We’ve all faced the dilemma: You have tickets for a show at 8pm, and you rushed so you wouldn't be late—but now you’re 45 minutes early. And you skipped dinner. Not to worry: Many of New York’s best theaters offer pre-show drinks or bites, to provide proper fuel (or buzz) to get your through your evening. Whether you're catching a Broadway show, something Off-Off or are venturing to a theatrical outing in Brooklyn, we've found you someplace to grab a table and unwind before the curtain goes up. Even if these aren't the best restaurants in NYC, they are close, convenient, and often cheap.
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Best theater bars, restaurants and cafés
Jolly, chic and laid-back, this wide-open restaurant bar on the second floor of the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House is the perfect place for a pre-show nosh or splash of wine. The menu includes simple pasta dishes and salad, as well as artisanal cheese. On off nights, you may be able to catch a musical performance.
After trekking out to Fort Greene for some European theatrical event, you may crave a refreshing coffee or wine in the airy café. Be warned, though: The Harvey lobby fills up fast, so you may want to get there early. And if the seats are all taken, you can always stroll with your snack and check out what books or DVDs are on sale.
Lincoln Center Theater's newest space is a 131-seat venue that showcases new plays by rising talent under the LCT3 umbrella. The Tow is also the centerpiece of a 23,000-square-foot rooftop complex, designed by noted architect Hugh Hardy. The bar opens a couple of hours before the show—and serves afterward, as well. So grab a drink or soda and check out the view from the outside terrace.
East 10th Street Coffee, an excellent purveyor of first-class beans, keeps the patrons caffeinated for the classics. There aren't a lot of tables in Classic Stage Company's somewhat cramped lobby, so you may have to enjoy your cup of joe standing. Watch out for the scrumptious rich brownies—they're classics of a different sort.
The Lounge at Dixon Place has a funky, scrappy, old-East-Village vibe that is sometimes hard to find in that ultra-gentrified student/hipster zone. As the site says, “you can even take your drinks into the theater, or stay put and catch free readings or live music while enjoying hand-crafted cocktails.” It’s open Monday through Saturday starting at 6pm—and best of all, your booze money for a tasty “Humping Dog” or “Dixon Drop” goes to support the artists and the space.
This sleek multivenue complex is a little bit lonely in Midtown East; there aren't a lot of other theaters in the immediate vicinity. But that's part of what makes a trip to 59E59 such a refreshing treat. The second-floor bar is a great place to sip a wine or a few fingers of whiskey from the impressive single-malt selection.
For 20 years this downtown institution has been presenting genre-defying new work that blends music, puppetry, dance and other disciplines. But you can't survive on experimental theater alone. Wine, salads, panini and coffee: Here’s all the pre- or postshow noshing you need. Can’t enjoy avant-garde stagecraft on an empty stomach!
In the landmarked building that houses the Public Theater, white-hot chef Andrew Carmellini stages his third, much-anticipated act: a preshow lounge. The Café Boulud alum—whose holdings include the Dutch and Locanda Verde—will return to his classical culinary roots with a French-inflected menu. Artists and audience can mingle there as late as 2am.
Designed by star architect Frank Gehry, the new Signature Center comprises three major Off Broadway spaces: a 299-seater mainstage, a 199-seat miniature opera house and a malleable courtyard theater named for the late Romulus Linney. And the wonderful, spacious café area is great for meetings or preshow drinks and a nosh.
When it opened in 2013, Theatre for a New Audience’s shiny new Brooklyn home was a welcome addition to the landscape, joining BAM and making Fort Greene a prime arts destination for tourist-weary Manhattanites. Whatever your borough, fortify yourself before a dose of classical theater with a pressed cheese sandwich or a slice of quiche, washed down with small-brew beer or a splash of wine. If you’re in a hurry—or only hungry for dessert—grab a (scrumptious) artisanal chocolate bar, cookie or shot of espresso. The tables in the café (officially named Monica & Ali Wambold Food & Drink) are comfy, the light is good and if the weather is nice, you can lounge outside.