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The best New York bars for winter: where to escape the cold

Some New York bars are better suited for winter drinking than others. Find out where you can seek refuge from the chilly temps with good beer and cocktails.

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

When the barometer starts dropping, you might be tempted to stay in your apartment, but you’d be missing out. There are winter activities to enjoy, shops to raid and, of course, a multitude of drinkeries waiting to welcome you. Scroll through our list of the best New York bars for cold weather, including several spots in the best NYC neighborhoods.

RECOMMENDED: New York bars and cocktails for winter

Middle Branch

Critics' pick

Good for: chill, cocktails

Mixology trailblazer Sasha Petraske expands his influence to Midtown with this spin-off of West Village boite Little Branch. Delicate lighting fixtures illuminate embossed wallpaper and exposed brick in the two-floor space, where bartenders craft cocktails with a chemist’s precision. Request a drink with your preferred spirit or flavor profile (sour, sweet, refreshing and so on) and let them work their magic, or simply make a selection from the extensive bar menu. There’s plenty to choose from, including riffs on classic quaffs such as an Island Old-Fashioned (Zacapa aged rum, Velvet Falernum, Angostura bitters, cane syrup) and signature concoctions such as the East Side (gin, lime, mint, cucumber).

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Kips Bay

Tradesman

Good for: groups

Salvaged wood paneling and pegboard walls adorned with vintage tools give this drinkery a rustic feel. Co-owners Larissa Varges and Marek Gregorski stock their bar with locally made liquors, including Harvest Spirit’s Cornelius applejack from the Hudson Valley and COMB’s Honey gin from Westchester County. Brewhounds are well served by a dozen taps that dispense a selection of New York suds from the likes of KelSo Beer Company of Brooklyn. Claim a chair at the long oak counter or one of the small tables in the back and shake off the chill.

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Williamsburg

Beer Table

Critics' pick

Good for: beer, groups

Beer fiend or not, you’ll want to rely on the friendly staff to guide you and your friends through the menu of rare and obscure beers, as some choices are more accessible than others. Among those we’ve sampled, the De Dolle Dulle Teve—a foamy, honey-sweet Abbey Tripel and served from the keg—goes down easy, but the Swiss, herbaceous La Meule from Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes could be more of a challenge to the uninitiated. The prices may seem steep at first glance, but remember: ’Tis the season to treat yourself.

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Park Slope

Huckleberry Bar

Good for: cocktails, chill

There’s something for every boozer at this easygoing lounge. The bar’s cocktail menu has staples like the Gold Rush (Evan Williams bourbon, lemon juice, honey) and modern takes that nod to the Kings County locale, such as the Brooklyn Sling (Brooklyn gin, Hardy VS cognac, sorrel-hibiscus liqueur, Bénédictine, fresh lime juice and simple syrup). But as the holidays approach, the most spirited night to visit is Tuesday, when the coterie holds its weekly Punch Party. Rally your crew for $5 cups of the rotating concoction and forget there’s another three days left in the workweek.

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Williamsburg

The Tippler

Good for: groups, cocktails

Use this expansive lounge from Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay (Tippling Bros.) as a refuge from the Chelsea Market and Meatpacking District holiday crowds. Even at its most packed, there’s still a fair amount of room to maneuver, which means you won’t have too much trouble posting up at the long marble bar. The menu includes a number of affordable draft and bottled beers, plus wines from around the world, but you’d be remiss not to try at least one of the sophisticated specialty cocktails. The Booty Collins (gunpowder tea–infused Belvedere vodka, passionfruit and lemon juices, yohimbe extract, cayenne) appeals to adventurous revelers, while traditionalists might prefer the cheekily named but relatively straightforward Gin & Chronic (Plymouth gin, hops, spiced lime, tonic).

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Flatiron

The Vault at Pfaff's

Good for: chill, cocktails

If this spot’s former incarnation as a beer cellar was good enough for Walt Whitman, its current form—a handsome cocktail lounge—is good enough for us modern plebes. Find a seat at the century-old white-oak bar, give yourself a moment to appreciate the restored iron columns and granite ceilings from 1855, then take stock of the drink menu. Our favorite among the 25 options, which are divided into “homegrown” and “classic” beverages, is the fizzy Champagne Charles, a festive combination of dry Ayala Brut Majeur, floral June liqueur and house-made cranberry bitters.

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Greenwich Village

Hair of the Dog

Good for: beer, groups

Daily specials abound at this beercentric bar from the founders of Jake’s Dilemma, Down the Hatch and other sudsy bastions. On Monday nights, drafts are $1 and domestic pitchers are $8; on Thursdays, grab a bucket for $12. Sunday’s BYO coffee special allows anyone who brings in a cup of joe to score a half-price spike of liquor. Instead of Pabst-swilling LES regulars, the crowd skews toward sports enthusiasts who fixate on 25 flat screens and three projectors. If you’re not a Giants or Jets fan, turn your attention to the sizable roster of mostly American brews; you’ll find at least 11 on draft and about 20 by the can or bottle.

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Lower East Side

Leftfield

Good for: lively

Despite its new-kid status, this welcoming spot has attracted enough regulars that it feels like an old standby. It’s easy to find yourself chatting up one of the Irish-brogued bartenders and nursing $3 Rolling Rocks or Natty Light for longer than you planned, especially when the temperature dips. The adjacent, admission-required space hosts indie-rock, punk and rockabilly acts three nights a week (Thu–Sat; free–$8). Another bonus: Offbeat-snack outfit Wolly Rolls serves up egg rolls stuffed with comfort-food fillings such as cheeseburger, pulled pork, Mexican grilled corn and French onion soup Wed through Sat.

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Lower East Side

The Clock Bar & Cafe

Good for: groups

Toeing the line between rustic chic (filament lighting, repurposed wood, exposed brick) and industrial (raw concrete), this intimate bar courts drinkers with shareable fare (cured meats, panini and tapas) and a solid cocktail list. The most intriguing section of the menu showcases retro cocktails, with tipples categorized by era. A traditional White Russian dates back to 1920, while the more recent Keyser Soze nods to the 1995 film The Usual Suspects and incorporates Tawney port, dry vermouth and lemon juice into one sturdy cold-weather libation.

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The Bronx

Cocktail Bodega

Good for: cocktails, groups

Sometimes the only response to blustery days and a steadily dropping thermometer is total denial—which, in the cocktail world, translates to a bright, fruity drinks. Matt Levine and Michael Shah (The Eldridge, Sons of Essex) devote their corner-store homage to precisely this type of tropical refreshment. The drink menu is split into four categories—juice, shots, smoothies and make-your-own. Selections such as the Healer’s Lemonade (Effen cucumber vodka, cucumber juice, ginger lemonade, mint leaves, muddled cucumber, lemongrass) will knock you off your stool if you’re not careful, but the drink’s freshness is transporting enough to take you to warmer climes—at least in your mind.

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Lower East Side

Die Koelner Bierhalle

Good for: beer, groups

Park Slope gets its own beer mecca with this cavernous German-inspired hall built inside a former warehouse. Rows of picnic-style wooden tables offer seating for up to 200 and ample space for imbibing Deutschland imports (30 on tap, 40 bottled) in sizes up to a liter. Browse the menu by style (e.g., kolsch, Hefeweizen, pilsner) to find brews like the toasty Innstadt Extra Schwarze or the earthy, hoppy Bayreuther Original. Pair your selection with biergarten bites, including nine kinds of bratwurst and Bavarian pretzels.

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Park Slope

Proletariat

Good for: beer, chill

This appropriately egalitarian suds space is staffed by barkeeps fluent in rare, new and unusual beers. Mismatched magnets behind a dozen rotating taps display a menu that changes daily; it’s recently included such obscure selections as a fruity framboise by Oud Beersel and the Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude.

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East Village

The Guthrie Inn

Critics' pick

Good for: cocktails

In opening this spiritscentric nook, the crew behind Earl’s Beer & Cheese brings yet another buzzy drinking destination to the Upper East Side. A trio of bartenders craft both classics and house originals, deploying a wide range of Italian amari to add depth to cocktails such as the Jackson Ward (Old Grand Dad 100 Proof bourbon, Nardini amaro and Punt e Mes vermouth). Though the quarters might be tight, you shouldn’t have much trouble snagging a seat and making an evening out of sipping and snacking. When you get hungry, slip next door to Earl’s for a nouveau twist on a winter favorite: the grilled-cheese sandwich filled with New York State cheddar, pork belly, kimchi and a fried egg.

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East Harlem

Alphabet City Beer Co.

Good for: beer

Brew seekers can ogle 350 bottles and 12 rotating taps at this bar-retail hybrid. Get a growler for your next holiday bash, or sit at the bar with a pint or ten-ounce pour of a current offering. The friendly staff is happy to advise indecisive drinkers: A recent visit yielded Lagunitas Daytime, a fruity, sessionable IPA, and the rich, coffee-infused Founders Breakfast Stout. A wide communal table encourages kicking back, as does a selection of unfussy eats such as meat and cheese boards.

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East Village

The Stand

Critics' pick

Good for: cocktails,  groups

In the past, comedy venues left much to be desired in terms of food and drink, but a spate of recently opened venues—this bi-level Gramercy spot included—remedy that. Before heading downstairs to catch stand-up routines, peruse the list of signature cocktails, reasonably priced beers and wines at the upstairs bar. The Boozler combines seasonal flavors of ginger liqueur and pear puree with Ransom Old Tom gin and fresh tarragon. If hunger pangs strike, the comfort-food–inspired menu by RSVP’s Seth Levine has plenty of filling options, including cheeseburger dumplings and fish-and-chips.

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Midtown

Randolph Beer

Good for: beer

Craft brews are the focus at this warm Nolita tavern, decorated with wood from a century-old Kentucky barn and other salvaged materials from across the country. Behind the bar, a custom-built draft line dispenses 48 mostly stateside beers organized by tasting notes such as “crisp & light” (Tripel Horse from New Jersey’s River Horse) and “malt & roast” (Three Philosophers Belgian–style quadrupel from upstate’s Brewery Ommegang). To offset the booze, fill up on the cheddar-brat sandwich with horseradish mustard and “corn off the cob” with cotija cheese, piquillo peppers and chili-lime.

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Little Italy

Kent Ale House

Good for: beer, groups

It’s only a few blocks from Bedford Avenue, but this brewhouse feels like it’s been imported from the Catskills. The spacious, exposed-brick-and-dark-wood haven offers a rotating selection of 24 drafts and 22 bottles, annotated with helpful tasting notes. On a recent visit, a server recommended the Captain Lawrence Katchkie Harvest ale, a caramelly brew made with locally grown squash instead of the season’s ubiquitous pumpkin riffs (also on offer). A menu of rib-sticking pub food—a “Kids” grilled cheese (pear, bacon, sharp cheddar), customizable burgers and hot dogs—provides all the more reason to linger.

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Williamsburg

Center Bar

Good for: cocktails, chill

Take in the treetops of Central Park and toast the fact that you’re nice and cozy at this fourth-floor lounge. The extensive cocktail list includes mint juleps, Sazeracs and other classics, as well as signature creations like the Cliff Dweller (Inocente tequila, aperol, Cointreau, lime). If you prefer vino to spirits, take your pick from an 80-bottle-strong wine list. Refined, belly-warming bites from Chef Michael Lomonaco include arancini filled with porcini mushrooms, pecorino and prosciutto and braised Berkshire pork belly with pistachios and aged port.

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Upper West Side

The Pony Bar

Good for: beer, lively

The sibling of the popular Hell’s Kitchen spot brings the same unpretentious vibe and quality beer uptown. The all-American brew list, featuring 20 taps, recently included a roasty Ithaca Beer Company 14th Anniversary black ale and the brightly hopped Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. The best part: Each pour (most 14oz) will only set you back $5. A menu of elevated bar food, including a fried-oyster-and-bacon sandwich and “sloppy” duck sliders, ensures you won’t have to venture into the cold in search of a proper meal.

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Lenox Hill

The Habitat

Good for: beer

Since opening in 2008, this Greenpoint watering hole has become a neighborhood favorite thanks to a serious beer list, hearty food and nightly happy-hour specials. The compact space is dressed in warm wood not unlike a ski lodge, and wide booths encourage sharing a dozen wings. The bar’s 12 drafts change frequently, highlighting stateside craft breweries (Cottrell, Dark Horse) and international imports (Spaten, Franziskaner). Select pints are just $4 during happy hour, and if you have a tough time choosing, spring for a flight of four eight-ounce pours.

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Greenpoint

Jimmy’s No. 43

Critics' pick

Good for: beer

Though owner Jimmy Carbone takes his beer seriously, he cultivates a supremely egalitarian atmosphere at this intimate drinkery. Brewhounds will find plenty to please their discerning palates; we’ve sampled such obscure pours as unfiltered Franconian lagers and a Japanese brown ale brewed at the foot of Mount Fuji. Bartenders will also happily walk nonconnoisseurs through the dozen beers on tap. If you’re completely beer-averse, you can still hang and opt for one of seven wines by the glass or a pint of crisp Farnum Hill cider.

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East Village

Spuyten Duyvil

Critics' pick

Good for: beer, lively

Another hub for beer nerds, Joe Carroll’s tiny spot typically pours just six drafts and one cask at a time so that the suds are always fresh. Bottles are another story—those number well over 100 and are primarily culled from small European breweries. You can sample old-world rarities such as the thick, sherrylike Samichlaus lager from Austria or cellar-aged Cantillon lambics of various vintages. Supplement your drinking with one of the smoked meats, pâtés, cheeses and terrines.

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Williamsburg

d.b.a.

Critics' pick

Good for: beer, groups

For more than a decade, this bastion of democratic drinking has straddled the line between beer geekery and the mainstream. True connoisseurs will gravitate toward the 20-deep draft selection or the encyclopedic bottle list. You can find choices from all seven Trappist breweries, plus the ultra-alcoholic Dogfish Head World Wide Stout (at 18 percent ABV, it’s one of the most potent beers on the market). Rarities such as the British cellar-aged Thomas Hardy’s Ale also punctuate the menu. • 41 First Ave between 2nd and 3rd Sts (212-475-5097) • 113 N 7th St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-218-6006)

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East Village

Char No. 4

Critics' pick

Good for: cocktails

More than 150 varieties of American whiskey line the shelves of this Southern-influenced bar and restaurant, which also stocks a plethora of options from around the world. Order a neat pour of Mellow Corn or Jefferson’s Presidential 18-year bourbon, or sample the excellent cocktails that highlight the brown liquor. Among our favorites is the barrel-aged Sazerac, which combines Rittenhouse rye with sugar, bitters and absinthe. Oenophiles won’t be left wandering the cold streets of Brooklyn—there’s an ample selection of international vinos, though most are sold by the bottle.

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Carroll Gardens

Donna

Critics' pick

Good for: beer, cocktails

An instant hot spot when it opened this summer, the cheery gathering place is equal parts elegant nook and welcoming den, replete with arched ceilings, dark-wood floors and curving counters. Though you’ll find a list of affordable, globe-spanning beers and wine, the bar’s raison d’etre is cocktails. This time of year, we’re partial to the slightly spicy Scarlet Fever (ancho-chili–infused Scarlet Ibis rum, El Dorado 5 Years rum, pineapple and lime juices, and cinnamon-bark syrup).

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Williamsburg

The Richardson

Critics' pick

Good for: cocktails, chill, groups

Bartenders at this haunt excel in classic cocktails: The bar’s version of an old-fashioned doses an Angostura-soaked sugar cube with a pour of single-barrel bourbon, while the French 75 tops London dry gin, sugar and lemon juice with a float of effervescent sparkling wine. That’s not to say there isn’t something for those craving a more contemporary quaff; the house cocktails showcase such offbeat ingredients as plum liqueur, which stars in the Damson Gin Fizz (Damson plum gin liqueur, Plymouth gin, fresh lemon juice, sugar). Hunker down with friends in the subdued back corner for a predinner drink and share a spread of artisanal cheese and cured meat.

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Williamsburg

PDT

Critics' pick

Good for: cocktails, chill

Despite the rigamarole required to get in (day-of reservations are the only kind accepted, and they’re a must), mixologist Jim Meehan’s neospeakeasy remains one of the city’s coziest and least pretentious drinking destinations in the city. You can’t go wrong with any of the innovative nips on the menu, whether you order the bar’s signature old-fashioned, made with bacon-infused Four Roses bourbon, or something newer like the Vesper riff made with hops-infused vodka.

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East Village

Jelsomino

Good for: cocktails, groups, lively

Tucked below the Dream Hotel, this Moscow-based karaoke franchise promises a baller evening—and the hefty price tag to go with it. Make the most of your splurge (and fuel your Russian-music binge) by ordering one of the subterranean den’s vodkacentric cocktails, such as the Sparkling Combiere (prosecco, Russian Standard vodka, raspberry puree). If someone’s bankrolling your night, there’s also a luxe bottle-service option: Russian Standard paired with osetra caviar. Either way, the energetic MC is there to bolster your courage (wallflowers and acrophobics beware: the venue’s stage is elevated—and front and center).

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Midtown West

Bantam

Good for: groups, lively

Inspired by the 2006 film Marie Antoinette, the decor inside this new venture from nightlife honcho Steve Lewis channels an 18th-century French parlor, with blue brocade walls and ornate mirrors. Tufted leather banquettes ring the dimly lit space and offer ample seating, while a sparse cluster of tables leaves plenty of room for dancing (DJ sets begin after 11pm nightly). Order your beverage of choice at the illuminated, stained-glass-topped bar, then stake out a spot on the temperature-controlled patio to boogie or people-watch.

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Lower East Side

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