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Best bars in East Village: The essential drinking spots

The best bars in the neighborhood range from sophisticated cocktail dens to craft-beer meccas—and one of the city’s oldest pubs.

Whatever your poison, the East Village is prime bar-hopping territory. European suds connoisseurs should head to d.b.a.; McSorley’s Old Ale House offers less choice and more history. Cocktail aficionados can take their pick from several stylish spots, including ingenious repro speakeasy PDT. Also among the best bars in the neighborhood is oenophile hangout Terroir, where expertly curated sips are paired with superior small plates. For something more substantial, consult our selection of restaurants and cheap eats.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to East Village

Amor y Amargo

Critics' pick

At this a colorful nook conceived by Ravi DeRossi (Death & Company, Cienfuegos) and Bittermens, a small-batch bitters producer based in Red Hook, curious drinkers can find plenty of ways to mix edification and inebriation. The focus here is on amari and other bitters, which can be explored via tasting flights or excellent stirred cocktails created by Mayur Subbarao (Dram). Sip your way through a range of trendy fernet or herbal liqueurs made by Carthusian monks, then try the Orchard Street Cel’ry Soda—a fizzy, dry quaff built with applejack, jenever, club soda, and experimental bitters laced with caraway and ginger. Temper the booze with appealing tapas like salty fried garbanzo beans (the haute beer nut?) sprinkled with blood sausage.

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East Village

Booker and Dax

Critics' pick

The far-out experiments of the wizardly Dave Arnold, French Culinary Institute's director of culinary technology, have long informed the work of boundary-pushing bartenders and chefs like Don Lee and Wylie Dufresne. At this tech-forward cocktail joint, housed in the former Momofuku Milk Bar space next to Ssäm Bar, Arnold's boozy tinkerings get a room of their own. Here, glasses are chilled with a pour of liquid nitrogen and winter warmers are scorched with a Red Hot Poker, a rod with a built-in 1,500-degree heater created by Arnold himself. Sip one of those hot concoctions, like the Friend of the Devil (Campari, sweet vermouth, rye, Pernod, bitters) or French Colombian (Pernod, lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon). Arnold also showcases new techniques for creating fizzy drinks, like the Gin and Juice, made with Tanqueray gin and grapefruit juice that is clarified (a process that removes the solids) in a centrifuge and then carbonated in a CO2-pressurized cocktail shaker. Stay grounded with Momo-style snacks, like the signature pork buns, Cheeto-like ham puffs and french fries.

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East Village

d.b.a.

Critics' pick

Though this East Village bar is held hostage by B&T types on weekends, there’s plenty of elbow room among the locals during the week. It’s a beer lover’s mecca—250 brews (20 on tap), from the expensive (a Belgian kriek, or sour-cherry beer, goes for $25 per bottle) to the unpronounceable (Schlenkerla Rauchbier). Paralyzed by indecision? Think it over in the back garden (it’s
open year-round).

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East Village

Death & Company

Critics' pick

The nattily attired mixologists are deadly serious about drinks at this pseudospeakeasy with Gothic flair (don’t be intimidated by the imposing wooden door). Black walls and cushy booths combine with chandeliers to set the luxuriously somber mood. Patrons bored by shot-and-beer bars can sample the inventive cocktails, including a fiery Fresa Brava (strawberries and jalapeño-infused tequila), as well as top-notch grub including bacon-swaddled filet mignon bites.

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East Village

Elsa

Critics' pick

This stylish saloon hosts a bespoke tailor in its anteroom two days a week—not surprising for a bar named after 20th-century fashion priestess Elsa Schiaparelli. The clean, airy space is echoed in the minimalist drinks list: ten international wines by the glass and a worthy selection of beers—drafts are funneled through an ancient sewing machine. But the real draw here is the ten affordable cocktails, including an austere old-fashioned and a smooth Jaszek (applejack, Falernum, lime juice, Angostura and orange bitters). Call Elsa the new cocktail culture’s calmer, quieter cousin—one with a dapper wardrobe.

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East Village

Jimmy’s No. 43

Critics' pick

This subterranean brew house is the unofficial clubhouse for the New York beer community, thanks to the efforts of garrulous owner Jimmy Carbone. For a beer education on the cheap, make a habit of attending the $10 Tuesday Tastings, where an expert leads guests through pours of five to six brews within a particular theme (e.g., Colorado brews, seasonal beers made with fresh hops). Because of Carbone's hands-on involvement in the local scene, his dozen taps (most $6--$8) and deep bottle collection are often the first point of entry for both hyperlocal nanobreweries and new-to-NYC imports. We've tried unfiltered Franconian lagers and a Japanese brown ale brewed at the foot of Mount Fuji at the marble-topped bar.

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East Village

KGB Bar

Critics' pick

Bespectacled lit chicks outnumber apparatchiks in this former Ukrainian social club. The dim parlor-style bar nestled in the second floor of a walk-up has Cold War decor, cheap Baltika beer, whiskey on the rocks and free readings—all of which lure New York’s literary underground, including stars like A.M. Homes and Kathryn Harrison.

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East Village Free

Mayahuel

Critics' pick

Barkeep Phil Ward focuses on tequila and its cousin, mescal, at this East Village haute cantina. His wonderful menu features a cool-as-marble Cinquenta Cinquenta—a pairing of chamomile-infused reposado tequila and white vermouth that goes down like iced tea. The Slynx cocktail is a liquid campfire of aged tequila, applejack, bitters and a smoky rinse of mescal. The craftsmanship in the drinks is equaled in the bar menu, featuring juicy pork bellies. Despite its many strengths, Mayahuel wears its ambitions lightly. With so many of today’s top-tier cocktail bars lousy with vanity, that humility is a welcome departure.

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East Village

McSorley’s Old Ale House

Critics' pick

Ladies should probably leave the Blahniks at home. In traditional Irish-pub fashion, McSorley’s floor has been thoroughly scattered with sawdust to take care of the spills and other messes that often accompany large quantities of cheap beer. Established in 1854, McSorley’s became an institution by remaining steadfastly authentic and providing only two choices to its customers: McSorley’s Dark Ale and McSorley’s Light Ale. Both beverages have a lot more character than PBR, though at these prices, it won’t be long before you stop noticing.

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East Village

PDT

Critics' pick

The entrance to this taxidermy-strewn saloon is hidden behind an old phone booth inside Crif Dogs. Pick up the receiver and a hostess opens the back wall of the booth. Inside, mixologist Jim Meehan offers elite cocktail creations like the frothy Judgment Day, a pleasing mix of citrus, allspice and floral St. Germain. The old-fashioned—made with smoky, bacon-infused bourbon and maple syrup—has become the joint’s best-known drink. The staff is happy to talk you through any libation on the menu, or suggest an haute dog brought in from next door. It’s that kind of dedication that makes getting in worth the effort.

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East Village
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