Whether you're looking for laidback sipping, cocktail geeking or amping up to hit the clubs, you'll find the kind of watering hole you need on this walkable stretch between Houston and Canal. This minute, on-trend neighborhood touts all manner of entertainment—including some of the best first-date restaurants and destination-worthy speakeasy bars. Take a look at the best places to booze in Little Italy and NoLita.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Little Italy and Nolita
Best bars in Little Italy and Nolita
The thrift-store decor (mismatched chairs with sagging seats, statues of the Virgin Mary and a faux fireplace) makes for a charmingly shabby backdrop at this downtown dive, a favorite among laid-back creative types and the occasional gaggle of NYU students. Libations range from basic brews (eight on tap include Blue Point Toasted Lager) to house cocktails like a rosemary-infused vodka number sloshed with mint and ginger beer. DJs spin every night (except Monday and karaoke Sunday), providing a sultry soundtrack for the singles lounging in the conversation-friendly back room.
This no-nonsense Nolita dive has an Italian moniker, but that’s where the affectations end. Suck in your stomach and squeeze through the narrow stretch between the bar and the clammy back wall, a bottleneck for the eclectic crowd of artists and perpetual barflies. You might need to holler your order over the juke’s noisy rock tunes—keep it simple and ask for the signature beer-and-shot combo ($11).
At this airy Nolita drinkery, co-owners Timothy Lynch and Richard Knapp sling classic and contemporary drinks. The laid-back space—done up with a cream tin ceiling, exposed brick and weathered-wood bar—also offers a full menu. Sip your cocktail and nibble on globally inflected bites, including the TONY-approved spicy fried chickpeas, French onion grilled cheeses and ginger-glazed duck wings.
Cool-hunters looking for a break from clubland can hit this underground boîte, tucked away beneath a cut-rate handbag shop in Little Italy. The unlikely hot spot—complete with a strict door policy—is a testament to the nightlife bona fides of the bar’s owners, who have cashed in on their affiliations (GoldBar, Bagatelle, Milk and Honey) to create this sceney speakeasy. Haute cocktails replace bottle service as the in-crowd currency, with most drinkers rolling the dice on bespoke tipples crafted by Mulberry Project’s cavalier mixologists.
Come by the bar formerly known as Mare Chiaro (a.k.a. the Sinatra Bar) during the week. You’ll find colorful patrons occupying the rickety tables and listening to Mario Lanza on the jukebox while slugging beer and shots. On weekends, the spot takes a turn for the suburban, with would-be Sopranos extras swilling six-buck Cosmos and telling anyone within earshot that scenes from The Godfather Part III were filmed here.
In yet another testament to Nolita’s growing nightlife cred, this 1,500-square-foot booze destination occupies the former M Bar space. Classic cocktails (think Pimm’s cups) mingle with signature drinks like the Michael Derry (Stella Artois, vodka and lemon juice). Randolph features weekly theme nights, but Prohibition buffs shouldn’t hold their breath—parties, like the Sunday evening tribute to Prince, tend toward the latter half of the century.
This sexy den from Little Branch’s Joseph Schwartz and Cervantes Ramirez welcomes you to the depths below with subtly upscale touches: warm lighting and dark woods, highly attentive hosts at your service and a slew of quaffs to pore over. The delicate Pom Ricky ($14) tames floral gin with swirls of lime grenadine and soda, and an aptly named Buck Up ($14) sips a bit stiffer with añejo rum spiced by ginger and soothed with cuke.
Two pistols found during the bar’s construction are menacingly displayed in the doorway, but this relaxed downtown bar is more sweet than vicious. Bargoers crowd onto wooden benches or gather on a graffiti-adorned patio, weather permitting, to tip back pints of Hoegaarden. Beware: Like many downtown joints, what’s chill during the week can get packed on weekends.
Sweet Polly is like that perfect girl in high school: undeniably beautiful and effortlessly cool, armed with brains to back it all up. At this Prospect Heights bar from Hungry Ghost owner Murat Uyaroglu, the tables are consistently packed with well-heeled Brooklynites; the space is stunning, with gilded tin ceilings and a lush garden wall, and the cocktail execution is fingertip-kissing good. And like with the school-days Polly of your past, there are plenty of times you’ll feel ignored, but just when you’re about to smack-talk her, she gives you an extra sample of beef jerky. ORDER THIS: Bartender–co-owner Bruno Dias’s cocktails highlight unusual ingredients, like green bell peppers, BBQ bitters and yogurt, that are sure to satiate curious palates. The Golden Eye ($13) is a standout: Stumptown cold brew is stirred with Icelandic vodka, herbal Italian amaro and chocolate bitters to create a rich, velvety, caffeine-blasted drink. The bar’s head turner, however, is the rosy Rocket Lunar ($13), which is set in a snifter topped with egg-white foam and a grilled dehydrated pineapple. Inside the cup, BBQ bitters curb the sweetness of the drink’s kalamansi syrup and aged cachaça, along with an added touch of cinnamon from tiki bitters. GOOD FOR: A grown-up date for that prospective S.O. who’s slightly out of your league. Everything is on point for romance: The ambience is sumptuous, the cocktails are unconventional, and the circular, candlelit tables are tailor-made for two. Plus, t
Venue says: “Introducing: -The Komfortably Knumb A play on Smash with Kumquats and Aquavit.Refreshing citrus flavors with touches of caraway and anise.”