Words by: Simon Difford
New Yorkers are always in search of the next ‘in’ place or area: where once SoHo led, the Meatpacking District followed, now it is the East Village that is attracting bar entrepreneurs and with them, discerning drinkers.
Although it sometimes seems that Manhattan's bars and clubs can come and go in a New York minute, the best ones survive for years - happy tenth birthday Pegu Club. And while the trend for opening speakeasy style lounges has waned, the city that made the hard-to-find door fashionable still boasts more than any other city - the best of which are still great.
Whatever you seek, be it speakeasy, pub, lounge or club, the diversity of Manhattan's venues ensures your tastes will be catered for. That is, of course, assuming that you make it through the velvet rope - New York has some of the world's hardest doors and the most queues (sorry "lines") of hopefuls waiting.
In Manhattan it is illegal to serve alcohol after 4am (midnight on Sundays) but fellow Brits will join me in considering that late enough - even for the "city that never sleeps". The minimum drinking age of 21 is not so liberal and even bald 40-somethings are likely to be asked for photo ID at some point so be sure to have on you.
Although there is little of note much above 50th Street, Manhattan's a huge city to bar crawl so our recommendations below are arranged by area. Enjoy.
The Dead Rabbit
The Dead Rabbit is headed up by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, a duo with an O.C.D.-like attention to detail and consequently this is rightly one of the most praised and awarded bars in the world. Set in a four story early 19th century redbrick building with exposed beams and vintage prints adorning the walls. The ground-floor Taproom offers craft beers (including excellent house cask conditioned ale), bottled punch and a large whiskey selection. Upstairs, The Parlor focuses on cocktails presented in a collectible menu. 5+/5
30 Water Street (near Broad St)
The name hints at what to expect: wooden, floor to ceiling bookcase style shelves lined with brandies from around the world. Besides the brandies of the title, a full array of whiskies and rums also line the shelves. The service, décor and atmosphere are as special as the drinks selection. This very classy joint caters to a mature, discerning crowd. 5/5
25 North Moore Street, (@ Varick St), TriBeCa
Behind red velvet curtains lies an art deco lounge with carved wood panelling, marble floors, a classic tin ceiling, an onyx framed fireplace and a long, welcoming bar. Bartenders are dressed in white jackets by Savoia and their cocktails live up to their reputation. Employees Only attracts a good looking crowd who dress to impress, drawn by the quality of the drinks and atmosphere. 5+/5
510 Hudson Street, (btwn Christopher & W 10th Sts), TriBeCa
Milk & Honey, the world's most influential speakeasy, made this address famous. Ace bartenders Sam Ross & Michael McIlroy have changed little about the place - the entrance remains unmarked, there's no reservations, no cocktail menu and no attitude. The light has been turned up to the extent that you can see your drinking partner, and if it's possible, the cocktails have also been dialled up a notch. 5+/5
134 Eldridge Street (nr. Delancey St) door marked 'AB'
Kenta Goto's bar in the space that was previously Zoe opened summer 2015. Formerly at the Pegu Club, the 2011 American Bartender of the Year at Tales' Spirited Awards, Kenta's bar is small but perfectly formed - as are the cocktails.5/5
245 Eldridge Street (btwn Houston & Stanton Sts)
An intimate, dimly lit, subterranean cocktail den by David Kaplan and Alex Day, the duo behind Death & Co. along with Natasha David. Unpretentious with booth / built-in banquette seating and an extensive cocktail menu. 4.5/5
120 Rivington Street, (at Essex St) to the left of Schapiro's entrance
This neighbourhood of New York City sits above Houston Street and the Lower East Side. It is bordered by the East River to the east and Third Avenue to the west and extends up to 14th Street, encompassing the area known as Alphabet City due to its single letter street names. Recognised as the birthplace of punk rock, this once crime and drug ridden district has been much gentrified and we believe now has more world class cocktail bars per mile than anywhere else in the world - it's a mere three-quarters of a square mile.
Amor y Amargo
Amor Y Amargo (love and bitterness) is a tiny dozen seater cocktail bar focusing on bitters, also doubling as a retail outlet for a bewildering range of bitters with barware and bar books also stocked. The 18 strong cocktail menu is roughly evenly split between House Favourites "drinks that define us" and Riffs on Classics "our interpretation of the classics" along with dealer's / drinker's choice Bespoke Cocktails based around either an Old-Fashioned, Manhattan or Negroni. There's some very creative and tasty cocktails on offer as well as house-made sweet vermouth on tap. 4.5/5
443 East 6th Street (btwn 1st Ave & Ave A).
The original speakeasy style bar of the modern era. Angel's Share opened in 1994, six years before Sasha Petraske opened Milk & Honey (now closed) having borrowed the concept from Angel's Share - hidden entrance, rules, classic cocktails and all. Ascend the stairs to a very ordinary Japanese restaurant and you will find an unmarked door on your left, looking more like the opening to the restaurant's broom cupboard than the entrance to cocktail nirvana. Behind it lies Angel's Share, an Eastern influenced lounge with a relaxed atmosphere and perfectly made classic cocktails. 5/5
8 Stuyvesant Street (@ 9th St & 3rd Ave)
Owned by Greg Boehm, the man behind Cocktail Kingdom barware with a team that includes bartending legends Don Lee and Erick Castro, Boilermaker is described as being "the ultimate neighbourhood bar". It's just that, offering superb cocktails, a great range of beers - both draught and packaged, along with a huge range of accompanying spirits as befits the bar's name. It also has that neighbourhood bar essential - great burgers. 4.5/5
13 First Avenue (corner of 1st St)
Death & Company
Not a funeral parlour run by the grim reaper himself but a reference to Prohibition-era art. As the name suggests this is a speakeasy-styled cocktail lounge, one of the most famous and best regarded in the world. Death & Company lives up to its reputation with great food and well-made, classically styled cocktails. 5/5
433 East 6th Street (btwn Avenue A & 1st Ave)
Greg Boehm, the man behind Cocktail Kingdom barware and Nicolas de Soto, the Paris-born affable master bartender have teamed up with Zachary Sharaga to revamp his former Louis 649 site into this very 'spicy' bar. A dozen regularly changing cocktails are offered - all named and themed around spices - Mace included. 5/5
649 East 9th Street (at Avenue C)
Named after the legendary goddess of the maguey plant, Mayahuel is a cocktail bar which celebrates both mezcal and tequila within an authentic Mexican-styled interior. Mayahuel boasts one of the largest selections of mezcal outside of Mexico which along which tequila are used to good effect in creative cocktails, served alongside authentic Mexican tapas-style food. 4.5/5
304 E. 6th Street (at 2nd Ave)
PDT (short for Please Don't Tell) is one of the original Manhattan bars modelled on Prohibition speakeasies. This rather wonderful cocktail lounge is accessed through a 1940s wooden phone booth inside Crif Dogs, a hot dog merchant of some repute. Cocktails tend towards the old-school and are lovingly made. All-American junk food comes from Crif Dogs next door.
Crif Dogs, 113 Saint Marks Place (8th btwn A & 1st Aves)
One of the world's most regarded cocktail lounges with the best cocktail menus we have encountered - both for the quality of the drinks and the way each drink represented by two simple and informative scales: 'refreshing to spirituous' and 'comforting to adventurous'. An excellent liquor selection includes a whole page dedicated to Chartreuse vintage bottlings. 5+/5
Second Floor, 225 Avenue B (btwn 13th & 14th Street)
Summit's black granite bar counter stretches down the raw brickwork rustic room and is split into three sections so there's usually plenty of bar space. There is banquette seating front and back and even a small back yard, but I'd recommend you to sit at the bar and order one of the six classics or six alchemist cocktails. 4.5/5
133 Avenue C (btwn 8th & 9th Aves), Alphabet City/Loisaida, 10009
The Wayland is a neighbourhood corner bar with real substance. Cocktails made with fresh ingredients, craft beers, tasty food served till 4am, live music and friendly proficient service. The simple décor, atmosphere and live bands playing at the far end of the bar (Sunday to Wednesday), give The Wayland something of a New Orleans vibe. 5+/5
700 East 9th Street, (entrance on Avenue C)
Acme Downstairs Bar
Like many a good New York bar, the entrance to this basement lounge below the avant-garde Nordic restaurant of the same name is somewhat hidden away, so be sure to click through for our directions. Once located you'll find a large dimly lit atmospheric room with tables and booths with a bar heaving with luxury spirits. Cocktails are quickly and efficiently turned out and the food is fabulously presented and tasty, if perhaps a tad poncy. 4.5/5
9 Great Jones Street (@ Lafayette St), Noho
Inspired and named after a famous 19th century club in Rangoon, this modern incarnation of the Pegu Club is perched in a long, narrow lounge above West Houston Street. The original Pegu Club was famous for its eponymous, tart-tasting house cocktail and naturally this leads Audrey Saunders' list which also showcases signature creations such as her Gin Gin Mule and Earl Grey Martini. 5/5
77 West Houston Street (btwn Laguardia Pl & Wooster St)
Saxon + Parole
Named after two famous racehorses, hence the equine logo, Saxon + Parole has something for everybody - from brunch to the early hours. By day a modern American brasserie with an outside terrace and a very accommodating long bar counter through to Madam Geneva, an attached speakeasy style bar with its own entrance at 4 Bleecker Street to while away the night. The homely food is served in hearty portions and the equally approachable bar menu ranges from a simple vodka and soda (with homemade flavoured soda) to signature cocktails such as the Spring Daiquiri (light rum, sugar snap peas, lemon-thyme cordial, lime and tarragon salt). 4.5/5
316 Bowery (at Bleecker)
West Village neighbourhood bar meets high-end cocktail lounge. The "name references both the records played over a vintage hi-fi setup and the idea that it offers an escape from the digital world in which we live." Analogue is a true cocktail lounge - warmly lit with upbeat jazz tracks and regular live bands. The menu consists of 20 signature cocktails and we recommend the Tipping Point and spicy Oaxaca Smash. 5/5
19 West 8th Street (btwn 5th & 6th Aves), West Village
Created by Sasha Petraske, the gentleman who brought New Yorkers Milk & Honey back in January 2000, Little Branch shares many elements with his first (now closed) venture, most obviously its retro theme and fantastic, classically styled cocktails. With its corrugated tin ceiling, pressed tin bar front and mustard coloured walls, it is far from plush, but wonderfully cool and quirky. 4.5/5
22 Seventh Avenue South, (btwn Clarkson & Leroy Sts), Greenwich Village
Slowly Shirley beneath The Happiest Hour
Palm tree wallpaper, slushy machine, a loose tiki theme and the general buzz of this place give The Happiest Hour something of a holiday atmosphere. The dining area lies beyond the island bar at the front of the room and is noted for 'The Happiest Burger'. Whimsical signature cocktails are supported by a solid selection of classics. So popular is The Happiest Hour that a 20 minute wait outside is to be expected at weekends, but serious drinkers should head downstairs to 1940s-50s Hollywood-themed, Slowly Shirley bar below. 4.5/5
121 West 10th Street (nr Greenwich Ave), West Village
Best described as a 'gastro bar' (as opposed to a 'gastro pub') this neighbourhood café bar offers a modern British menu and an equally good list of house cocktails, but most of all we are drawn to Whitehall by its warm atmosphere and friendly staff. 4.5/5
19 Greenwich Avenue, (@ West 10th St), West Village
Sister to the better known Little Branch this is also part of the Sasha Petraske stable of cocktail bars, the man who famously brought us Milk and Honey. As you'd expect of Sasha, the cocktail offering is classically led and influenced, segregating drinks by category. 4.5/5
154 East 33rd Street (btwn Lexington & 3rd Aves), Murray Hill
The Clocktower is the much-anticipated first American outpost for acclaimed British chef Jason Atherton. And where there's an Atherton restaurant, you can be sure there'll be a great bar and drinks. The Clocktower, which lies on the 2nd floor of the landmark Metropolitan Life building within The New York Edition hotel is no exception. 4.5/5
New York Edition Hotel, 5 Madison Avenue (at 24th Street), Flatiron
The stylish and plush NoMad Hotel boasts three drinking spaces, The Elephant Bar, the Library and NoMad Bar - each interconnected but the latter boasting its own entrance from the street. The Elephant and Library Bar share the same menu, indeed the drinks in the Library are dispensed from the Elephant Bar, while the NoMad Bar, which has more of a pub feel, has a different broader drinks offering. The cocktails across the board are excellent and the service 5-star. 4.5/5
1170 Broadway (btwn 27th & 28th Sts), Flatiron,
Eleven Madison Park
Set in the theatrically scaled hall of a 1920s Art Deco building, this is quite simply one of New York's most impressive restaurants. Eleven Madison Park also boasts a discreet and relatively modestly sized bar. Be sure to go early to ensure a seat at the bar. Start with one of the apéritif cocktails whilst you peruse the full food menu which is also served at the bar. Settle in for a night of fabulous food and drink. 5/5
11 Madison Avenue (at 24th St), Flatiron
The Flatiron Lounge is an Art Deco homage to the glory days of cocktails with a mirror from the Algonquin and the 30-foot-long mahogany bar is salvaged from The Ballroom, once frequented by Sinatra and his pack. When it opened in 2003, The Flatiron was one of New York's most fashionable and talked about cocktail havens. It has aged well. 4.5/5
37 West 19th Street, (btwn 5th & 6th Aves), Flatiron
Raines Law Rooms
Descend a few steps at the foot of an unmarked building and press the bell-push besides the unmarked door. Inside lies one of the most upscale of Manhattan's many speakeasy-styled lounges. Head for the 'standing room only' at the back - the real action takes place in the kitchen. 4.5/5
48 West 17th Street, (btwn 5th & 6th Aves), Flatiron
Like being in the kitchen at a hell of a house party often sums up the atmosphere at this neighbourhood style bar and eatery. It lacks pretense, delivering good honest drinks from a menu which boasts nine different Negronis as well as well conceived house "Fancy Drinks". Bare brick walls meet red flock wallpaper, bare wooden floor and rust red ceiling. Good drinks produced at speed by pro bartenders fly across the copper topped bar counter. 4/5
1561 2nd Avenue, (at E 81st St), Upper East Side
More a restaurant, the tiny bar area in Seamstress nestles in what was a entrance hall. Great cocktails but lacks atmosphere. Worth remembering if in this part of town but not worthy of a 30 block hike.
339 East 75th Street, (btwn 2nd & 1st Aves), Upper East Side