Get us in your inbox

Search
All Night Skate
Photograph: Sam Waxman / Courtesy All Night Skate

The 12 best themed restaurants and bars in NYC

Dine with dolls, drink among devils and hit sick air guitar riffs at these high-concept spots.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako
Advertising

Just when you think New York has it all, you look around and realize there’s no Rainforest Cafe. In one sense, we have a paucity of theme restaurants: places that, like your cousin’s wedding, pick a conceit and stick with it far beyond logic and reason. In another, literally everything is in some way themed. Rooftop spots are view themed, romantic restaurants are love themed and speakeasy-style bars are, among other things, exclusivity themed. But not all are mutually inclusive with themes, writ whole. 

There is some overlap, especially in that latter category, but to achieve a true theme designation, a place must reach beyond aesthetic winks, referential whispers and cheeky innuendo to fully commit to the bit. They must have a unifying conceit replete with props, otherwise eye-rolling puns and the occasional costume. These are spots where subtlety is scorned and blatancy is celebrated. Only then do they become the best themed restaurants and bars in NYC. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in NYC

Best themed restaurants

  • Bars
  • American
  • Lower East Side
  • price 2 of 4

From its vinyl tile-style floor to its old fashioned grid ceiling and all wrapped up in wood paneling, The Flower Shop looks like a matriarch’s eat-in kitchen circa the 1970s. Decade-appropriate yellow and garish-chic patterns abound, there’s a pool table in a de facto rec room and menu items like spinach and artichoke dip seem especially appropriate for the era. 

Advertising
Beach Themed: Surf Bar
  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Williamsburg
  • price 1 of 4

There are myriad ways one could make beach waves on land: Lean into lounging, recreate crustaceans, or let a bunch of birds steal all the sandwiches. Here, they covered the floors in sand, installed some surf boards for decor and built a menu based on seafood and sunshine-friendly drinks like frozen cocktails. 

Advertising
  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • East Village
  • price 2 of 4

Riding the subway, walking down the sidewalk, sitting at the bar, do you ever wish that everyone would just SHUT UP? No? Then you must, no joke, actually be fun at parties. Otherwise, this self-styled “temple of beer worship" might be more your speed. Tiptoe in, whisper your order, and hashtag it all “shhhh” or “quietbar,” provided your phone is on silent. 

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Midtown West
  • price 2 of 4

Originally conceived as an immersive experience for dolls and the kiddos who love them, some locations of The American Girl Cafe have become “an unlikely party spot for influencers and their imitators,” according to The New York Times. New York City’s photogenic outpost is one of two with a full liquor license. TikTok seems largely responsible for the trend and, on reflection, this was all pretty inevitable. 

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Midtown West
  • price 2 of 4

One of the theme schemes that started it all, The Hard Rock Cafe was also on the cutting edge of today’s ubiquitous Instagram Things when it first opened in London in 1971. Now they’re all over the globe with the memorabilia to prove it and the unifying theme of mainstream tunes. The Times Square location hammers that conceit home with a wall of guitars and other instrumental photo ops. 

  • Restaurants
  • Ridgewood

Flying Fox Tavern opened earlier this year with a full menu and cinematic horror themes in Queens. Stylish neon bats hang around geometric coffin-printed wallpaper, scary movie posters are fixed throughout and a haunting solitary scene faces the bar. Sip bloody marys and less incidentally on-brand libations, in addition to the occasional nail-on-the-skull drink specials. 

Advertising
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • East Village
  • price 2 of 4

An ode to both he who shall-not-be named and old stripy-suit’s creator, Beetle House is every goth-adjacent 90s kid’s dream. See art and sculpture that nods to Halloweentown’s own favorite son, Jack Skellington, dastardly sandworms and, of course that titular rapscallion, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetle—.

  • Restaurants
  • Noho

A few years ago, a couple of celebrities and their hospitality partners opened what its early press materials billed as a dive bar. Jeers followed, for, as everyone knows, there is no such thing as a new dive bar. But in its blunder, cousin Greg from Succession, et al., had actually invented a whole new genre: the dive themed bar. Anywho, Ray’s serves burgers, beer, frites and branded apparel. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ray’s (@raysbarnyc)

Recommended

    More on iconic eats

      You may also like
        Advertising