New York City is a drinking town. There are bars of every stripe here: dive bars, generic Irish pubs, wine bars, craft breweries, sake bars, and drinking dens that specialize in specific spirits such as mezcal, gin, or absinthe. But what about the best cocktail bars in NYC?
Indeed, New York has some of the best on the planet. You could, in fact, say we are currently living in a peak cocktail moment, as bartenders (or “mixologists,” as they’re sometimes called) are better than ever at mixing and shaking up high-quality, perfectly balanced libations in the most atmospheric settings that may inspire you to have seconds (or thirds).
Keep reading to discover our 11 top picks for the best cocktails in NYC.
Bar Goto Niban
The younger Brooklyn sibling to the Lower East Side’s Bar Goto, this Prospect Heights cocktail bar serves up excellent drinks with Japanese flair. Niban is the domain of Kenta Goto, who mixes up highballs with Japanese whisky or Japanese white rice vodka. Don’t miss out on these drinks, which masterfully blend shochu and mezcal to create new sipping sensations.
The Dead Rabbit
Often topping the list of best cocktail bars in New York and on the planet, The Dead Rabbit was started by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, two bartenders from Belfast. The multi-floor bar, located at the southern tip of Manhattan, changes its cocktail menu every season. Expect complex but potent yet delicious cocktails here.
Since way back in 1989, this NoHo cocktail bar has quietly been a favorite drinking den of cocktail aficionados. Then, at the beginning of the pandemic, it shuttered and regulars had yet another thing to fret about. Fortunately for us, Temple Bar reopened in 2022 (under new ownership) and it’s just as great as its earlier incarnation. Temple Bar is a classic for noshing on free popcorn in the impossibly dark room while nursing a classic cocktail.
You could easily walk right by Mace on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village and not realize it is one of the most innovative and best cocktail bars in New York City. Bartenders Nico de Soto and Greg Bohm opened this bar in 2015 to great fanfare. They use unorthodox ingredients to concoct harmonious drinks: everything from licorice syrup to brown butter to saffron to eggplant to corn puréee might find its way into your drink and your taste buds will thank you for it.
Death & Company
Opened in 2006, when this golden age of cocktail shaking was first in its infancy, Death & Company is a pioneer, maybe one of the first bars to break out the bespoke ice. The bar mixes up seriously precious libations in a tranquil, very dimly lit atmosphere. This East Village bar doesn’t take reservations, so come early or be prepared to wait for a while. Expect to pay around $20 for a cocktail but expect it to be worth it.
Located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Eavesdrop is a multi-sensory experience. The retro, ‘70s-ish vibes set the tone. Literally. The place was made for listening to and enjoying music. As DJs spin laid-back tunes, sip a cocktail or a glass of natural wine. If you use your imagination a bit, it might feel like you’ve been transported to some other dimension where you’re nursing a high-quality Negroni in someone’s hip, upscale rec room cerca 1977.
Insider’s Tip: Prefer to order your espresso martini behind a secret door? Check out our list on the speakeasy bars in NYC!
Before there were atomizers and fancy ice cubes, there was Employees Only. When this West Village speakeasy-ish cocktail bar opened in 2004, the place became a sensation for its well-made drinks. It’s not a surprise that the founders are Serbian, as Belgrade is one of the best cocktail bar cities on the planet. And they bring that expertise to the West Village with inventive and classic cocktails, as well as a menu of meat-y small plates to help soak up the spirits.
This bi-level, Japanese-accented cocktail bar in the West Village makes near-perfect libations in a casual setting. Order a Meguroni #2 (shochu, ginever, aged umeshu, and bitters) or a Panda Fizz (haku vodka, pear brandy, calpico, and pandan) while grazing on some miso-laced deviled eggs or a mortadella katsu sandwich and be happy you’re in Katana Kitten, one of the best cocktail bars in NYC.
Rooftop bars and restaurants with great views don’t have to be good. It’s the eye candy that does all the work, goading the visitor into loving the place. But Skylark, located way up on the 30th floor on West 39th Street, and owned by David Rabin (who runs the show at Jimmy SoHo, Lambs Club, and American Bar in the West Village) manages to offer awe-inducing views of the Manhattan skyline and killer cocktails to boot. The menu tends to change based on the season but expect potent, delicious drinks with freshly sourced ingredients.
Nothing Really Matters
The year 2022 saw a series of totally secret and quasi-hidden speakeasy-type bars unearthed in the Big Apple. Nothing Really Matters, a reference to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is one of the best of the bunch. Buried in the 50th Street subway station, this fun bar isn’t necessarily a secret: when the door opens, like a magpie, you might be attracted to the colorful backlit bar. The sophisticated space was once part of Siberia, the salt-of-the-earth drinking hole where punks and restaurant industry folks (like Anthony Bourdain) used to drink in the 1980s and ’90s.
A self-proclaimed “queer space for all,” Oddly Enough is true to its word. This bar, which first started shaking up cocktails in Spring 2022, is run by Laura Poladsky and Caitlin Frame. The bar mixes high-quality classic cocktails and the kitchen fixes up excellent Italian/French/Spanish small plates that complement the cocktails nicely.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.