Italian small plates on offer too.
Pegu Club | SoHo
Named after the gin cocktail invented at the eponymous 19th century British military and government officials’ hangout in Burma, the Pegu Club is just a straight up, hella slick date spot, with a nod to its Asian inspiration in the decor and a growing reputation as a bartending talent incubator. Alumni have gone on to set up Death & Co, PDT and Bar Goto – which is unsurprising when the drinks are this good, thanks to the guidance of cocktail queen, Audrey Saunders.
Coup | NoHo
Coming from a trio of bar icons with CVs including Amor y Amargo, Death & Co, and Mother of Pearl; the cocktail list here is a succinct roster of well-made classics – Manhattans, Margaritas, Martinis, and other popular drinks not beginning with M. What you’re really coming for though isn’t the stylishly hand-made-looking interiors, nor the top-notch guest bartenders – it’s the fact that the entire venture is not-for-profit, donating every cent they make to charities supporting causes that have been er, overlooked by the current administration.
Which is pretty coup.
Main image: Blacktail
Need something to line the stomach before tackling this list? Check out our guide to New York’s best restaurants