Best Upper East Side bars in NYC
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.
Tucked away on an aggressively average block in the doorman-less part of the Upper East Side, a set of red-velvet ropes leads to a heavy black door. Push past it and descend a narrow, dimly lit staircase that stops at a full-length mirror right before the entrance. The underground speakeasy seems like a seductive bachelor pad from the 1960s, where the attentive staff serves gussied-up drinks for the parties of overlapping limbs and fused-together faces. So bargoers should take a little extra time at that entryway mirror—it’s probably a night you’ll be giving some sugar.
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, deviled eggs and truffle popcorn. Keg pallets and lighting fixtures fashioned from plumbing parts decorate the space, including a 65-seat biergarten.
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
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 Velvet Orchid cocktail (Bulleit bourbon, lime and simple syrup topped with champagne), or a “Champagne mojito” mixed with Bacardi 8 rum and muddled mint.
Upper East Side regulars can get a taste of the Highlands at this Scottish tavern, pouring 180 varieties of Scotch and other whiskeys. Along with dark spirits (Glen Garioch, Old Pulteney and Caol Ila), Scots suds—including Bellhaven IPA and Fraoch Heather Ale—are on offer at the glossy wood bar. If the maps and tartan flags hanging on the walls don't drive home the pub's Scottish pride, the menu of sausage rolls and Scotch eggs should do the trick.
Dangling chandeliers, pressed-tin ceilings and a fireplace decorate this Victorian-inspired spot. On weekends, a 25-and-up policy keeps out the young'uns; cozy up with a date on the red velvet couches or chat with pals over rounds of draft beers (Harpoon IPA, Coney Island Lager) and mixed drinks.
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).
Twenty taps dispense craft brews (Barrier, Empire) at this 50-seat beer bar, which is decorated with a white-pine-topped tables, exposed brick and lamps made from growlers.
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 Keep Your Pants On (bourbon, banana liqueur, orgeat, lime) and a Spring Fallows (anejo tequila, hibiscus, lime, mint).
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?
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