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The Aviary NYC
Photograph: Courtesy Daniel Krieger Photography

The best cocktail experiences you should have in NYC

If you want to call yourself a New Yorker, you need to drink the coolest, funkiest cocktails at the best bars in the city

By Céline Bossart and Time Out New York contributors

New York City’s drinking scene is in a league of its own, and there’s no shortage of cocktail experiences you need to test-drink if you want to truly be part of this city. From classic, high-end quaffs to wacky hot spots and booze with views at rooftop bars, those who crave new experiences face no shortage of choices. After all, that’s what the city’s about: options. Cocktail lovers, drink your heart out.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to cocktails in NYC

Cocktail experiences you should have in NYC

The Garibaldi at Dante
Photograph: Courtesy Dante

1. Enjoy a happy hour negroni at Dante

Bars Cocktail bars Greenwich Village

Come for the negroni, stay for the vibe and just move right in for the pasta. It's that simple, pleasure-seeking ideology that embodies Dante, the beloved MacDougal Street Italian café. Overseen by renowned Sydney-born Naren Young (AvroKO), the bar program centers on the European tradition of the afternoon aperitivo, which is showcased finely through a daily negroni session happy hour from 4pm to 7pm.

Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

2. Pad your belly with a hot dog at PDT

Bars Lounges East Village

Please Don’t Tell (or PTD, as it’s most commonly known) is one of the city’s most well-known and beloved modern-day speakeasies. If you can talk your way through the Crif Dogs phone booth, order a frank with a side of Staggerac (a riff on the classic Sazerac made with 140-proof bourbon).


3. Drink out of a conch shell at ROKC

Bars Cocktail bars

ROKC (“ramen, oysters, kitchen and cocktails,” FYI) is an unadorned semi-subterranean room, paint cracking on its white walls and a handful of two-tops crammed at its long wooden bar. But the lounge from the Angel’s Share vets serve some of New York’s most stunning drinks in one of its sparsest barrooms. The Tomato/Clam registers like a smoky Bloody Mary, with mescal, a hit of wasabi and copious cracks of black pepper inside a big, beautiful seashell. 

The Aviary
Photograph: Nitin Mukul

4. Watch a cocktail show at the Aviary NYC

Bars Cocktail bars Upper West Side

The Aviary NYC is a sweeping 35th-floor Olympus that looks like Don Draper art-directed The Jetsons while listening to Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” on loop. It does a lot of big things fantastically. The Science A.F. ($25 on a menu where the cheapest cocktail is $18), a pyrotechnic Rube Goldberg chemistry set of a drink—fire! fog! suction!—is not just a presentational spectacle but also allows customers to see their drink’s flavors birthed before their eyes.

Amor y Amargo
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

6. Test out the bitters flight at Amor Y Amargo

Bars Cocktail bars East Village

East Village staple Amor y Amargo pays homage to the underdog of spirits: bitters. Not only does it lace many a cocktail with said liquor accoutrement, but it also plays home to what is arguably the city’s one and only bitters that’s not to be missed for any reason.

best of 2016
Photograph: Noah Fecks

7. Get drunk off sunset views at Westlight

Bars Hotel bars Greenpoint

Take the dedicated elevator at the William Vale Hotel 22 stories up to the industrial yet swank space—set with black-and-white tiled floors, bright globe lights and a beamed ceiling—to experience a hotel rooftop bar that has all the goods to be a standalone New York cocktail den.

Alamo Drafthouse
Photograph: Courtesy Alamo Drafthouse

8. Sip on movie-themed cocktails at cinemas

Movie theaters Downtown Brooklyn

The dinner-and-a-movie experience from the city's newfangled cinemas are now being taken one step futher. Moviegoers can order rotating film-themed cocktails to accompany your specific screening. We've spotted specials at Nitehawk Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse and the Metrograph.

Little Branch
Photograph: Krista Schlueter

9. Listen to live piano at Little Branch

Bars Lounges West Village

Soak up the Old World vibes at Little Branch on Seventh Avenue South, where various iterations of live jazz happen Sunday through Thursday. It’s the perfect NYC experience for dates or solo outings, and it’s guaranteed to be memorable regardless of what’s in your glass.

10. Get your fortune read at Employees Only

Bars Cocktail bars West Village

Whether you’re a New York native or a frequent visitor, chances are you’ve heard of Employees Only, a Manhattan original that was one of the few to spark an entire cocktail movement. Should you find yourself here on the right evening, you’ll be in the company of the house tarot card reader, who will probably tell you your future is looking a bit hazy after all those daiquiris.

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