I’ve been here since August, and those who know me well know that’s more than enough time for me to establish some favorite drinking holes. I am a bar man through and through, and New York is swimming with some of the best America has to offer. I won’t bother with the newer speakeasies. I still love them, but chances are you’ve seen them mentioned here or elsewhere. Here we go:
1. Rudy’s Bar and Grill—Hell’s Kitchen
This might be my favorite place in Manhattan. It’s cash only, as a lot of the older Manhattan bars tend to be, but the prices are right, and the atmosphere is even better. Beers are generally around 3 or 4 bucks for the standards, but there’s also a special with their won brand of Blonde and a shot of whiskey for 5. Hard to beat that. The place has been around for a while, and is even mentioned in a Steely Dan song. The bartenders are friendly, especially for a joint so crowded (seating is rare, but they do have a back patio). It’s also the kind of place where you’ll meet older New Yorkers who have never left and who are more than willing to bitch and clue you in on a little history over a pint. They also have free hot dogs!
2. The Blarney Cove—East Village
This is a strange relic from a bygone era of “New York Shitty” that has somehow remained viable in a neighborhood that has more tapas bars than dives nowadays. I stopped in here because the exterior looked so amazingly shitty I had to get a drink for myself. A single neon Budweiser sign in a tiny box-sized window with a metal name plate nailed to the shutters. Inside two beers and two shots of what we thought was whiskey but turned out to be tequila ran twenty bucks. The bartender was a Chinese woman who spoke broken English and played nothing but 90s era hip hop while dancing along. The wallpaper might have been stolen from a Bennigan’s. A great little dive.
3. On the Rocks—Hell’s Kitchen
A whiskey-oriented, classy hole in the wall. This place is serious about their brown stuff, with a pages long Scotch menu, including bottles from the 60s that go for quite a pretty penny. The bartender (it’s been the same guy each time I’ve been) mixes great Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and is very attentive and quick, especially on a slow night, when he’s also good for chit-chat. Definitely more pleasing with one or two close friends when it’s not crowded, and there’s nothing but Ole Blue Eyes on the stereo.
4. Gotham City Lounge—Bushwick
Only a brief walk from my apartment, I knew I would love this place the moment I walked in. The entire bar is smaller than my living room, and stocked to the gills with comic book, star wars, and other nerd memorabilia. The story is that the guy who owns the place was a schoolteacher, and also a gigantic collectibles hound. His wife gave him an ultimatum, and rather than part with any of his stuff, he decided to open a bar on the ground floor of a building his family owned and make it his own personal repository. A shot and a PBR is 3 bucks, which might be the most absurd deal I’ve ever seen anywhere in the United States. Always a lively crowd full of locals who will talk to you about strange things when they get drunk enough. Ray and his daughter are both very nice and attentive bartenders. My neighborhood bar of choice.
A massive beer hall with two bars, outdoor tables, fireplaces, and bench seating? Sign me up. The beer selection has a lot of variety, as well as the usual liquors and (I think) a few signature cocktails. They also have a food menu serving up a variety of sausages, fries, and the like. Great atmosphere for weekend day drinking, small celebrations, and other extended drink-ins.
6. McSorley’s Old Ale House—East Village
One of the oldest bars in New York City, this no-frills Irish pub opened in the 1850s, and has been in the same location ever since. They serve two types of booze: light beer, and dark beer, which come two at a time for 5.50 in small mugs. There’s sawdust on the floor, all kinds of yellowing newspapers and trinkets on the walls, and the bartenders and waiters tend to be full-blooded Micks that will try to steal your women. Fun fact: this place didn’t allow women until the city forced them to in 1970.
More and more bars are popping up around Bushwick, but I think Tandem might be the first bar I ever visited in Brooklyn. By daylight and early evening, the place operates as a quiet and laid back bar with table service and good food (they also have a decent brunch on Sundays). By weekends at around 10pm, there’s usually several clutches of 20somethings puffing on American Spirits outside, the bar is stacked seven deep, and the back room has been converted into a full on dance party, complete with lasers and a smoke machine.
8. 124 Old Rabbit Club—Greenwich Village
This tiny cave-like basement bar has a great selection of beers (mostly bottles), specializing mainly in Belgian Ales, which I have a soft spot for. It’s dark, which is just what I want from this kind of place. The beers tend towards the premium and the prices reflect that (starting at about 7 bucks), but it’s worth it if you’re going for quality over quantity. If you’re in the neighborhood (the Comedy Cellar is right across the street), this is more or less the best bar on a strip of what amounts to Manhattan’s answer to Dirty Sixth. Avoid the neon-festooned travesties nearby, with names like Off the Wagon and Three Sheets.
9. Bushwick Country Club—East Williamsburg
Spare me the comments flaming me for putting this place in the “wrong” neighborhood—I don’t care. The important things about BCC are as follows:
*You can become a card-carrying member of the BCC
*Pickleback/beer combo specials
Picklebacks are the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. The premise is simple: you drink a shot of Jameson and then you drink a shotglass full of pickle juice. The brine immediately erases any wobbly effects of the alcohol…no burn, taste, or queasy stomach. The upside: you can drink lots of shots quickly one after another and you won’t barf. Less obviously, it makes you feel like a depraved, salty bastard. The downside: you may drink so many shots so quickly that you will still barf, and even if you don’t, you will wake up the next morning feeling like you got run over by a truck.
The point is, BCC is the type of bar where I wind up doing tons of picklebacks and then my three friends I end up seeing how many cheeseballs we can fit inside our mouths and the other patrons laugh at us. There are also a few arcade games (no classics), a photobooth, and they will occasionally have events with free food.
10. Sing Sing—East Village
I wasn’t used to having to pay for singing songs AT THE BAR at a karaoke place when I first moved to New York, but the system in place at Sing Sing does allow you to throw down $25 to skip everybody else’s bullshit songs, which is kind of amazing in its wicked consumerism. That said, you can also skip the bar and get your name in on a back room, which has some of the better functioning equipment I’ve seen in a karaoke booth outside of Japan. The songbooks have a lot of new songs, and there is drink service to the room at no extra charge! All told, the experience runs about $30.00 per person plus drinks for a few hours. Not a bad gig at all.