When you visit New York, you’re there to eat and drink. Considered one of the world’s greatest (if not top) food and drink capitals, for a limited stint in the city — whether you’re around for business or leisure — one of the best ways to get into the spirit of the Big Apple is to dig into its vibrant bar scene. Whether you’re seeking a quiet evening with intimate conversation, a fancy place to see and be seen, or an open-ended night of casual drinking that could possibly lead to further debauchery, here are the essential bars you’ll want to check out.
After a tiring long-haul flight cooped up in a plane, a strong tipple is going to be the first order of business upon landing in the Big Apple. And if you don’t have the superhuman strength needed for a full-on social bender (scroll further down for our recs), you’ll likely be seeking a quiet, cosy and introverted bar with sophisticated cocktails. Whether it’s for an intimate date night for two, or to enjoy strong, masterful drinks without distraction, you’ll want to head to these spots below.
Speakeasy lovers will want to check out storied Angel’s Share, 25 years old this year, located on the unassuming Stuyvesant triangle in East Village that some dub to be New York’s unofficial Little Tokyo. Tucked behind an unmarked door within the homey izakaya Village Yokocho, the dimly lit bar is home to classic cocktails shaken up by dapper Japanese mixologists. There are often long lines these days, especially on weekends, and they don’t take parties of over four guests — so make sure to plan ahead. For shorter lines, there’s reportedly an additional annex that opens Thursday to Saturday evenings, upstairs from neighbouring Sharaku at 14 Stuyvesant Street.
After a day browsing the trendy art galleries around Chelsea, speakeasy Raines Law Room will provide a quiet respite behind a buzzered door. Named after a 1896 law created to limit the liquor consumption in New York, there are plenty of classic-style cocktails here. You’ll barely find more than five ingredients in a drink, ranging from a smooth Vieux Carre to the more exotic-sounding Ti’Swizzle (pictured), featuring rhum agricole, lime, and nutty falernum syrup. There’s also a second branch at the William Hotel further uptown.
If plonking down and sipping a drink with a book is your idea of the perfect night out, the Bookmarks rooftop lounge at The Library Hotel is adorned with park benches and foliage, making it one of the most quaint and charming backdrops to enjoy a discerning tipple. Take your pick from literature-inspired concoctions such as the house-aged Catcher in the Rye (rye whiskey, angostura and lavender bitters).
Cocktail aficionados may have already heard of The Aviary, perched on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental New York and helmed by star Chicago chef Grant Achatz. If a stunning drink presented to you with billows of nitrogen smoke, vibrant, unusual ingredients and some form of molecular gastronomy in a glass is down your alley, book in for a multi-course tasting or pairing menu here. Just adjacent is The Office, The Aviary’s hidden bar sibling focusing on pre-Prohibition style cocktails and a rare spirits collection.
For fans even more enamoured by the romanticism of great cocktail history, the Pegu Club should be at the top of their list. A frequenter on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, the cocktail lounge is dedicated to preserving classic cocktail craft. The name is inspired by a 19th century British Colonial Officer’s club situated just outside Rangoon, where the eponymous club signature is of course the house drink here: a gin-based tipple filled with bracing grapefruit and lime tartness, and served in an iced glass to cut through the heat of tropical weather. Its former chief, Kenta Goto, has since moved on to open Bar Goto over in East Village for a more decidedly Japanese twist in drink offerings, like sophisticated highballs and sake-based cocktails. Try their miso wings: they’re famous for a reason.
Gold leaf ceilings, waiters dressed in white, and live piano performed every night: If you’re after a truly sophisticated affair, you’ll want to head to Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle hotel, which has been frequented by socialites and business moguls for decades. The main draw here is the famed, whimsical murals by bar namesake Ludwig Bemelmans, artist and creator of children’s book Madeline, which adds a sense of naive charm to this illustrious bastion of decadence.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you prefer somewhere high-end yet low-key, The Up & Up is the place for you. Warmly lit and swathed in William Morris wallpaper, this intimate Greenwich Village cocktail den used to be the home of the Gaslight Cafe, cited to be the birthplace of the Beat Generation. These days, it champions craft cocktails and entertains small groups (only groups under six people can be accomodated).
To see and be seen
If the vibrant scene of the city is what you seek, look no further than these photogenic rooftop clubs, hallowed mixology temples, and uber Instagrammable lounges to really show everyone you’re living your best life (whether on camera or off).
On a good sunny day, Lower East Side champagne and oyster bar Sel Rrose makes the perfect backdrop for an afternoon happy hour (not to mention, the sun-drenched millennial pink French doors offer an excellent photo opp). Dig into the oyster selection and colourful spritzes before enjoying a stiffer drink at the white marble bar — one of their house botanical infusions, perhaps. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s female alter-ego name — Rrose Sélavy — the space is a nod to the avant garde artist salons in Paris at the cusp of the early 20th century.
Looking to chase mixology stardom instead? With several appearances on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Attaboy is one such at the top of our list, if you’re into excellent cocktails and the satisfaction of arriving at a hard-to-find cult favourite (hence awarding you all the social media brownie points, if that’s what you crave). Helmed by alums of the revered and now-closed Milk & Honey, Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy have taken over the very same spot, serving up a no-menu policy with bartenders instead impressing with custom drinks to suit your exact tastes and mood on the day.
There’s perhaps no end to stunning cocktail bars in the Big Apple, but if you had to visit just one famous watering hole — you’ll want to head to the very best: The Dead Rabbit, where Irish bar meets artisanal cocktail den, crowned World’s Best Bar two years in a row. You may recognise it from its pop-up stint at Four Seasons Hong Kong’s Blue Bar in 2017. After an unfortunate kitchen fire in summer 2018, it’s now fully reincarnated with extra space at Dead Rabbit 2.0 next door. Downstairs, it’s an informal pub serving Irish coffee and Guinness, but head upstairs to The Parlour for award-winning beverage director Jillian Vose’s killer cocktails.
For a buzzy, after hours joint to see, be seen and dance the night away, Public Hotel’s Roof is the place to be: you’ll want to dress to impress in this dazzling venue with design that oozes slick and sultry New York City in capital letters — as expected from legendary club Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager.
Perhaps it’s something to do with having actual seasons, but New Yorkers seem to love pools on rooftop bars, and will grab at any chance during the warmer months to jump in. Or perhaps, it’s to ogle at all the beautiful people in the room: Check out intimate La Piscine atop Chelsea’s Hotel Americano for a dip and a frozen margarita while gazing at the Empire State Building — summers call for weekend pool parties, with complimentary entry for non-hotel guests on Saturdays and Sundays until 5pm. Over in neighbouring Meatpacking district, Le Bain also poses a worthy option — providing you can get past the doorman, that is — with its penthouse discotheque and plunge pool embedded right in the dance floor during summer months (swimwear is available at the vending machine if you need). Outside, the astroturf deck makes for a comfortable respite as you stuff your face at the rooftop creperie.
For a bar that’s prized on the sheer uniqueness of its design, behind a nondescript door on 55 Irving Place is speakeasy Dear Irving, brought to us by the creators of Raines Law Room. Inspired by Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the bar is split into four rooms that will transport you to different eras in time, whether the roaring 20s or Don Draper’s smokey 60s. Similar to its sister bar in Chelsea, you simply ring the buzzer at your table to summon up your server, and a long list of slow-sipping (and deceptively strong!) cocktails.
An eclectic night out
If the thought of changing out of your summer shorts to meet dress code exhausts you, there’s plenty of places to enjoy a drink in your most relaxed attire. In fact, New York offers a special variety of casual neighbourhood bar that’s distinctly lacking in Hong Kong: gaming bars.
E’s Bar, located two blocks from Columbia University on the Upper West Side, brings together the laid-back trifecta of craft beers, burgers and board games. Similarly, Barcade (pictured) is a global institution with various branches including in New York and Brooklyn, here bringing together all your favourite retro arcade games with a boozy backdrop. Ever tried playing Pacman while sloshed? Now you can.
For something perhaps more conventional, the Brooklyn Bowl is where you can roll 10 frames between pints. Despite the light Coney Island bent, it’s certainly much more swish than your childhood playdate: you’ll while away the night lounging on cushy Chesterfield sofas and sipping local beer from Sixpoint, Kelso and the Brooklyn Brewery nearby. A menu by the famed Blue Ribbon Kitchen (think ridiculously good fried chicken and messy ribs) ticks the box for late night munchies.
Of course, one true mark of a raucous night out is when there’s some karaoke involved. Head straight to Koreatown: decked out like a futuristic bunker, Maru Karaoke Lounge bathes its guests in neon pink glow with private rooms and open bar deals available.
And if you’ve ever wanted your life to be a scene from Hairspray or Legally Blonde, or relish in those grooming and gossiping sessions with your girlfriends, Beauty Bar will have those cravings sorted with US$10 manis that come with a martini. Live DJs turn the throwback venue up a notch with retro vibes to groove to: you’ll be able to ‘bend and snap’ to your heart’s content.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re looking for a charming, romantic nook to experience NYC with your SO, a green retreat to get some R&R in between exploring, or convenience and creature comforts in the heart of the city to serve as home base — here are some excellent places to stay.
Soho elegance: Sixty Soho
Staying in Soho places you in the middle of all the action in the city — particularly if you’re bent on a restaurant and bar pilgrimage during your visit. Located on 60 Thompson Street, perhaps the most charming street in all of New York, Sixty Soho is a 97-room boutique hotel that’s under the Mr and Mrs Smith curated property portfolio.
Displaying a contemporary, eclectic style with plenty of plush wool, velvet and chic wood touches, the sexy interiors make it ideal for a sleek couple’s getaway. Rich and crisp white bedding is met with art deco couches, with a Dean & Deluca-stocked mini-bar when you book a Deluxe King room. You’re always met with slick service, whether from a familiar greeting by the doorman or when checking in and out at the counter.
Residents can have priority access to A60, the cosy rooftop bar upstairs that provides an unrestricted view of the Empire State Building. It’s a great spot for an icy sundowner when the weather is warm. Raining or cold? Head to the lobby to Gordon Bar for your nightcap instead, where you can choose from an extensive cocktail list and snack on light Italian fare — lounging amongst long Chesterfield sofas and leafing through the numerous art books lying around. For a long, lazy weekend brunch? Bistrot Leo is worth getting out of bed to have a relaxed meal with casual French flair, perhaps even stretching through to happy hour.
The area around Sixty Soho is exceedingly walkable, with close proximity to the high street shopping mecca along Broadway (a Gucci flagship is just behind the hotel) and plenty of independent boutiques dotted throughout the cobbled streets to explore. There are also endless dining hotspots nearby — ranging from sophisticated smoked fish bagels and brunch fare at Sadelle’s to gourmet burgers and craft beer at Black Tap. Just around the corner, there’s also the renowned Dominique Ansel Bakery and their inventive desserts to satisfy any sweet tooth.
Eco-paradise: 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Some say views from Manhattan are best seen from Brooklyn: A decent distance from the madness downtown and in the up-and-coming area of DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge just might be one of the trendiest places to camp out during your stay in NYC. Part of the socially conscious hospitality group 1 Hotels, the stylish, eco-luxe accommodation gives you prime views of the hotel’s eponymous landmark right at the water’s edge.
If the verdant, high-ceilinged lobby with plenty of reclaimed wood doesn’t immediately have you breathing and feeling greener, the room itself will: every detail has sustainability at its core, from in-room filtered water taps to bathrobes upcycled from soft heather grey hooded sweatshirts to organic cotton sheets, and even an organic cotton mattress.
For yet more immersion in the retreat vibes, indulge in a full list of services at Bamford Haybarn Spa, which brings the gentle English countryside to Brooklyn. After a day of walking New York’s eclectic neighbourhoods (or maybe to nurse a killer hangover), massage treatments and beauty rituals provide swift recovery for your next bout of exploration.
Take advantage of the airy, sun-drenched dining spaces below, from brunch favourite The Osprey to Neighbors Café, best for grab-and-go coffees and pastries. Upstairs, the 1 Rooftop Garden & Bar offers a sunny alfresco dining area with bright, casual bites — try the lobster roll, filled with succulent lobster morsels tossed in an airy lemon creme fraiche — with plunge pool access that gives you panoramic views of the East River and the NYC skyline. With drinks such as Heatstroke, a margarita-esque number with smoky notes of mezcal, or a cooling Poolside with Absolut Elyx, watermelon, cucumber and soda, cocktails here complete a perfect afternoon of sunbathing that turns into an evening of dancing to live DJ tunes.
Those seeking what Dumbo has to offer will be glad to know there’s plenty to explore in the vicinity. Take a waltz down the Brooklyn Bridge Park promenade and snap photos with the perfect backdrop, with a homemade lemonade or an ice cream in hand. Or perhaps you’d want to compare Shake Shack to Hong Kong’s branches, with its second Brooklyn location just on the corner facing the pier. Just a 5-minute walk away is Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, which offers a unique alfresco vantage point to take in the Brooklyn Bridge in all its glory. Order its signature fusion sushi rolls, mouth-smacking seafood crudos — or, wake up late and roll on over to explore its vast menu of brunch staples and healthy bites, such as its hearty steak and eggs benny or poke bowl.
If you’re on the hunt for amazing pizza — as you’ll inevitably be in New York City — you’ll get to compare two famed pie purveyors just around the corner: there’s Grimaldi’s, which serves its signature coal brick-oven pizzas for that unique smokey char, and the newer Juliana’s, which holds fort in the original Grimaldi’s location and is owned by the latter’s original proprietors, Pat and Carol Grimaldi. Both venues will see queues forming at any given time during the day, but the pies are definitely worth the wait.
Nightly rates from US$537. 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, 60 Furman Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11201, United States, +1 347 696 2500
Sky-high digs: Hyatt Centric Times Square New York
If the spotlight of the theatre district is calling to you, look no further than Hyatt Centric, Times Square. The 487-room hotel is just a stone’s throw from the lights of Broadway and Times Square, but still a safe distance from the maddening crowds for when you retreat to bed at night.
Well situated near midtown, Hyatt Centric brings you at arm’s reach to just about any landmark — whether it’s visiting the Empire State Building or MoMA or taking a leisurely stroll window shopping along 5th Avenue. Just a hop and a skip away is Bryant Park, where people love to people watch during their lunch break, and maybe even catch a live performance or two onstage.
Rooms here, while not of the most groundbreaking design cues, are airy and filled with light, fitted out with comfortably modern furnishings. You’re paying for the location after all, so if you can, nab a room high up on this 54-storey tower: High above the 41st floor, the 340-sq.-ft. Times Square View Deluxe King room gives you a bird’s eye view of the streets below while having plenty of room to spread out. Creature comforts such as the rain shower and separate soaking tub with Marilyn Monroe Spa amenities help to wash and soothe tiredness after a day of exploring the Big Apple.
The hotel is sandwiched by T45 Kitchen + Bar in the lobby and Bar 54 — a rooftop bar institution in New York City — at the top. Take a slow and hearty American breakfast, such as a luxe smoked salmon bagel, or one of the better omelettes we’ve had in the city. It’s equally worthy for a nightcap or a post-concert dinner, but for a drink with a view, you can’t go wrong by visiting the 54th floor for one of the rooftop bar’s excellent, generously poured cocktails. The extensive drink list is spread across four categories, ranging from “spiced and shaken” to “bubbles and fizzes”. We recommend arriving later in the evening, when the music moves from relaxed pop and country to more sultry house beats.
Nightly rates from US$239. Hyatt Centric Times Square, 135 W 45th Street, New York, 10036, United States, +1 646-364-1234