The Most Unlikely Bars in New York City

You don’t have to walk far in New York City to find a bar. Dives, high-end cocktail temples, whiskey libraries and everything in between—they’re a dime a dozen in this city of plenty. But, as with all things in New York, mere quantity isn’t enough for its inhabitants; we desire variety, spontaneity and entertainment. Thusly, bars began popping up where we least expected them—hidden in train stations, on boats and in ice caves—with acrobatics, pyrotechnics and a dash of sex. Weirder, grander and more adventurous than the same old New York bars, these are oddities sure to thrill. —Regan Hofmann

  • 1

    Bar at The Modern

    Museum dining in New York City has grown by leaps and bounds over the last ten years (mostly thanks to restaurateur Danny Meyer), and with it, so has museum drinking. The bar at MoMA's The Modern adjoins one of the most well heeled places to eat in Midtown. Follow an unmarked corridor off the museum's first floor to end up at the bar that, much like the best galleries, is awash in white with one glowing wall devoted to a photograph by German artist Thomas Demand. The close-up of brilliant green foliage lends an enchanted-forest feel to the graceful space and the whimsical cocktails.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • bar food
    • day drinking
    • good wine
    • craft cocktails
  • 2

    Frying Pan

    Walk just a few blocks west of Chelsea and the upper limits of the High Line. Keep walking, until you’ve reached the piers on the Hudson River. Keep walking. If you’re not floating in the river itself, you’ll have found yourself at the Frying Pan. Actually a collection of seafaring vessels and a 100-year-old railroad caboose collected on and around Pier 66 in Chelsea, this spot is most known for the Lightship Frying Pan, a former xx boat now in use as the city's best floating dive bar. Pick up your drinks and grab a seat on the bow, or find slightly more solid ground at a table under the pier’s canopy. A casual, ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
    • outdoor / patio
  • 3

    Gallow Green

    For those who don't want to spring for Sleep No More tickets (or who've seen the masked, interactive Macbeth reinterpretation too many times already), Gallow Green—located on the rooftop of the McKittrick Hotel—offers a relatively subdued version of the show's spooky charm. You're there to drink, not follow the tragic Scot down into madness, but you can still act like a Victorian gadabout while basking in the lush surroundings. With a repurposed train car, trellises strung with fairy lights and ivy and plenty of seclude nooks, the roof feels like an ancient train station transported to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • outdoor / patio
  • 4

    Grand Banks

    The newest drinks-on-a-boat addition to Manhattan's shores, Grand Banks harkens back to an era during which "oyster barges" circled the island. Launched by a partner in the Brooklyn dining dynasty of Marlow & Sons, Grand Banks is the best floating oyster bar you'll ever board, with a wide selection of East and West Coast varieties and a killer lobster roll. Drinks are traditional and refreshing, with spritzes and shandies making up the bulk of the short cocktail menu and rosés overrunning the wine list. And if you’d like a little history between drinks, the 60-year-old fishing schooner is also a museum.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • historic
    • outdoor / patio
    • oysters / raw bar
  • 5

    Minus5

    Ice bars originated in Scandinavia, where they make the harsh reality of winter a little more tolerable and ice-carving contests a little more practical. But in the past few years, they’ve begun popping up in Vegas and around the world, mostly in places that would never see enough ice to build a dollhouse, let alone a bar. To access the icy delights of the Minus5 bar in the Midtown Hilton on 6th Avenue, pay a cover charge, don a heavy-duty parka and gloves and channel your inner Laplander. Inside is an ice-lined gem complete with sculptures and roaming photographers to document the moment. Get your drink inside a ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • hotel bar
    • lots of vodka
  • 6

    Queen of the Night

    Imagine if Cirque du Soleil hosted your cousin's wedding—and your cousin was an extra in Eyes Wide Shut. That just scratches the surface of Queen of the Night, a dinner-and-a-show party. It's hosted in the once legendary burlesque club the Diamond Horseshoe, under the Paramount Hotel, which was only recently restored. Unsurprisingly, it comes from the minds behind The Box, the infamous “theatre of varieties” on the Lower East Side. With a “food performance director” in charge of setting the bar with the right number of bubbling beakers and choosing the birdcages in which to serve the main-course lobsters, it’s ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • dancing
    • full menu
  • 7

    Staten Island Ferry

    Two birds, one (incredibly affordable) stone: A ride on the Staten Island ferry includes a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, and offers one of the city's best cheap dates. Head straight for the commissary upon boarding the free ship, and pick up a couple of tallboys. Then grab a seat on one of the outer-deck benches or by the bow windows and get cozy for the next 25 minutes. Sure, you'll have to disembark at the Staten Island side just to turn around and go home, but it's a minor inconvenience —especially given the cost. New York's boozy commuter tradition never looked so good.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • cheap date
    • outdoor / patio
  • 8

    Terroir on the Porch

    In high summer, the High Line is one of the best places to spend an afternoon suspended above the industrial grime of lower Chelsea. Add a glass of wine hand-chosen by Paul Grieco (the foul-mouthed, big-hearted uncle of the weird wine world, and owner of the Terroir wine bars), and it's a real New York experience.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • outdoor / patio
    • good wine
    • low wine markups
    • bar food
  • 9

    The Campbell Apartment

    Like Al Capone’s hidden vault, the Campbell Apartment sounds like an urban myth. A grand, art deco-outfitted office hiding behind the walls of Grand Central Station for over 40 years? It's true. The private offices of John A Campbell, a financial tycoon of the 1920s and member of the board of the New York Central Railroad, were discovered and converted into a luxurious bar in 1999, complete with marble fireplace and massive leaded-glass windows. Drinks are of the early aughts' style of classical recreation—no esoteric amari and shrubs found here—all the better for imagining you’ve stepped back in time.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • historic
    • craft cocktails
  • 10

    Water Table

    No mere bar-on-a-boat, Water Table is a full-fledged dinner cruise on a WWII-era Navy patrol ship, departing from the edge of Greenpoint and sailing south toward Liberty Island for a (not quite) three-hour tour. Owned by a former wine director at Brooklyn’s Rye and DuMont and her wife, Water Table's meal is modeled on New England tavern fare (think lots of lobster) and the wine list is as comfortably eclectic as one might expect. Go for amazing views of the city, but don’t forget to look around inside, as well—the lovingly restored ship is full of period detailing that’s catnip for design and maritime enthusiasts alike.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • full menu
    • good wine
    • outdoors / patio
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