Whatever your poison, Chinatown, NYC offers several worthwhile drinking options, whether you’re after a cheap beer or a complicated concoction; the neighborhood's best bars include venerable dive bars and a pharmacy-themed cocktail den. Even more choice is on tap just a few blocks away in Little Italy, New York, or on the Lower East Side.
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Best bars in Chinatown
This unmarked boîte is the sort of exclusive hideaway that might be cooked up by an overgrown kid with a chemistry set. The bar is littered with old vials, the cocktails are referred to as “prescriptions,” and the bartenders-cum-mad-scientists are in rare form—note the cinnamon-flambéed Himalayan salt that rims a margarita. Choose your booze elixir from categories that range from Pain Killers—like a Bourbon Street Blizzard with chocolate and Cafe du Monde Chicory Coffee—to Stimulants, including a tequila-charged Carmen San Diego.
Cool hunters looking for a break from clubland can hit this underground boîte, tucked away beneath a cut-rate handbag shop in Little Italy. The unlikely hot spot, complete with a strict door policy, is a testament to the nightlife bona fides of the bar’s owners, who've cashed in on their affiliations (GoldBar, Bagatelle, Milk & Honey) to create this sceney speakeasy. Haute cocktails replace bottle service as the in-crowd currency, with most drinkers rolling the dice on bespoke tipples crafted by Mulberry Project’s cavalier mixologists.
Set below fast-casual Cali joint Genuine Superette, this kitsch-fueled, bodega-inspired bar from drinks wizard Eben Freeman (Costata) brings a cheeky revamp of straitlaced cocktailing with offerings built with oft-ignored spirits like Pinnacle and flavored Jim Beam. A stairwell lined with old newspapers and tobacco ads leads revelers to the 34-seat main room, illuminated by a neon sign and backlit displays of bottles, sold by the ounce through a self-serve program. At the bar, a drinks list centers on a selection of eye-catching Cha-Chunkers, which are bulldog-style cocktails with miniature liquor bottles inverted into canned sodas, like a mojito with a bottle of Cruzan white rum dunked into Sprite.
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 more than-80-year history. True, the venerable dive has evolved, hosting cover-charged events 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 on the cheap and, until it’s time to hit the pool table, pump the music and start dancing.
A blue neon sign points karaoke lovers to this basement lounge, where groups of young revelers take to the stage to shamelessly belt out Mandarin pop songs along with sing-along standards from Tina Turner and Billy Idol. Hesitant newcomers can loosen up with a specialty cocktail procured from the upstairs bar. Harness liquid courage via a Zen martini—Absolut Citron infused with green tea.
White Oak Oyster Bar & Lounge
White Oak Oyster Bar in Hell’s Kitchen is known for its raw bar. The selection of oysters from both coasts changes seasonally, and the bar’s all day happy hour menu always includes $1 Bluepoint oysters. That’s not the only thing on the menu, though. The Maryland crab cakes, buttermilk-battered Asian rock shrimp or house “dirty chips” topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese would be perfect for sharing with friends. Want to keep you meal all to yourself? Order the classic burger with cheddar and candied bacon or the flatbread topped with speck, arugula, fig preserves, ricotta and honey. Of course, you’ll need a few drinks to wash all of that down. In addition to a selection of wines and craft beers, White Oak also offers a few signature cocktails, like the Blackberries and Smoke, with pisco, single malt whiskey and pomegranate juice, and the Summer in the Winter, with mezcal, basil, cucumber juice and fresh lemon.
Venue says: “Prix Fixe Lunch, $33 p/p - 1 appetizer, 1 entree, 1 desert from our prix fixe menu, and a glass of wine, prosecco, Bloody Mary or Mimosa.”