The Upper East Side is home to some of the best museums in NYC, acclaimed fine dining restaurants and top-rate drinkeries. The best Upper East Side bars in NYC range from craft beer bars to laidback wine dens–here’s where you should get your drink on uptown.
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Best Upper East Side bars in NYC
You’ll miss the entrance of this uptown lounge at least once, if not twice. Recheck the address all you want—this is the place. Inside a small leather-and-accessories shop with a pair of gold-leaf scissors emblazoned on the window, the shopkeeper-host leads you through velvet curtains and into a warm drinkery overseen by the Gilroy trio Steve Laycock, Josh Mazza and Francis Verrall, with former Dead Rabbit bar maven Pamela Wiznitzer behind the stick. With two bars turning out stellar cocktails and Ducks Eatery chef Will Horowitz whipping up food to match, this neighborhood haunt is a destination to look out for—literally.
The idea of a hobnobbing scene in Manhattan’s stuffiest zip code seemed laughable a few years ago. But the Penrose—named for a neighborhood in Cork, Ireland, where two of the owners grew up—is finally bringing a bit of the indie-chic East Village to Gossip Girl territory. Operated by the gastropub specialists behind the Wren and Wilfie & Nell, the joint would be run-of-the-mill farther downtown, where the trifecta of reclaimed wood, craft pours and pedigreed pub grub long ago joined the ranks of food-world clichés, but it’s a welcome change up here.
Venue says: “Main Bar: Su-W 11a-2a Th–Sa 11a-2a Cocktail Lab:M-F 6p–2a Sat-Sun 12-2aGrowler Bar: 7 days a week 12-2aEspresso Bar: 7 days a week 6a-4p”
The Alewife team crosses the East River this fall, debuting two bars, including this Upper East Side hangout. A custom draft system controls the pressure for optimal fizz. To pad the boozing, chef Michael Haigh (the Vanderbilt) will dole out gussied-up bar snacks such as sriracha peas, house-made Cool Ranch chips and truffle popcorn. Keg pallets and lighting fixtures fashioned from plumbing parts decorate the space, including a 65-seat biergarten.
Choice acts keep New York’s most dapper nightspot on the map, while the steep cover charge and white-jacketed service makes sure riffraff doesn’t scuff up the bar’s most valued draw: original Ludwig Bemelmans murals. Mixologist Brian Van Flandern’s spiffy (and pricey) potions preserve the bar’s classic character. Try the popular Paradise cocktail (pear vodka, Aneri and prosecco with lime and bitters), or a rum, lime, tonic and Martell cognac concoction named for the spot’s longtime barkeep, Tommy Rowles.
One part gin, one part vermouth and one part Campari—that storied trifecta constitutes the classic Negroni, an-early-20th-century Florentine invention turned ubiquitous cocktail-bar darling. The red-as-a-rooster quaff is the litmus test of a good bartender, seemingly simple but particularly finicky, with its delicate marriage of bitter, sweet and boozy. This dimly lit Yorkville drinkery—from Bathtub Gin alum Josh Mazza and Steve Laycock of Ducks Eatery—doesn’t pour out just one dynamite rendition of the boot-country creation: It turns out six.
The more refined side of British booze culture is reflected at this UES gastropub, helmed by veterans of Orsay and Raines Law Room. English brews like Fuller's London Pride share tap space with Belgium suds (Duvel Green) and a proprietary lager made by Red Hook's Sixpoint Craft Ales. Wine drinkers can explore a number of vino-based cocktails, including the First Bloom (sauvignon blanc, elderflower cordial, lemon, club soda) and the La Vie En Rose (dry vermouth, grenadine, lime, club soda).
Every breed of drinker can be found here—from shot-and-a-beer suits to old-time regulars. The booze is modest: There’s plenty of liquor, and a selection of basic beers (Bud, Coors, Sam and Guinness). The bar also stocks a few bottles of wine, but you’d do well to avoid them—we assume they’d make a decent vinaigrette by now.
A New York food fixture for four decades, restaurateur Eli Zabar now partners with son Oliver for the first time to expand the Zabar’s empire with this drinks den moonlighting in the Upper East Side grocery-café Eli’s Essentials. After unveiling a similar wine concept at the 91st Street location of Essentials earlier in 2015, Zabar switches gears to beer, with 10 rotating brews—many from homegrown operations like Queens’ Big Alice Brewing and the Bronx’s Gun Hill Brewery—on tap, poured through nozzles protruding from a menu-scrawled chalkboard. The zinc-topped counter also offers cocktails like the Eli’s Flourish (amontillado sherry, mescal) and a Gin and Bare It (botanist gin, Concord grape shrub).
With large-scale brew operations like Clinton Hall in the Financial District and the Watermark Bar at South Street Seaport, Abraham Merchant has a finger firmly planted on downtown’s beer-hall scene. His Merchants Hospitality’s first foray uptown comes in the form of this rustic, 200-seat tavern, fitted with the requisite communal tables, a roaring fireplace and brick-painted murals by Colombian artist Brian Boerner that depict an imaginative world of beer-inspired mascots (flying dogs coursing over a beer-splattered ocean, a lab of mad scientists brewing beer mixtures). Traditional big-group boozing is the name of the game here, complemented by an expertly curated lineup of global pours, and plenty of beer floats.
Settle in at a checker–table-clothed two-top for a pint (or two) and dependable bar bites at this Upper East Side bar, which takes its name from the flag of Northern Ireland. The food menu traipses between across-the-pond classics like cottage pie and fish ’n’ chips and stateside favorites like cheeseburgers hooded with bacon-bourbon jam.
Heading downtown for the night?
John Doe Bar & Kitchen
Located on an unassuming Nomad street, this gastropub turns out riffs on classic pub fare and tempting signature cocktails. For an appetizer, why not order the oysters? They always sell for $1 each, though you have to order six or more. The flatbread topped with caramelized apples, goat cheese, mushrooms and arugula ($12) might tempt you, or perhaps you’ll go classic with potato skins stuffed with cheddar and bacon ($11). If you’re here for dinner, try the John Doe burger with pickled red onion and garlic aioli on a pretzel bun ($13) or the chicken and mushroom pot pie ($18). For dessert, give in to temptation and order the caramel-bourbon bread pudding ($10) or go even boozier with a sweet cocktail, like the Nutty Irishman, a combination of coffee, Bailey’s, frangelico and lots of whipped cream ($12). John Doe offers different specials each day of the week and a lengthy happy hour from 11am–8pm every weekday, so you have no excuse not to sample the entire menu.