50 best New York bars: Chinatown/Little Italy

Before Chinatown and Little Italy drew thrill-seeking chowhounds, the 'hoods were home to delightfully seedy New York bars. These are some of our favorites.

Photograph: Hannah Mattix
169 Bar

New Yorkers know how to drink, and well. Whether you’re a craft-beer connoisseur, a bar food aficionado or a rooftop bar regular, our nightlife-loving city has got the booze haunt for you.

RECOMMENDED: The best New York bars

169 Bar

Critics' pick

The bouncers at the door aren’t window dressing—they’re serious about keeping out the rough element that characterized this hangout for much of its 80-year history. True, the venerable dive has evolved, hosting events with such partners as Triple 5 Soul (there’s an occasional cover of $5) and adding DJs who spin jungle and new wave. It hasn’t evolved too much, though: 169 remains a satisfyingly obscure place to get a beer for $3 and, until it’s time to hit the pool table, pump the music and start dancing.

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Downtown

Boilermaker

The buzziest bar opening of 2013, '70s-clad Golden Cadillac, shuttered abruptly in July to soul-search, taking those glorious Buttery Nipples down to its retro grave. Emerging from the disco dust is a no-frills neighborhood bar—from co-owner Greg Boehm and chef Miguel Trinidad—named for the old-school, sometimes-redneck beer-and-whiskey-shot combination from the Industrial Revolution. Cracking the books on the history of boilermakers, barkeep Erick Castro mixes and matches four pairings, including a stout-and-amaro combo, that change seasonally with the drafts. 

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East Village

Copper & Oak

When the weather turns brisk, the spirits go dark: floral gin gets swapped for smoke-nosed Scotch, and sunny rum makes way for spicy, robust rye. The brown slugs of fall are heartier than summer’s easy-drinking sips and leagues more complex: mash percentage, grain variety, even soil disparities can profoundly alter the taste of whiskey. That’s a hell of a lot to grasp for a connoisseur, let alone a brown-bottle newbie. Thankfully, the intimate Copper & Oak on the Lower East Side have whiskey enthusiasts covered like the sealed top of an aged barrel.

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Lower East Side

Nitecap

Warning: You’ll be annoyed with Nitecap at first. The entrance is hard to find (hint: if you pass Schapiro’s, you’ve gone too far), the grizzly-haired doorman will likely tell you there’s a sizable wait, and you’ll have to wrestle an unwieldy velvet curtain the second you step inside. But the effort is well worth it, if only for the cavalcade of cocktail killers at its helm: Death & Co. honchos David Kaplan and Alexander Day own the joint, with drinks maven Natasha David (Maison Premiere, Mayahuel) behind the stick. Together, the trio has stirred up the kind of devil-may-care after-hours haunt you’ll want to linger at long after closing time.

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Lower East Side

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