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 Saint Tuesday
Photograph: Courtesy of Alexa Bendek

The 23 best cocktail bars in NYC

These are the classic drinking genre's finest institutions

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako
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New York has enough bar categories, themes and conceits to fill the Gowanus Canal, but none dredge up as many connotations as the cocktail bar. Impressions are in the eye of the beholder. To one mind, a cocktail bar might evoke notions of trench coats, subway grate steam and flickering neon signs. To the next, it scans like a gathering place for Monopoly men. And to the last, it might recall simple gin and tonics served in plastic cups at the dive because this doesn’t always have to be a whole thing. 

In any case, a cocktail needs only to have two ingredients (not including the glass) to constitute entry to the form, and NYC has plenty of places to drink ‘em. These are the best. 

RECOMMENDED: See all of the best bars in NYC

Best cocktail bars in NYC

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Greenwich Village
  • price 2 of 4

Now in its third and largest location in seven years, the accolade-accruing Mace is still NYC’s top cocktail contender. It is also perpetually packed at its bar, standing room tables and in cozy booths throughout the space. Its cocktails are unlike anything else around town, crafted with spices sourced from all over the globe. The Saffron, for example, infuses a sherry blend with that titular ingredient and adds apricot-infused gin and pineapple sage-infused amaro to the mix. Its also been known to make a mean frozen cocktail

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

Attaboy’s historic address previously housed Milk & Honey, another nouveau speakeasy concept with a truly prudent list of rules, for thirteen years. It’s unsurprising that it’s maintained much of the original’s conceit, since its owners previously worked at the erstwhile archetype. Today, you still order bespoke cocktails at the bar or, in a zag nobody would have predicted for either iteration, even sit outside. 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Cobble Hill
  • price 2 of 4

A lot of bars try a lot harder to be as casual and comfortable as Long Island bar. Co-owned by one of the spirits professionals credited with creating the cosmo, it follows that the famed NYC favorite would serve inventive cocktails, and they also happen to be good. The gimlet, up, is a favorite, and LIB has even turned that divisive new/old classic into a fun frozen option for the summer. 

  • Bars
  • Downtown Brooklyn

One of last year’s best new restaurants is now joined by NYC’s latest great cocktail bar right upstairs. And in a truly weird switcheroo, Sunken Harbor Club hopefuls have even been spotted waiting for entry down at Gage & Tollner–which is also a little tricky to get into! Try your luck and you might be rewarded with lovely illuminated nautical decor and the marvelous cocktails these hospitality professionals have become known for across their operations. 

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Lenox Hill
  • price 4 of 4

Although it is apparently presently populated by unnecessary neon bandaid-wearing Gen-Zs, once they tire of the place and start making the Hard Rock Cafe cool again (again?), Bemelmans will remain a world class cocktail bar with a rare, inimitable style. Expensive drinks include the $22 glass of Prosecco, $35 chardonnay and $23 daiquiri. Cheap drinks include next to nothing; there’s a $9 Bud Light. 

  • Bars
  • Chinatown

This is one of the city’s latest new semi-secretly located spots, and one where it is legitimately a little hard to find on your first visit. It's up an exterior staircase on Cortlandt Alley near White Street, past a buzzer and down a few more industrial flights. Inside, the narrow basement space lands exactly on what other recent additions to the genre are aiming to create. It also has a throwback to a more recent trend: "bartender's choice" cocktails. Those and the stony distressed walls, intimate to just-shy of being cramped round tables and live music every night all help make a visit to Saint Tuesday a truly blessed event. 

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Carroll Gardens
  • price 2 of 4

This Smith Street staple first opened in 2008, and a lot of its excellent peers have left the block in the interim. The brunch and apps are good, but it’s fair to bet that the place’s longevity is due to its outstanding drinks. The menu’s a tome and its easy to absorb a too-good namesake Clover Club before you’ve completed the reading. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Financial District
  • price 3 of 4

Manhatta seemed too good to be true when it opened with a $78 prix-fixe in exceedingly elegant environs and an incredible view from its 60th story downtown address in 2018. And it was, because reservations were so tough to snag. Its recent reopening includes a focus on cocktails and, at the moment, snacks that start at $8 for chips anc crème fraiche and terminate at $30 for the French onion burger. Still, i’s a tougher table than ever. But! They say they save space for walk-ins so you might still have a shot to sip $19 top-notch cocktails. 

 

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Harlem
  • price 4 of 4

The always innovative seasonal options change with the pages on the calendar, the permanent menu has enough variety for unending return visits and all the classics are available in 67 Orange's stylish, brick-lined space. There’s also a sidewalk seating area and a full menu to turn drinks into dinner. 

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • East Village
  • price 4 of 4

Another classic of the yearslong NYC speakeasy concept resurgence, which itself followed the era of actual speakeasies (from when alcohol was banned) by several decades, PDT is perhaps the peak of the form. You have to enter through a phone booth (OH MY GOD!!) inside a hot dog shop (WHAT, STOP!!), there’s a bunch of taxidermy in there, it’s dimly lit and the cocktails are classic. Like Attaboy, it added a previously unimaginable outdoor area last spring and another sidewalk concept is planned for this one. 

  • Restaurants
  • Drinking

The top of the crop of the recent hidden (or at least ostensibly obscured) bars is in the subway station at 50th Street and Broadway. It’s more charming than gimmicky, the bathroom’s neat, bottles behind the bar shine like the skyline and their contents are expertly put to use in fun cocktails. 

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Brooklyn Social
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Carroll Gardens
  • price 2 of 4

This place used to get so packed at primetime that planning it into an evening out required a wish and a prayer and a wad of cash, which was its exclusively accepted method of payment. Today it feels a bit more manageable,  and they take credit cards for cocktails like the rye-based Brooklyn, which gets a kiss of flaming citrus. It also has a pool table and a nice backyard. 

  • Bars
  • Financial District

One team is behind the trio of hits at 70 Pine Street that include Crown Shy, Saga and Overstory. The latter is literally above it all up on the art deco building’s 64th floor. At $24 a piece the cocktails are steep, too, but wait ‘til you see the price tag at the restaurant right downstairs. With that elevated perspective drinks with a breathtaking view at Overstory seem like a relative bargain. 

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • West Village
  • price 4 of 4

Little Branch opened in 2005 and it was many fedora wearing millennials’ earliest exposure to nouveau speakeasy elements. And it’s still one of NYC’s top options in the category, Its entrance is pretty discrete save for the line that’s been known to form outside, it lies beneath a small triangle-shaped corner building that looks like a garden shed and the cocktails are better than they need to be for the kind of place where people would gather in any case. 

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Williamsburg
  • price 3 of 4

This Williamsburg staple ably splits the difference between neighborhood favorite and destination worth going out of your way for. Its abundant absinthe offerings have also outlasted places that started dabbling with the trend around fifteen years ago, it has an excellent tableside martini service and its lovely garden is among the city’s finest. 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Prospect Heights
  • price 2 of 4

A bar that makes its own gin is obviously also devoted to crafting excellent cocktails. Ode to Babel’s titular small batch spirit is lightly citrusy, and you’ll find on the airy, verdant spot’s frequently refreshed seasonal drink menu, along with oodles of other options. 

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Long Island City
  • price 2 of 4

As asserted in the headline, these are only the best of NYC’s cocktail bars. So it follows that this is another Time Out New York Best of the City award winner. The 13 year-old spot pretty much made fancy ice and ‘trust us’ menus a thing on a wider scale in 2009 and it’s remained consistent over the course of its existence with the occasional pivots like the addition of outdoor seating for obvious reasons. 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • East Village
  • price 4 of 4

One must come first to be served first at this 16 year-old NYC cocktail classic. There are no reservations, you see, and the place is pretty famous so it fills up fast. Its style has speakeasy concept crossover appeal and its meticulous drinks all hover around $20. 

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • West Village
  • price 2 of 4

Katana Kitten is New York City’s highest ranking spot on the annual World’s 50 Best list at number 10. It spans two floors but both are fairly small and cozy. A main-bar feeling bar and back, skylit seating alcove are up top, and the dim lighting downstairs makes it seem even more intimate. Terrific highballs, signature cocktails, sake, beer and wine are available in either space. 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • West Village
  • price 2 of 4

This had a dedicated hospitality industry following back when it opened in 2004, so you know Employees Only wasn’t pulling any punches. It’s still one of the city’s most venerable drinking institutions, with standout Manhattans and even an espresso martini to appease the trend seekers (and actual fans of the combination, if they’re out there.)

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Financial District
  • price 2 of 4

The design’s in overdrive, with frames arranged all over the walls and up to the photos that obscure the ceiling, and the drinks will perk you up even further or put you at ease, depending on your order. In column A: The classic Irish coffee, which outclasses the curiously popular espresso martini by a wide margin. In column B: Anything else a spirit can do. 

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