You could easily plan an entire trip around bar hopping in New York, with each evening dedicated to a different borough or vibe. Start by sipping on champagne mojitos to the sound of soft jazz, step through a secret phone booth to find creative cocktails, and end with a piña colada and some proper greasy grub at a classic dive bar. The hotel bar named as the birthplace of the Bloody Mary is certainly an apt choice for the day after.
Below our expert shares some of the best places in the five boroughs for a tipple, while here are our guides dedicated to New York's best hotels, restaurants, bars, nightlife, shopping, experiences and free things to do, plus how to plan a weekend in the city.
Founded by two blokes from Belfast, this New York venue is often awarded the title 'World’s Best Bar'. The theming is inspired by John Morrissey, the leader of the Irish-American gang the Dead Rabbits, and the classic taproom is home to America’s largest collection of whiskey. Upstairs is the sit-down only cocktail parlour. The menu changes every six months to tell a different story, and is packed with historical footnotes and maps. There is also live Irish music and the pub grub is above par. Be warned: it gets packed every night, so afternoon sessions are a safer bet.
Getting in: Reservations recommended
Nearest metro: South Ferry; Whitehall St.-South Ferry
Despite Manhattan being an island, there are surprisingly few waterfront drinking spots. But one of the best is this boat-cum-bar parked on a pier in Tribeca. Grand Banks is a seasonal hotspot on board the Sherman Zwicker and probably the classiest floating bar you’ll find Stateside. The circular oyster bar around the mast is a beautiful perch in the shade of the yellow and white awning, or take a seat at one of the restaurant tables on the polished deck to sip on potent Negronis while grazing on seafood. The queue forms quickly; reserve or come in the late afternoon.
Getting in: Reservations recommended
Nearest metro: Franklin Street; Chambers Street
Lower East Side
Double Chicken Please
Two veteran cocktail bar alums bought a yellow Volkswagon van and converted it into a roving pop-up cocktail bar, pulling into various cities around the United States to shake up potent cocktails. They’ve now parked the van and settled down on the Lower East Side. Welcome to Double Chicken Please, a quirky cocktail bar that serve up unique libations (such as one with vodka, gin, lemongrass, seaweed, and blackpepper) and, you guessed it, chicken in the form of Southern and Asian-accented sandwiches.
Nearest metro: Delancey St-Essex St
The Ten Bells
The Lower East Side, a century ago crammed with recently arrived immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, is today dripping with drinking holes. One of the more civilized yet unpretentious spots to sip a glass of wine is The Ten Bells. Cosy up to the U-shaped bar and nurse a glass from the long list of wines, most of which are of the natural variety and from small producers. Take advantage of the generous happy hour too: daily from opening until 7pm, $1 (70p) oysters and $15 (£11) carafes of house wine.
Nearest metro: Grand St
Walk by this Hudson Street cocktail bar and it will seem like a sedate affair inside. But step in and cozy up to the bar and you’ll see there’s some serious shaking going on. If you’ve discerned that Employees Only has a Balkan vibe to it, you’d be right. The founders and many of the bartenders hail from Serbia, specifically, Belgrade, one of the best cocktail cities on the planet, where they’ve excelled at perfecting the classics. This West Village bar is no different. Stick to the staples, such as the Manhattan, Negroni, martini and you’ll be pleased as (booze-spiked) punch.
Nearest metro: Christopher St
Once an East Village cocktail mainstay, Mace closed during the pandemic only to resurface on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. And lower Manhattan cocktail sippers breathed a sigh of relief. Gallic bartender/owner Nico de Soto mixes up high-quality and creative libations here using unlikely but oddly congruent ingredients including sweet potato, whey, bee pollen, chaga mushroom, and celeriac juice.
Nearest metro: W. 4th St
The Stonewall Inn
There are not many bars in the world that have changed history. This West Village spot is one of them. It was here on June 28, 1969 that riots commenced after a series of anti-gay police raids in the bar. Afterwards, the gay pride movement, culminating in gay rights and legal same sex marriage almost 50 years later. Today, the bar is a national monument, the first dedicated to the LGBTQ community in the United States. All that said, Stonewall is a fine place to sip a vodka soda and meet new friends.
Nearest metro: Christopher St
McSorley's Old Ale House
After speaking at the nearby Cooper Union, President Abraham Lincoln walked across the street and into this pub to have a few beers and a cheese-and-onion plate. Today McSorley’s looks pretty much as Lincoln would have seen it – except that women are now allowed to enter. The rough-around-the-edges wood interior, complete with walls crammed with dusty, ancient knick-knacks and sawdust sprinkled on the floor, create a fun, bibulous atmosphere. There are only two beers on tap: light and dark, both of which come in diminutive mugs and thus, two per order.
Nearest metro: 8th St-NYU; Astor Place
The name (sort of) says it all: PDT, or Please Don’t Tell, is a hidden cocktail bar. Step into Criff Dogs and look to the left. That’s not your average phone booth. In fact, pick up the receiver and you’ll be connected to someone who's just on the other side of the wall. If there’s space for you, a secret door in the phone booth opens to the dimly lit cocktail den where the drinks are taken uber-seriously and you can pair your $15 (£11) cocktail with creatively made hot dogs from some of the city’s best chefs.
Nearest metro: Astor Place; 8th St-NYU; First Ave
Getting in: Reservations essential
It seemed head-scratching when legendary New York restaurateur Danny Meyer opened this bar in the far reaches of Chelsea. But he had the foresight to realize the High Line plus the vast Hudson Yards development would put this bar right in the centre of things. And he was right. Porchlight, a vast, comfortable space with bar and table seating has a cocktail list, which ranges from classic to creative and is separated by categories Nerdy, Tried and True, Guzzlers, Sippers, Boilermakers, and Classics and Modern Classics.
Nearest metro: 34th St./Hudson Yards
Set 20 floors above the Flatiron District, this truly expansive lounge is home to the city’s largest outdoor rooftop bar. With the Empire State Building looming nearby, steamblowers gravitate to 230 Fifth for the views and the fruity cocktails like raspberry mojitos and peach bellinis. The food offering includes chicken tacos, short rib sliders, spicy tuna tartare, and truffled mac ‘n’ cheese. In winter, guests are given thick blankets to wrap themselves in and the heat lamps get fired up. There are also high-ceilinged rooms inside illuminated with pastel-colored lights.
Nearest metro: 28th St
King Cole Bar
One day, the St Regis Hotel bartender Fernand Petiot decided to marry vodka and a spicy tomato juice concoction. For good measure he sprinkled in lemon juice, salt, and Worcestershire sauce. Et voila, the bloody Mary was born. Today, many gravitate here to sample it (for the princely sum of $25 (£18) each). But you could come for other reasons: the potent top-shelf drinks poured by superb bartenders, the intimate, banquette-lined interior, the moneyed crowd, and the towering Maxwell Parish King Cole mural that frames the back of the bar. Ask the bartender to reveal 'the secret' hidden in the mural.
Nearest metro: Fifth Ave-53rd St; Seventh Ave
There once was a time when rooftop wining and dining was a rare commodity in this city of skyscrapers. Not anymore. The Skylark is one of the best. Thirty floors up with stunning views of the Empire State Building, Times Square, and various other surrounding towering giants, the multi-room bar (with an outdoor terrace) is a fine place to sip a martini or a Manhattan and impress the hell out of your friends. There’s also a long list of seasonal signature cocktails and small plates for when the stomach rumbles.
Nearest metro: Times Sq.-42nd St
Upper East Side
Might this be the New Yorkiest bar in New York? Quite possibly. When you envision sipping a martini in a dimly lit hotel bar with jazz lightly filling the room, this is it. Located in the Carlyle Hotel, the bar is named after Ludwig Bemelmans, creator of the Madeline children’s books, who drew the whimsical Central Park murals on its walls. The Art Deco interior features leather banquettes, a granite bar, and a ceiling covered in 24-karat gold leaf. Everyone comes here to sip classic cocktails such as pisco sours, although the Old Havana, a champagne mojito, is their masterpiece.
Nearest metro: 77th St
This handsome café, located on the ground floor of the Neue Galerie, perfectly replicates the Secessionist-era coffee houses sprinkled throughout Vienna. There's even wooden newspaper holders hanging by the door for frequenters to catch up on the latest news. Michelin-starred Austrian kitchen wizard Kurt Gutenbrunner of restaurant Wallsé fame has designed a menu of mitteleuropa classics and drinks include everything from schlag-topped coffee to glasses of Grüner Veltliner and Austrian brews. Period décor adds an old world feel: wood-paneled walls, antique light fixtures, and upholstered banquettes.
Nearest metro: 86th St
Getting in: Reservations essential
The Brooklyn Inn
Cosy up to the sturdy oak bar and take in a true Brooklyn experience at this high-ceilinged, stained-glass-accented haunt in the Boerum Hill area of Brooklyn. Fortunately, the young-ish, generally hip crowd doesn’t match the age of the century-old building that houses the pub. The almost church-like aesthetics are just one diversion: a rockin’ jukebox and a pool table draw a faithful local following. So do, of course, the cheap, generously poured drinks. The optimum time to go is on a lazy weekend afternoon when regulars quietly nurse pints of Guinness at the bar while reading the newspaper.
Contact: 00 1 718 522 2525; facebook.com
Nearest Metro: Bergen St.
This Williamsburg divey yet amusing bar is the epitome of a Brooklyn hipster haunt. It’s all about irony here: one of the house drinks is the piña colada, one of the beer offerings is canned PBR, b-movies from the 80s play on the TV in the corner, and Phil Collins or REO Speedwagon is usually seeping out of the hi-fi. The food, though, is no joke: hearty feel-good fare, such as fried chicken with hot sauce or mountainous cheesy nachos will make you feel like one full but satisfied hipster after a night here.
Nearest metro: Bedford Ave
Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden
Once upon a time, the borough of Queens boasted over 300 beer gardens. But after Prohibition and Second World War (during which anti-German sentiment was rampant), the only survivor was this leafy Czech suds-soaked garden that holds up to 1,000 beer swillers. On a warm summer day, don’t be surprised if the walled garden area is packed. For a century now, 'Bohemka', as its endearingly called by local Czechs, has been pouring pilsner and serving up impressively authentic goulash and other Czech staples. During the winter when the beer garden closes, settle in to the attached indoor beer hall.
Nearest metro: Astoria Blvd