Everything You Need to Know Before Drinking in NYC

From our freshly updated guides to the best bars in Brooklyn and Manhattan to a collection of stories about what's making waves in the city's drinks scene right now, this is everything you need to know before drinking in the city that never sleeps.

manhattan city guides illustration

Some of the globe’s best-dressed humans are in the midst of descending on New York City for Fashion Week, and perhaps you’re one of them. If so, we got you. Below, you’ll find our guide to all the things to drink in this city that are not vodka-sodas—from the new fervor over Japanese-style cocktails to the wine lists we love to the revival of the fern bar and its signature retro drinks, not to mention our freshly updated guides to the best watering holes in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Without further ado, our boozy map to the city that never sleeps:

  • 1

    Five Iconic New York Cocktails

    New York has invented very few of the top-tier classics. The Old-Fashioned is arguable. California claims the Martini's origins. The Sazerac? That's New Orleans. And Cuba's all over the Daiquiri. But no matter, because New York is home to the Manhattan, the godfather of strong and stirred cocktails. From this template, the city has given birth to a number of other drinks—many of them also named for the neighborhoods or boroughs that have inspired them. Some are classics, like the Brooklyn, an antiquated riff on the Manhattan including Amer Picon (an orange-, gentian- and cinchona-flavored aperitif that can be ...

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  • 2

    The Wines of Wall Street

    Ninety-hour workweeks, huge fortunes in the balance, cutthroat competition: it’s no wonder Wall Street drinks. The lap of global wealth and economic power, densely concentrated at the lower tip of Manhattan, has always had a relationship with the bottle, dating back to 1860s when cocktail legend Jerry Thomas operated a saloon there and nearby bars created a jigger tailor-made for bankers who wanted to pop in and out for a light nip. These days, the archetypal vodka-guzzling, coke-snorting Master of the Universe, mythologized in films like The Wolf of Wall Street and American Psycho, is a familiar one. But with ...

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  • 3

    Building The Brooklyn Bar

    On the corner of Franklin Avenue and Green Street in Brooklyn, Evan Haslegrave is slowing circling a big metal bowl with a can of silver spray paint. Pewter-colored plumes engulf him as he stands back and considers the hunk of metal. “That’s supposed to be a light,” says Oliver, the other half of the brothers’ architecture and interior design company hOmE, as he emerges from a cellar door in the sidewalk. After building ten bars and restaurants, three retail stores, a distillery and their very own watering hole, Alameda, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the Haslegraves are still hand painting lampshades. The brothers ...

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  • 4

    The Return of the Fern Bar

    Though their heyday was only 30 years ago, fern bars are less well-known to the average drinker than Prohibition-era speakeasies, colonial taverns or basically any other period of cocktail history. Fern bars dominated the bar landscape in the 1970s and ’80s as casual, stained-glass-lamped taverns that were the nexus of the singles scene. If you’ve ever been inside a TGI Friday’s or watched Cheers, you’ve borne witness to the cultural impact of the fern bar. They began with San Francisco’s Henry Africa's, which opened in 1969. Designed specifically to be welcoming to women, long marginalized in public drinking ...

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  • 5

    Drinking During New York City's Disco Days

    In 1977, Al Suarez met his wife-to-be at the Champagne Lounge in Jamaica, Queens. Not a big drinker, she was sipping Harvey Wallbangers. He was drinking his usual, Seagram’s VO and water. He was a Cuban immigrant, and she a third-generation Russian Jew from the Bronx; each had settled in Queens as children. They were coming off short-lived first marriages spending the final throes of the sexual revolution meeting people in neighborhood bars just like that one.

    In New York City, 1977 was the year of the blackout and the Bronx burning. The year Bianca Jagger rode a horse through crowds of glam socialites at Studio 54 ...

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  • 6

    The Rise of the Fast-Casual Cocktail Bar

    If you order the Tahitian Coffee for Two at the subterranean cocktail bar Slowly Shirley, what arrives is as much spectacle as cocktail: a curvaceous Chemex coffeemaker, here acting as a jumbo-sized glass, domed with crushed ice and filled with a mixture of high-end aged rum, pisco, cold-brewed coffee and a slew of fresh juices and housemade syrups. The pricetag for the cocktail (which is portioned to serve two): $35, or $17.50 per person. Upstairs from Slowly Shirley is the Happiest Hour, from the same owners, where there’s a menu of greatest hits—Sazeracs, Manhattans, Tom Collinses, etc.—offered alongside a slew ...

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  • 7

    The Bar Heard Round the World

    Impatiently we wait for the hum of a buzzer, which will grant us entry beyond the graffiti-scribbled door that took us 10 minutes to locate on a dingy Lower East Side Street. Inside, anticipation rises as the heavy velvet curtain brushes my arm and I step into a scene out of a reverse Wizard of Oz, Technicolor slowly bleeding out to subdued black and white. It’s 2003, and it’s my first visit to Milk & Honey. This, I think, cannot be a bar. This is not the Knock Knock Club, where on Thursday nights during college I begrudgingly sipped Midori Sours in tight black pants. This is not one of the forgettable dive bars ...

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  • 8

    The Quick Rise and (Tragic) Fall of Bed Clubs

    What happens when you take ancient Greek and Roman dining concepts, an Austrian count by way of Holland, of-the-moment celebrities and some of the most groan-worthy wordplay a new millennium had ever seen? You get the brief era where beds in bars were the hottest thing going in American nightlife. “This’ll never work in Miami,” thought nightlife impresario Michael Capponi after his friend Oliver Hoyos flew him out to the Netherlands in the late-1990s to visit something called Supperclub. “Everyone was smoking pot, lying around in beds, it was that kind of scene.” An Austrian count—seriously—born to a line of ...

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  • 9

    Searching for the Modern-Day Jerry Thomas

    Tom Vaught is a bartender. He’s not one of our modern celebrity mixologist-type bartenders. And he doesn’t work in some carefully retro-fied cocktail lounge where drinks are $16 and the art of conversation mostly involves staring at smart phones. Tom works at the Brooklyn Inn, a dark, friendly neighborhood bar that was founded in 1885 and still doesn’t have a cocktail list. Which is fine, since Tom is not now, and never has been, the sort to pinch things with tweezers, measure them out with eyedroppers and strain them multiple times through increasingly fine meshes. There’s nothing wrong with that stuff, but it’s not ...

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  • 10

    The Muse Behind NYC's Most Iconic Hotel Bar

    It's hard to be one of New York City's most well-known hidden treasures without letting fame change you over half a century. But Bemelmans Bar remains a vital remnant of Old New York, a throwback to a period of the 20th century when the best bars were found in hotel lobbies and the only kind of service was white-glove. A pianist tinkles standards in the middle of the room, and even at its busiest, the atmosphere is hushed and convivial. Though to most of its patrons he's just “that Madeline guy” the author and illustrator of the classic children’s book series about eponymous French orphan, Madelinethe bar is the ...

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  • 11

    A Tour of NYC's Historic Barroom Diaspora

    Bars come, and bars go. But in a city as old as New York, with its many strata of history, they don’t all completely disappear. That brass rail you just rested your foot on, that mile-high mirror you gazed into, that ancient neon sign you passed under before entering—they may have done time at some other saloon before finding their current employment. In that respect, it’s sometimes possible to drink in two eras at once, in the same bar. Owing to my twin interests in both drinking and eating establishments and New York history, I began to casually catalog the vestiges of old bar room—what you might call New York’s ...

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  • 12

    Inside Kenta Goto's Reinvention of the Japanese Cocktail Bar

    Award-winning bartender and Tokyo transplant Kenta Goto sited his first solo venture less than a mile east of his former office, the legendary New York City cocktail bar Pegu Club. But to conceive the spirit of the eponymous Bar Goto—tucked down a street he says is "relatively quiet" for Manhattan's nouveau nexus of nightlife the Lower East Side—he reached a few thousand miles farther. The sophisticated, 40-person space gracefully marries Goto's Japanese upbringing and teenage stint at his mother's Tokyo-area restaurant, Ginnan-Tei, with his impeccable cocktail pedigree, having spent seven years at the ...

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  • 13

    Does Gramercy Tavern Have the Best Wine Program in America?

    Does Gramercy Tavern have the best wine program in the country? I’ve posed that question several times this past year. It’s not a fair question, because no one ever successfully chooses a bestie—best restaurant, best friend—without facing the consequences. Choose a best, and parlor games are played to second-guess you. Still, I’ve posed it repeatedly. Gramercy Tavern is arguably the crown jewel in Danny Meyer’s restaurant empire, especially as Union Square Café prepares for a swan song of sorts. And if quality has oscillated since its much-heralded opening in 1994, today, chef Michael Anthony has returned ...

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  • 14

    The New Yorker's Guide to Vacationing in Koreatown

    You can hear the pulsing unce unce unce vibrating through the steel casing of an office-building elevator. As the floor numbers ding past, the thrumming gets louder. And when the doors slide apart, it's a world backlit with pink neon, red suede banquettes, frozen piña coladas and a sea of 20-somethings swaying to the beat. It sounds a little bit like Miami and looks a lot like 2001. But it's a Friday night in 2014 and this is New York City's Koreatown. Koreatown—known amongst New Yorkers as K-Town—spans a one-block stretch of the western half of 32nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, in the shade of the Empire ...

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  • 15

    ZZ's Clam Bar: NY's Emerald City of Cocktails

    “Everything we do here is bastardized,” grins Thomas Waugh, the beverage director at ZZ’s Clam Bar in New York City. “But bastardized to be better.” Upon ducking into ZZ’s, Major Food Group’s tiny, reservation-only seafood joint, this bit of information is not obvious from the outset. From the street, ZZ’s looks like it could be a gentleman’s club or a miniature music venue: the windows are concealed with a dark curtain, and only the double-letter moniker glowing in blue neon alludes to occupancy. That and the large, suit-clad man standing like a dark column in front of the Thompson Street doorway. Inside, the room ...

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  • 16

    Russian Standard: Drinking Vodka in NYC's Brighton Beach

    I’ve always wondered where you drink in Brighton Beach. Unlike in every other New York City neighborhood, Brighton Beach Avenue, the central artery of Brooklyn’s Russian enclave, is home to not a single bar—just old-school restaurant after old-school restaurant interspersed with low-slung deli counters selling smoked fish and enormous loaves of dense, dark bread. There are pharmacies and liquor stores, laundromats and dentists—but no bars. Where’s the vodka? As it turns out, it was under my nose the whole time. Russians don’t drink without food—a smart move for a nation that consumes nearly 14 liters of vodka per ...

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  • 17

    Extreme Wine Techniques: Urban Porroning

    In Spain, the porron—a watering-can-meets-glass-vase, filled with wine and tipped directly into mouths—is the preferred party starter. The vessel has a long history in the country and is said to have evolved from a wine skin (an animal skin pouch used to transport wine, pre-bottle days) then through a terra-cotta phase and eventually to its current glass iteration. While porroning can be found in bars all over Spain, it's most prevalent in Catalonia, where it's used to serve everything from sweet wine to Cava. The porron and porroning have become something of a tourist attraction, but even so, the ritual remains a ...

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