The 12 Best Bars in NYC, According to Bartenders
We asked the experts to weigh in on their favorites
Who better to recommend the best bars in any given city than the people who spend more time in them than anyone else? Welcome to our Best Bars in the United States series, where we’ve asked our favorite bartenders in the nation to select their most beloved drinking establishments in their city.
New York City has no shortage of amazing bars. It was one of the hotbeds of the early aughts’ cocktail revival, and some of the best bartenders in the world are still making waves with inventive cocktails in beautiful spaces. But New York is also a city that’s full of neighborhood bars, those lower key spots where you can pull up a stool on a weeknight and enjoy your favorite drink close to home.
Obviously, few people know the city’s bars better than the bartenders who work in the industry. So we asked 12 of our favorites, what is the best bar in NYC, according to you? We couldn’t agree more with their picks, which you should make a point to check out ASAP.
The Butcher’s Feast at COTE is one of New York’s most spectacular meals. But the real treat is descending to the restaurant’s subterranean bar Undercote after a meal, where principal bartender Sondre Kasin and his team are incorporating Korean and locally-foraged ingredients into some of the best cocktails you’ll ever have. “After living in NYC for the past five years, I’ve found quite a few bars and restaurants that are special to me, one of them being The Long Island Bar,” Kasin says of his preferred watering hole. This landmark location in Brooklyn serves up great cocktails, burgers and cheese curds in a laid-back setting and is home to many famous NYC bartenders.”
Amir Babayoff actually started out as an actor but fell in love with mixology while working in restaurants to support himself in-between auditions. Now, as the bar director at Ophelia, he’s inspired by the bar’s historic home to create its eclectic drink menus. “There are many bars in New York City that I have personally experienced and go to regularly that fit my personality and that I connect to, which is what makes a bar great, in my opinion,” he says. “First is Death & Co, as I love their attention to detail with technique and the spirit matching and layering of their cocktails. The space is small and intimate, which goes perfectly with the meticulously created beverage offerings, really presenting a great experience through and through.”
As the director of bars for Sunday Hospitality, Brian Evans has touched everything from the Japanese-leaning cocktails at Rule of Thirds to the drinks at El Quijote and Lobby Bar at the famed Hotel Chelsea. “While I usually prefer the unfussy dive or neighborhood bar, Overstory is undoubtedly my favorite cocktail bar experience in NYC,” he says. “The experimental, yet approachable flavor composition of each drink by Harrison Ginsberg and his uncanny team, the thoughtful hospitality, the stunning glassware and, of course, the breathtaking views from 64 floors high at sunset — it’s quite simply the most memorable, all-inclusive, multi-sensory package that’s quite difficult to match at any other watering hole in the city.”
Dante has been perfecting the art of aperitivo for years, and their Martinis and famous Garibaldi (made with Campari and the “fluffiest” orange juice of all time) keep us coming back time and again. Their dedication to excellence is the reason Naples, Italy native Roberto Bracco works there as the head bartender of Dante West Village. “Another bar that does aperitivo really well is Bar Pisellino,” he says about his favorite spot. “It reminds me of the little bars in the train stations of Italy, where you can have an espresso (which they serve with a little glass of water, very Italian) and then a classic spritz or Negroni along with amazing little sandwiches. I also love the decor — the wooden walls, the newspapers on the bar and the triangular shape of the space. It’s one of my favorite places to start the night before dinner.”
Julie Reiner is cocktail royalty. She helped revive NYC’s cocktail culture with the opening of Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club in the early aughts, and her Brooklyn bars Clover Club and Leyenda still serve some of the best in the city. Most recently, she transformed the former Soho dive bar Milady’s to serve seriously good drinks without sacrificing a seriously good time. “My favorite bar in NYC is Katana Kitten,” she says. “At this point in the world of bars, great cocktails are expected, so what I am looking for is an authentically fun spot with bartenders who are entertaining and fun! Katana has all of that and great food, too.”
It’s impossible to have a bad time at Grand Army, where drink menus tug at our nostalgic heartstrings with themes like The Spice Girls and Summer Camp. And behind the delicious whimsy is beverage director Ally Marrone. “The Dead Rabbit remains one of my favorite bars to go to, as it holds a special place in my heart, being my first job after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America,” she says. “It was an amazing place to work, and I’m so grateful to be able to go back now and enjoy it as a guest. It’s a beautifully detailed space that’s filled with good vibes and warm welcomes. It’s hard to choose a favorite cocktail when the Irish Coffee is always an option, but one I still crave is a Jesse Vida creation from back in the day called Fifth Gear. It was Irish whiskey, Amaro Montenegro, Madeira, banana, absinthe and salt. So dope. The Dead Rabbit continues to showcase beautifully balanced and delicious cocktails. What’s not to love!”
Before there was a fancy hotel on every Williamsburg, Brooklyn corner there was Wythe Hotel, which remains our favorite for its elegant atmosphere and incredible food and beverage programs. Beverage director Jarett Karlsberg has been there since the Reynard days and now helms the cocktail programs for French darling Le Crocodile and rooftop lounge Bar Blondeau. “If I’m ever out in the city, I love going to Sake Bar Decibel,” he says. “It’s a discreet, underground bar with a huge selection of sake and fun, hyper authentic Japanese snacks. It really transports you to another place.”
North America’s 50 Best Bars just crowned Double Chicken Please the best for 2023, and it’s easy to see why — the bar’s inventive menu of food-inspired cocktails (think Waldorf Salad and Cold Pizza) is one of the coolest we’ve seen in awhile. “I highly recommend Martiny’s, a modern, Japanese-style cocktail bar with thoughtful hospitality and service,” says Double Chicken Please co-founder GN Chan. “It’s located in a unique and historic building that lends to an intimate and elegant yet playful experience.”
Situated on the 18th floor of Roosevelt Island’s Graduate New York, Panorama Room has one of the best views (and drinks) in the city. Beverage director Devin Kennedy — a veteran of Pouring Ribbons and Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort — knows a thing or two about quality imbibing. “Grand Army in Brooklyn,” he says of his favorite NYC bar. “It’s the perfect blend of craft geeky cocktail bar and neighborhood tavern, which is pretty difficult to pull off. The bar does a great job of giving a sense of ownership to the staff, which leads to one of the best bar teams in my opinion. Cheers to them!”
Death & Co was one of the pioneers of the cocktail revival, and it’s still one of New York’s best bars to this day (as you might have gleaned from above). The modern icon’s bar manager, Javelle Taft, has worked at other top New York bars like Nitecap and Dutch Kills. “I’m really digging the vibes at Nightmoves in Williamsburg, Brooklyn right now,” he says. “It’s a non-pretentious cocktail hub with a great backbar, dance floor and an incredible sound system. It’s super fun and lively. Beverage director Orlando Franklyn is pushing the limits to the max in this space. I’m particularly interested because I can sip on an exclusive, well-made spirit while getting educated by their staff as to why they carry it. This interaction typically takes place simultaneously during live DJ sets. It’s wild in the best way.”
The bartenders at Apotheke have always made some of the most complex and gorgeous drinks in the city, alongside some notoriously beloved theatrics. The bar group’s director of miolxogy and culinary arts Nicolas O’Connor has been with the team for 15 years and launched Apotheke’s very first outpost in Chinatown. “Goldie’s in Greenpoint,” he says of his favorite New York bar. “Palm Desert Vegas vibes intersecting with a Brooklyn hipster dive bar, with quality service and libations. Part party, part local hang. From the classic cocktails to the frozen machine, it’s just fun to be there.”
Gelo Honrade moved to the United States to work for the United Nations but always dreamed of bartending ever since he was a little boy in the Philippines. His dream came true, and now his goal is to bring tiki culture to the masses with his drinks at Cafe Salmagundi (and formerly at Jeepney, Osamil and Osamil Upstairs). “My favorite bar in NYC is Barely Disfigured in Cobble Hill,” he says. “It has a really cool vibe that is unlike any other bar I’ve been to in the city. The inside has a darker, moodier vibe and the outside is a huge space perfect for the warmer months to chill out and have a few drinks. My drink order here is a mezcal Negroni.”
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