New York City nightlife spans everything from lovably grimy dives to historic hotel bars to thumping dance clubs on the shores of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Its cutting-edge cocktail culture, however, is rightfully world famous.
For more than 20 years, the city has been pursuing creative and at times cerebral mixology. It birthed the global speakeasy movement, taught generations of next-wave bartenders, and influenced everything from glassware to spirits to lighting trends (hello, Edison bulbs).
Whether you are new to the city or a lifer looking to cross every item off your bucket list, these 20 NYC cocktail bars are living legends.
One of the sexiest bars in Manhattan, The NoMad bar (part of the Make It Nice family) won top honors at Tales of the Cocktail’s 2018 Spirited Awards and cracked the Top 5 in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2017. Bar director Leo Robitschek’s menu includes classics, unique concoctions made with rare spirits, and large-and-in-charge creations serving eight to 10 people at a time. Try the Detox-Retox, made with blended Scotch, Venezuelan and pineapple rums, and coconut water; or the Start Me Up, with bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon, and orange bitters. Pair your drink with The NoMad Bar’s “traditional pub food” (if you can call it that). The famed chicken pot pie features black truffles and foie gras. Location.
Aside from leaving town, one of the best reasons to visit Grand Central Station is for this historic, not-so-secret bar. An homage to financier John W. Campbell, who used the space as his private office and reception hall in 1923, the ornate venue has 25-foot ceilings, a stone fireplace, steel safe, a century-old glass window and Florentine design. Expect classic cocktails, a dedicated Old-Fashionds and Negronis menu, plus house cocktails. We recommend the Blonde Negroni, made with Hendricks Gin, Cocchi Americano, and Suze. Location.
A superlative Irish pub, cocktail lounge, and neighborhood watering hole all mixed into one, the Dead Rabbit has been named among the world’s best bars too many times to count. The two-story, South Street Seaport structure suffered damage due to a fire this year but has since reopened. Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon bring an impressive cocktail and whiskey list, and beverage director Jillian Vose is an industry leader. Try the signature The Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee with a Scotch egg. Location.
This moody cocktail bar with suspender-wearing bartenders is perhaps the East Village’s worst-kept secret. Hidden behind a discreet wooden door lies a carefully crafted cocktail menu that changes twice a year and features novelties like the Yojimbo, Nikka Coffee Grain Japanese Whisky, brandy, togarashi, almond and Creole Shrubb. Be prepared to wait — seats at this tiny East Village are limited, and fans are patient. Location.
From ex-Pegu Club mixologist Kenta Goto comes this Japanese-inspired Lower East Side cocktail bar. The Tokyo transplant and award-winning bartender serves beautiful crafted fusion cocktails that entirely evade kitsch, such as the Goto Martini, Sakura Martini, and Far East Side. The bar serves excellent Japanese comfort food, such as okonomiyaki, or savory cabbage pancakes, and miso-glazed wings. Location.
Situated in the storied Milk & Honey space on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Attaboy has big shoes to fill — and it does so beautifully. It’s helmed by the former’s veteran bartenders, Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy; in lieu of a menu, bartenders create custom drinks, including spirit-free options, à la carte and on the spot. The tiny counter doesn’t take reservations, but the wait is always worth it. Ring the doorbell to enter. Location.
One of the most popular bars in the city, this hotel watering hole has knockout views to match its clever drinks and iconic gold bar. Beverage director Will Talbott riffs on the classics, with a special focus on table-side presentations. Must-sips include Luck Be A Lady (Polish rye vodka, lychee, lime, elderflower, and Champagne), Pornstar Martini (Reyka vodka, passion fruit, vanilla, Moet & Chandon) and Blood and Sand (12-year aged Scotch, blood orange, sweet vermouth, cherry heering). Location.
The sleek, sophisticated cocktail bar from industry legend Audrey Saunders is hidden in plain sight in a second-story lounge above a busy SoHo intersection. It shares its name with an actual British officers’ club in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Rangoon, Burma) and a gin-based cocktail, which was the signature drink of the original Pegu Club. The NYC lounge offers a variety of gin-based drinks and a cutting-edge collection of house creations. Try the Gin Gin Mule if you’re a first-timer. Location.
Negronis are the word at this beautifully restored, century-old Greenwich Village restaurant-cocktail bar. Its 21st-century makeover includes green-leather banquettes and an elegant pressed-tin ceiling, but the true attraction is the impressive array of Negronis and amaro cocktails. Try the Negroni Bianco, a Campari drink with fresh-squeezed orange juice, or whet your thirst with a Negroni on tap. Dante has previously clocked in at No. 16 on the World’s Best Bars list and was recently nominated for a Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award. Location.
One of the prettiest spaces in NYC, this New Orleans-inspired cocktail bar in Williamsburg is revered for its oysters and absinthe. The latter is served in cocktails and via elaborate vintage serving ware atop the gorgeous marble bar. Enjoy absinthe variations among the beautiful people, or grab a table in the twinkling rear garden and toss back some oysters with your cocktails. Location.
Like so many of the city’s best cocktail bars, Angel’s Share is an open secret. It’s been hidden in restaurant Village Yokocho for 22 years at 8 Stuyvesant Street. Angel’s Share offers one of the city’s best Grasshoppers and a notable Stormy Weather cocktail, all poured by bartenders in tuxedos. It is intensely romantic — and small. If you’re facing down an especially long line for access, consider checking out its “annex” down the street at 14 Stuyvesant Street, above Sharaku restaurant. Location.
Listed among the World’s 50 Best Bars, Mace is named for the spice and helmed by internationally renowned barmen Greg Boehm and Nico de Soto. Each cocktail is named for an ingredient, herb, or spice within — such as hibiscus, fennel pollen, ghost chili, etc. Its namesake cocktail is an Aperol, aquavit, beet juice, orange acid, and Thai coconut cordial with a spritz of mace mist. Location.
Another second-story speakeasy with an excellent beverage program? Yes, but this beloved Alphabet City bar differentiates itself with its surprisingly down-to-earth vibe and spacious layout. There are no costumes and no “concept” other than inventive drinks with flavor profiles and liquor levels that range from accessible to completely adventurous. Location.
Escape the usual ruckus of the Lower East Side nightlife at Nitecap, an industry hangout that is welcoming to all. This subterranean spot is from the same team behind Death & Co., and has a cheeky, retro vibe and warm, inclusive atmosphere. Don’t miss the creative, large-format punches. Location.
Low-key cool and impossibly elegant, Brooklyn’s Clover Club has a mahogany bar and Victorian-era details, plus shiny leather banquettes and a crystal chandelier. The original Clover Club comprised a group of Philadelphia journalists who would meet at the Bellevue Hotel in the late 1800s; its modern-day namesake creates an atmosphere where you can have thoughtful cocktails and conversations. Drinks range from classical to tiki to communal punches, all served in beautiful crystalware. Location.
This intimate (New York-speak for “small”) East Village den is dedicated to amari, the bitter, herbaceous Italian liqueurs. It is the rare combination of industry and local favorite, and a worthy destination in its own right. Try the eight-amaro Sazerac, a house favorite. And wear comfortable shoes — this cool spot’s narrow digs mean it is almost always standing-room-only. Location.
A West Village landmark, Employees Only has earned accolades from Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards, Drinks International, and many others. The bar has trained generations of bartenders and has since opened a second outpost in Singapore. Try the Ginger Smash or Besos Caliente to see what all the fuss is about. If you’re craving more than drinks, reserve a table in the restaurant, which serves an impressive array of New American dishes (roasted chicken, smoked rainbow trout, seasonal salads). Location.
Come for the hot dogs, stay for the cocktails. Yes, this is THAT cocktail bar, accessible only via phone booth inside an East Village hot dog shop, Crif Dogs. Expect high-quality, classic cocktails served alongside unapologetically indulgent fare, such as deep-fried Jersey-style franks, fully loaded tater tots, or waffle fries from the hot dog joint next door. Location.
Whereas many of NYC’s most celebrated cocktail bars are in basements and back alleys, The Aviary occupies a soaring space on the 35th floor of Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. It’s a Chicago import from the celebrated Alinea Group, and it offers dramatic views of Central Park and wildly creative, cerebral drinks like Heart of Stone, a color-and-flavor-changing drink, or Boom Goes the Dynamite, a smoky display of rooibos, vanilla, violet, ver jus, and rum. Don’t miss the Dale Chihuly sculpture in the waiting area. Location.
One of 2018’s most exciting newcomers, the Broken Shaker at the Freehand Hotel has been creating massive queues since opening in May. The globally inspired drinks and almost too-cool tiki vibes are served 18 floors above Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood. All menu offerings are clever, curious, and Instagrammable, à la the Poppyseed Bagel Fizz: Beefeater Gin and Aquavit shaken with powdered cream cheese, Black Seed Bagel kvas and topped with bitter lemon soda. Quirky and beautiful, it’s NYC in a glass. Location