Updated: May 21, 2015
Best New York City BarsNew York City Neighborhood Map
One good thing about New York -- no matter where you are in this metropolis, you're never more than a block or two from a bar or restaurant. In fact, you've usually got a choice of at least half a dozen good bars to select from. The problem with this, is that there is almost too many choices, and it can be a challenge to discover the best bars, the most historic bars, the most fun bars, from all the rest. In this guide, we will try to give you some tips and resources and reviews to help you discover and enjoy some of Manhattans best bars, pubs, and taverns.
Historic New York City Bars and PubsThere are a number of historic bars in the New York that pretty much qualify as institutions. Let's start with McSorley's. Located near Astor Place in the east village, McSorley's has been around since before the Civil War -- until the 1970s, it was not even open to women. It's a dusty old bar with memorabilia hanging from the walls, and a coal burning stove in the winter. Ask about the wishbones hanging from above the bar. They serve 2 beers - McSorley's Light and Dark - and you get two 8-ounce mugs when you order a beer. Try an order of "2 and 2" for you and a friend -- you'll get 2 lights and 2 darks. It can be crowded with tourists, so be warned. Personally I love finding a corner in the back room and chatting with friends until the table is filled with empty glasses. Located north side of 7th Ave, between 2nd and 3rd avenue. Try the Bridge Cafe (279 Water Street @ Dover, right next to the Brooklyn Bridge), one of the oldest surviving taverns in NYC (used to be a brothel), just a block up from South Street Seaport. Unlike McSorley's, you can actually get good food here, so consider making a meal out of it. If you are in Soho, check out the Ear Inn at 326 Spring St. (near the Holland Tunnel) - the building there dates to 1817 (the neon sign in front that said "BAR" has part of the B painted over to give, "EAR"). They've been serving drinks here since the end of the 1800s - we'll keep coming for the next 100 years! Next, if you are downtown, stop in at Fraunces Tavern. How much more historic can you get that having George Washington hang out at your tavern? Located just a few blocks from Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry, visit them at 54 Pearl Street (at Broad) - FrauncesTavern.com. More popular for lunch or an afterwork drink, the bar closes at 11PM M-F. Also try the Old Town Bar on 18th, between Broadway and Park. Since 1892 the decor has not changed much, you might miss it on the street if you are not looking for it, but worth the stop for a drink or two any day. The White Horse Tavern (in Greenwich Village, Hudson and 11th) has been keeping people hydrated since 1878. Known for its literary roots in the Village, all types are welcomed. (be sure to check out this Greenwich Village Walking Tour as well). On to PJ Clarks (915 3rd Ave @ 55th), this old building dates to 1864. Sinatra used to hang out here in midtown, that's good enough for me -- it's always nice to find a little building like this tucked in amongst giants. We'd recommend Chumley's as well in Greenwich Village, but they have been closed for more than a year (as of 2009) for a complete renovation.
New York City Pub CrawlsFor many, a fun evening out means stopping in at ALL your favorite local pubs with a drink at each. We call this a pub crawl, though the crawling part usually doesn't start until the end of the evening. While you find a number of lists of people's favorite drinking spots, good organized pub crawls are tough to come by. For those interested in learning a little more about Greenwich Village as a historic center of literature and poetry, consider the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl. Run by a local acting troop, The Bakerloo Theatre Project, this entertaining Saturday walk serves both as a fundraiser, educational experience, and drinking experience. It departs from the White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St. at 11th) each Saturday at 2PM. You can just show up, or call in advance to confirm the tour and a spot ((212) 613-5796). Two actor/guides will give you a run down of the history of the pubs you will visit, as well as the historical figures who frequented these pubs, and they will point out sites of historic interest along the way as you walk around the Village. After the White Horse Tavern (famed hangout for poet Dylan Thomas, died at an early 39 from too much drinking, 18 whiskey shots that finally put him into a coma), you'll visit Chumley's, Minetta Tavern, and Kettle of Fish (used to be The Lion's Head). The tour takes about 3 hours (you'll aso see Goodfella's Kitchen, Fat Black Pussycat Theater, Washington Square Hotel, and more), and all drinks are in addition to the $15 tour fee, so drink all you want, it is your dime. Given the literary and artistic bent of this walk, please skip it if you are just looking to drink or be obnoxious, that's not what this one is about -- hit the same bars of course, but do it on your own. Their website is at Bakerloo.org.
When it comes to finding a listing of the best bars in various New York neighborhoods, check out NewYorkOnTap.com. This is a great, detailed site with interactive Google New York maps broken out by neighborhood, draggable and zoomable, showing you ALL bars on a map, so you can see what is right up or down the street. You can filter to show just their recommended drinking spots to narrow down the list a bit. We were pleased to see that their recommended list was thorough and well researched -- all our stars were on the list! Take a sampling of their East Village spots. You've got the classic McSorley's, Bull McCabes, Grassroots Tavern, Decibel (sake bar), Dempsey's Pub, DBA, Death and Company, Hop Devil, Mo Pitkins, and much more, all within a 3 x 6 block area. For more guides to NY bars, check out Murphguide.com and DrinkDeal.com with lists of happy hours (did you know some bars offer all you can drink beer for a few hours for $10-$20?).
Best UES Bars (Upper East Side Pubs)Stay on NewYorkOnTap and move up the Upper East Side Map for some more gems. The Roof Garden at the Met is often overlooked and a little out of the way, but worth a visit for the unparalleled close-up views of Central Park (this is an afternoon to late afternoon spot, not a night place). For more of an evening out drinking, stick with area around 2nd Ave between 73rd and the high 80s. Off 3rd Ave, try Mad River Bar and Grill betw. 81 and 82 -- a younger crowd, yes, but fun. Try Gael Pub just up the street for and Irish pub, or Big City Bar and Grill up at 90th. Drop into Molly Pitchers Ale House on 2nd between 85 and 86. Try Waterloo Tavern at 85th and 2nd, or Trinity Pub just around the corner (only 3 locals there on a recent visit, but bartender made us feel at home) on 84th going towards 3rd, or Ryans Daughter on 85th going towards 1st. Jack Russell's is right on 2nd between 82nd and 83rd, and Ship of Fools is right across the street on 2nd. Doc Watson's is a few blocks further south along 2nd (pretty crowded, loud, local spot on recent visit), with Brother Jimmy's opposite across 2nd (between 77/78). Iggy's is down near 75th, Pogues Pub is over on 1st near 74th, and the Vudu Lounge is a few blocks up on 1st near 77th.
Best Upper West Side Bars and Pub CrawlsIf the West Side is more your thing, check out some of these spots. Broadway and Amsterdam is where most of the action is. The Parlor is at 86th and Bway, and Fez is a block further south. Over on Amsterdam near 82 is the Dead Poet, a very narrow bar at the front (barely standing room behind the bar stools) with a little more room in the back with a pool table and a few small tables -- crowd can be hit or miss, but a good spot for a beer. Jake's Dilemna is just down Amsterdam at near 81st - $3 drafts on the late Sunday night we dropped in, mild crowd. Turn down 79th towards Bway to hit the Dublin House, with Blondies Sports on the same block. Back on Amsterdam, down by 76 is Time Out and Harrisons Tavern, and Yogis is just a short block over on Broadway and 76th. Try the Gin Mill on Amsterdam betw 81st and 82nd - happy hour M-F noon to 8PM, $3 drink specials most days.
New York Rooftop BarsIf you're in the big city, nothing beats enjoying a drink while soaking in views of the skyline. New York City has a few rooftop bars you should make a point of visiting if you have the chance. We already mentioned the one at the Met. Keep in mind bars and restaurants come and go in Manhattan, so you may want to call before setting out for any of these spots..
- **FAVORITE: The Roof at The Viceroy Hotel, 124 W.57th (between 6th and 7th). Indoor and outdoor seating, but the outdoor terrace is the place to be. Views looking north towards Central Park, and the gorgeous, towering, silver-blue spire of 90-story One57 is hard to miss to the left.
- If you are around Macy's, try the Hotel Metro Roof Garden rooftop bar off 35th (near 6th). Its on the 14th floor, the ESB is real close. Not an upscale bar, but good for an afterwork beer with friends. It can be a little tough to find -- accessed via a small elevator through the restaurant, ask a hostess for directions.
- **FAVORITE: Try out 230 Fifth Rooftop Garden (near 27th and 5th Ave), open from 4PM to 4AM everyday. Great views of Empire State and Chrysler. On the 20th floor. Supposed to be the largest rooftop bar in NYC. They have free red robes to wear on chillier evenings.. (entrance on the west side of 5th Ave, north and kitty-corner to Madison Square Park and Flat Iron Bldg - enter through lobby, follow roped off path to the right and around to the elevators, which will take you up to the indoor lounge -- head up the flight of stairs to your right and up you go to the roof..)
- The Terrace at Sutton Place Bar and Restaurant (2nd betw. 53rd and 54th) - 212-207-4511 - 3 floor building with roof terrace.
- Bookmarks at the Library Hotel, Madison @ 41st. Small outdoor patio area can get a little crowded. Drinks are expensive of course. But on a 2014 late night it was the perfect place for a quiet date drink.
- One of our favorite classier spots with views down 5th Ave is Pen-Top Bar on top of the Peninsula Hotel (55th and 5th). Apparently they are now calling it the Salon de Ning, but same great location. Went here once on a cold winter night, still worth it for the view, though drinks are close to $20. Very expensive -- savor one looonnnggg drink! 2012 UPDATE: Plan on closer to $25 for a cocktail, but views are as good as ever. If you can get onto the small balcony just left of the bar, great view towards the Park and the terraced, lighted trees of Trump Tower to the right.. Enter the hotel off of 55th, then veer immediately to the right and down some stairs and follow signs for Salon de Ning elevator which will take you up..
- Top of the Tower at Beekman Tower Hotel (49th and 1st) - on 26th floor, nice restaurant, great city views, small outdoor area. Take the far left elevator in lobby to get there.
- The Rare View Rooftop Garden at the Shelburne Murray Hill Hotel (37th and Lexington) is open seasonally (normally May-Oct), call to confirm 212.689.5200. On the 16th floor, closes at 11PM. Great open views of ESB and Chrysler. Tue-Sat, 4:30pm-midnight.
- Me Bar (now known as Sun Roof) at La Quinta Inn (32nd betw. Broadway and 5th). Great views of ESB, 14th floor.
- If you happen to be a VIP or a guest at the Gramercy Park Hotel (Lexington at 21st), check out the Private Roof Club and Garden on the 16th floor (again, NOT open to the public, you must be a hotel guest). High Bar used to be on the 18th floor and open to the public, with great views - especially of the Chrysler Building, my favorite NY building -- but alas, it is now closed.
- High Bar in Times Square, Hilton Garden Inn (W. 48th). Food and drinks. 212-956-1300
- Also in Times Square area, try R Lounge inside the Marriott Renaissance (it's in the area wedged between 7th and Broadway @ 57th - just north of the tiered bench seating area where people sit and watch the Times Square lights). Enter on the 7th Ave side, make an immediate hook to the right to get to the elevator which takes you up to the lounge. This location is just 3 floors up - nice eye level view over the lights and action of Times Square, looking south. Window seats get you closer to the action, but they face inward, so you are better off sitting at a table facing the windows for non-stop view. As of 2012, about $8 for a beer and $15 for a cocktail.
- Red Sky Bar (29th betw Park and Madison) - 3 floor bar, small rooftop level. Great beers on tap downstairs (Bass, Guinness, etc.)
- This one isn't a rooftop, but rather an elevated view over Columbus Circle and Central Park South - The Mandarin Oriental Lobby Lounge 35 floors up! (The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is the 2 black towers rising up over Columbus Circle, facing the Park). Views at sunset better than late night since the Park becomes mostly an unlit, black area, not too much to see..