The best bars on the Lower East Side

The best bars in the neighborhood range from sophisticated cocktail dens and gastropubs to a tenacious bohemian hangout

Photograph: Lizz Kuehl
PKNY
Whatever your poison, the Lower East Side is prime bar-hopping territory. European suds connoisseurs will find good beer bars like Paulaner, but if you’re into stronger spirits, venture to a whiskey library like Copper & Oak or cocktail dens such as One Fifty One from the Death & Company duo. Though the legendary LES drinkery Milk and Honey relocated to the Flatiron District, there’s plenty more to sip on in the nabe.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Lower East Side

Copper & Oak

Unwind with a slow sipper at this intimate—and the city’s tiniest—whiskey house from Brandy Library’s Flavien Desoblin, a prime spot for easing into the wee hours. With more than 600 bottles crammed on backlit bookshelves, you can geek out over hard-to-find Japanese varietals (a $476 multivintage 1981–84 Karuizawa whiskey) or expand your whiskey wisdom with guidance from the encyclopedic barkeeps. 

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Lower East Side

Experimental Cocktail Club

You don’t have to look too hard to see the influence that Americans have had on the Parisian cocktail scene. Back in the early 1900s, the legendary Harry’s New York Bar established itself as the de facto clubhouse for a growing expat community in Paris, including luminaries like Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart. And the recent mixology boom in the City of Light has been largely engineered by three French drink-slingers—Olivier Bon, Pierre-Charles Cros and Romee de Goriainoff—who were inspired by their trips across the pond. 

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Lower East Side

Loreley

Critics' pick

Loreley defies cultural stereotyping: It’s a German beer garden and it’s remarkably inefficient. A small back patio with too-close canopied picnic tables was only occasionally visited by the staff. Granted, the beer selection is extensive; Dortmunder and Spaten Mai Bock were tasty, and a good thing, too, because the wait for food was about as long as Wagner’s complete Ring cycle. Perhaps the spotty service will improve in time, but the food needs more attention as well. When the jägerschnitzel and sausage platter arrived, the schnitzel had been pounded so thin that the breading seemed like the main event. Other wurst dishes were unremarkable; apfelstrudel was Pop Tart-ish. And the place was packed. Go figure.

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Lower East Side

Marshall Stack

Critics' pick

Blue balls, anyone? That’s one of the many tapas (this one consists of grapes coated in blue cheese and nuts) served at this 53-seat bar. Also on the menu: pâté, sandwiches and a large selection of wine.

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Lower East Side

Max Fish

Critics' pick

The cheap beer (three-buck PBRs), sticker-covered pool table and bohemian reputation (this was one of the first LES indie hot spots) attract a young crowd from all over town. Old-timers are still occasionally spotted, but most patrons bear a marked resemblance to the musicians featured in the bar’s celebrated jukebox, which includes punk and glam rock favorites like the Stooges and T. Rex.

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Lower East Side

One Fifty One

Who better to drink with late at night than Death & Company booze stars David Kaplan and Alex Day? Head to their latest witching-hour hang, which is kitted out with chevron floors, red booths and gold stone walls. Ask for the Dazzle Ship, a slushy spiked with grapefruit liqueur and rummy cachaça, and munchies like frozen Girl Scout cookies. 

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Lower East Side

Paulaner

Knock back a few pints at the first stateside brewhouse from the German beer giant. The brick-walled hall spotlights steins of house-made suds (Hefeweizen, Munich lager)—chug ’em at the wooden biergarten tables, and make a few extra friends to tag along on a bar crawl.

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Lower East Side

PKNY

Critics' pick

This Lower East Side bar devoted to tiki-style drinks is a refreshing sign that a new age of mixology has arrived—one in which bitters and paper umbrellas can peacefully coexist. Painkiller takes a studied approach to tropical drinks, offering tiki archetypes (frozens, swizzles, zombie punches) tailored to your preferences. A passion-fruit–spiked piña colada arrives as a thick, fruity slush served in a hollowed-out pineapple. A classic mai tai, meanwhile, balances the acid notes of lime with the round sweetness of aged rum and the bitter edge of house-made curaçao. The one bum note: the overly restrained tiki decor. With cocktails this good, the owners could afford to crank up the camp.

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Lower East Side

Comments

2 comments
Marc Lande
Marc Lande

PKNY is closed. Max Fish is closed. What has happened to TimeOut?

Neena
Neena

Just so you know Mary Queen of Scots has now closed. Very sad, as the bar at the back was really cool. But I see you have it listed here, and thought you'd want to know. I live round the corner.