10 bars to check out in the city that never sleeps
Though there’s a bar on virtually every downtown street in New York, we recently hit some old favourites and some new essentials, to help guide your next drinking safari to the Big Apple.
Forget waiting in line for a glimpse from the Empire State Building viewing platform. For the best views in town, head to 64th-floor bar Overstory in the Wall Street area. The bar atop Saga restaurant has a breezy wrap-around deck, with high-flying cocktails like In the Clouds (whisky, tea, vanilla, clarified milk and Champagne) to match.
For an entirely new perspective on the skyline, take the F-train or the tramway to the 18th-floor Panorama Room atop the quirky Graduate Hotel. A hip young crowd comes over to Roosevelt Island (formerly known as Welfare Island, in the East River between Manhattan and Queens) to capture their best lives in selfies. Combine raw-bar oysters, shrimp cocktail or crudo with a lovely White Negroni made with Salers aperitivo.
Recently named the Best Bar in North America, Attaboy is the ultimate in custom cocktail service, with its legendary bartenders riffing on your spirit and drink-style preferences. There’s now a small sidewalk patio, giving a tiny bit more capacity to the bar behind the door merely labeled “AB 134” on the LES’s Eldridge Street.
At the elegant Mace, you’ll order concoctions that are customized to highlight one spice ingredient or flavour. For example, the Frankincense is a spectacular smoked drink with mushroom-infused bourbon, brown butter and walnut flavours, imbued with spiced smoke.
Although the beloved Angel’s Share has closed (Takuma Watanabe has resurfaced at Martiny’s in the Flatiron district), Bar Goto is still serving New Yorkers fine Japanese-style mixology. Experience the fishy, maritime depths of the Koji-San, combining shochu and mezcal with dashi, celery and lime.
For a more raucous, vintage-rocking good time, head to the West Village’s Katana Kitten, where founder Masahiro Urishido (a recent guest bartender at the Fairmont Pacific Rim) recently won the Bartenders’ Bartender Award as part of the first-ever North America’s 50 Best Bars. The Calpico Swizzle is the ultimate Instagram bait: it’s blue, pellet-ice topped and gets topped with fresh-ground sansho pepper.
Art of the cocktail hotel bars
Perhaps you can’t afford a stay at the Upper East Side Carlyle Hotel, but a drink at hip-again Bemelman’s Bar is within reach. Since it’s named for the illustrator who decorated the room in murals, order the eponymous drink of his most famous creation, Madeline’s Vesper. Tip: There’s a cover charge after the piano player starts in the evening, but the bar opens at noon for a dose of welcome day drinking.
A seat at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis is a coveted perch not just to view the behind-the-bar mural, but to chat with colourful regulars and bartenders. The powerhouse Martini comes in a six-ounce glass and must be handled with care! A lighter option is the infamous Red Snapper that was invented here, believed to be the predecessor to the Bloody Mary.
Sipping it old school
It’s been in the East Village since 1854, with the sawdust on the floors and memorabilia on the walls to prove it: McSorley’s Old Ale House still offers two small mugs of draft beer for seven bucks, plus colourful running commentary from the chatty bartenders. In the front window booth, you’ll see another vestige of old New York: a payphone, though it no longer works.
If you find yourself at loose ends near Penn Station and the theatre district with time to kill, duck into the bar at Keen’s Steakhouse, where time stands still. Though one no longer checks their pipe upon entering like gentlemen did a century ago, the vibe is still wonderfully old fashioned, which is also a good drink to order here with your oysters, clams or crab cocktail.
Women imbibers, take note: Both of these legendary drinking dens once banned females, making it particularly good sport to drink there today.
—by Charlene Rooke