Airports, I’m told, were quite glamorous back in the day. You’ve probably seen old photos of shiny Modernist architecture, Pan-Am flight attendants smiling brightly and well-dressed travelers sipping martinis, silently debating whether or not plastics are the future while watching the planes take off.
But these days, airports are more of a necessary evil, where tired children (and adults) scream and TSA agents get uncomfortably close to your goods. The airports in the NYC metro area have particularly hellish reputations — although they’ve somewhat recently improved — probably because of the sheer volume of people who pass through and how much of a pain it is to get to them from more central parts of the city.
The saving grace for those without lounge access is the airport bar, a relatively peaceful spot to have a drink, pass the time and chat with interesting strangers (or enjoy your solitude). Airport bars and restaurants tend not to have soaring reputations — if you look up virtually any of them, you’ll find an avalanche of one-star reviews from cranky travelers — and they face unique challenges like having to pass all their provisions through TSA and finding talented staff who are willing and able to go through security every day.
But the audience is captive, which is pretty much the only reason anyone is willing to shell out for laughably overpriced fare (although Port Authority is supposedly cracking down on these exploitative markups). But if you sit down with a good attitude and ample time to have a leisurely drink, waiting for a flight isn’t so bad. Delayed again? Oh darn, better get another.
If you’re passing through JFK, LaGuardia or Newark this holiday season, get to the airport early so you can grab a drink to celebrate making it through security — and, you know, so you don’t miss your flight. Here are some of the best NYC airport bars at the three NYC-area airports.
Bar Veloce: LaGuardia Terminal B
The East Village has been home to Bar Veloce’s original location for more than two decades. Lucky for flyers, the wine bar also has a location in LaGuardia’s shiny new Terminal B. The LGA outpost of the chic Italian spot serves panini and small bites.
What to drink: Wine, of course. Unless you’re there early in the day, in which case the Habanero Mary will wake you right up.
Spirit & Bell: LaGuardia Terminal B
One of the last bars to emerge from COVID-19 hibernation, Spirit & Bell is a full-service wine and cocktail bar with a charming Art Deco aesthetic, ideal for a romantic airport meet-cute. The cocktail menu is pared down but comprehensive, offering light and fruity as well as big and boozy concoctions.
What to drink: Early flight? Spirit & Bell’s house mimosa is made with prosecco and a cordial of orange and calamansi, a citrus fruit native to the Philippines.
Sunday Supper: LaGuardia Terminal C
You might not expect much from an airport restaurant with an Italian American theme (or, admittedly, any airport restaurant), but Sunday Supper is worth a visit. Set in a stylish space with lots of bar seating, this nod to New York’s red sauce joints features a beverage menu that gives trendy Manhattan restaurants a run for their money. Expect classic cocktails, local craft beer options and a curated wine list.
What to drink: Sip a nice, stiff Negroni to help calm your pre-flight jitters.
Martini Bar: JFK Terminal 1
If any of JFK’s watering holes deserve to be named one of the best NYC airport bars, it’s probably Martini Bar (not to be confused with Drink Martini Bar in Terminal 8, but if you’re flying American or British, that one is perfectly cromulent). This one has been called the best place to get a drink at JFK, which may not mean much, but it’s something.
What to drink: A martini, obviously, served dry and deliciously cold.
New York Is Cracking Down on Crazy Expensive Airport Food and AlcoholThanks to one $27 airport beer and a viral tweet, airport beers will soon cost you as much as regular beers in New York
Blue Point Brewing: JFK Terminal 4
In many airports throughout the United States, travelers are greeted by an outpost of at least one hometown craft brewery. The closest we have is Blue Point Brewing’s location at JFK, technically representing Long Island. Sip your way through a flight (of beer, duh) for a fun way to kill some time before takeoff.
What to drink: You can never go wrong with a Blue Point Toasted Lager. Crisp, malty and refreshing.
Oeno Wine Bar: Newark Terminal C
Your in-flight wine choices tend to include a red, a white, a sparkling and not much else. Wine lovers departing from Newark, however, can pregame their flight with a choice of 60+ bottles at Oeno Wine Bar, certainly making good on its name. Panini and small plates are available as well.
What to drink: The wine selection varies, so ask your server for recs if you need help.
Vesper Tavern: Newark Terminal C
Oysters at Newark Liberty might sound risky, but if there’s any airport raw bar worth a shot, it’s probably this spacious venue. Vesper was conceptualized by Paul Liebrandt, a New York chef with a Michelin-starred pedigree.
What to drink: The namesake cocktail, the Vesper, first appeared in a James Bond novel in 1953. Order it and feel like 007 himself — if Bond flew out of Newark.
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