Best Lower East Side bars
Not all spin-offs are created equal: The best retain what you loved most about the original, with enough new material to keep things fresh, while others simply crash and burn. Luckily for Gotham’s cocktail-swigging masses, this Milk and Honey offshoot—sweeping into the old space like a series takes over a stock time slot— falls into the former school, boasting characters as familiar as Frasier Crane to the Cheers crew, but with a livelier, lighter air than the dim big-league cocktail den.
Take a seat at Kenta Goto’s glimmering black-and-gold boîte, lodged away from the Houston Street bedlam, and you’ll find its noisy hype storm is curtailed by cool poise, from the hostess’s graceful reception to silent servers weaving through tables. In the absence of distractions, focus directs to the well-lit bar, where Goto effortlessly stirs his Far East–whispered creations, drawing on his Japanese heritage as much as his lauded tenure at cocktail trailblazer Pegu Club.
The dimly lit speakeasy inside Freemans feels like a formal yet comfortable 18th-century seaside tavern, thanks to the olive-green paneling, seafaring paintings and burning candlesticks. However, that’s where the nostalgia starts and ends: The thoroughly un-Colonial clientele in Warby-esque glasses and man buns are all drinking pricey, delicious cocktails with a modern-day flair.
The entrance is hard to find 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 own the joint, with a drinks maven from Maison Premiere and 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.
Other bars may have the look of a 1970s house party, but the Flower Shop actually seems like one. The Lower East Side boîte is a bi-level scene: While the grown-ups dine upstairs, you’ll want to sneak down to the basement, where the kids play. The retro-cool crowd—drinking beer, playing pool and gossiping about their friend’s fifth rehab visit among the space’s vintage photographs, floral upholstery and bubblegum-pink fireplace—brings the theme to life.
You’ll need a magnifying glass to navigate the chalk-drawn wine list at this dimly lit vino depot, oddly named for Jack the Ripper’s hunting grounds. Happily, knowledgeable servers are there to help, and the collection of global organic wines rewards your troubles. Standouts have included Morocco’s fruit-forward Syrocco syrah or a floral Austrian Grüner Veltliner. Snacks are basic but tasty—stick to cold plates like oysters and tartares.
This eclectic, sun-soaked eatery is as much of a bar as it is a restaurant. The pair bolster their Mediterranean offerings with American bites and affordable cocktails to wash them all down. Decorated like a prop stylist's living room, the tiny eatery features dark-blue-and-white painted walls filled with personal mementos: postcard ephemera, vintage mirrors and tchotchkes (miniature horses, steel mugs).
In recent years, a lot of the cooler bookings have moved from Pianos to Brooklyn. Still, while sound is often lousy and the room can get uncomfortably mobbed, there are always good reasons to go back—very often the under-the-radar emerging rock bands that make local music scenes tick. Plus, there's always a rockin' dance party upstairs.
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. Thankfully, the intimate Copper & Oak have whiskey enthusiasts covered like the sealed top of an aged barrel.
The 50 Bowery Hotel also has a rooftop bar and a buzzy restaurant, so naturally the next step was a subterranean club. The industrial-chic lounge and nightclub below the hotel that straddles Lower East Side and Chinatown hosts late-night DJs spinning house and EDM-style tunes.
This tasteful new cocktail bar hosts musical performances and comedy shows. On weekends, get past the tough door for a refreshingly adult scene in a neighborhood crawling with post-grads. And yes, there is a bit of dancing.
Eastern European club kids show up later on at this clubby bar known for its rowdy, Euro-centric scene thanks to the ice cage in the basement. Revelers pay a flat fee to dress in soviet costumes and take five vodka shots from ice shot glasses in two minutes.
Named after Nantucket's foggy mornings, this seafood spot is a restaurant during the day and a twenty-something-packed bar at night, with a blue-gray leather couch, marine lanterns and black-and-white photos of women—ladies in gray—on the walls. The drinks list recalls the maritime motif, with party-fuel drinks like the dark and stormy or fish bowls, plus 12 beers on tap, including Nantucket brews.
An Anheuser-Busch sales executive gave up his corporate gig to follow a beer-nerd dream—running his own craft-brew shop in New York. Fill your growler from one of the many draft lines, or choose from more than 700 bottles. Aspiring beer connoisseurs can pop in on classes and brewmaster tastings. The space also features a casual standing bar, where drinkers can sip on the shop's selections and nibble on cheeses and charcuterie.
Arlene’s Grocery was one of the earliest rock-music venues south of East Houston, and it remains a hallowed hall of head-banging. Er, make that hallowed hole. Downstairs from the main bar is the room where bands rock out all week long; you’ll need a liberal definitions of “loud” and “personal space” down there. Some impressive folks have taken the mike—Jeff Buckley, the Strokes, Vanessa Carlton and Beth Orton.
Chef Chris Santos (Stanton Social) brings his globally inflected small plates to an another AvroKO-designed fantasyland. A curated thrift store in front hawks vintage jewelry, boom boxes and guitars. Upon entrance, a gigantic one-story crystal chandelier fronts a grand, curving staircase; and the main dining room opens up under a massive skylight, with a bar upstairs.