Maybe you're an out-of-towner in New York for a week; maybe you're a Brooklyn-dweller making a rare Rockefeller Center trip to see that glorious tree. Maybe you live in the West Village, but your family's dying to walk Fifth Avenue. As the holidays approach, Manhattan's major attractions draw bigger crowds than ever. And what does everyone need after a long day of sightseeing or holiday shopping? A drink.
When you're wandering through an unfamiliar city (or even an unfamiliar neighborhood), it can be hard to know the best spots for a restorative cocktail or glass of wine. Thus, as an early holiday gift to you: our lineup of the best drinking destinations near major tourist attractions.
Central Park South, and Rockefeller Center: Betony, Center Bar, Rouge Tomate
There are half a dozen reasons Betony is one of my favorite new restaurants of the year, but one is their superb drink list, from Eamon Rockey, whose sense of invention is cutting-edge yet results in cocktails (all $14) that come off focused and terribly drinkable. The bar opens at 5 p.m.; if you're looking for a drink beforehand, you might be better off at...
... Center Bar, on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center. While their cocktails might tend toward the pricey side, the view —straight out onto Columbus Circle and Central Park—the live pianist, and the general sophistication of the place all help ease the sticker shock. (Visitors who don't mind dropping $20 for an exceedingly pleasant Midtown refuge, view included? This spot's for them.) Thursday through Sunday, the bar is open from noon through to the evening, and opens at 4pm Monday-Wednesday.
While the Champagne cocktails, like the judiciously floral Tea Rose Champagne Special ($22) feel properly festive, more gently priced classics like a Hemingway Daiquiri ($14) are equally well-executed.
If you're closer to Fifth Avenue, the Plaza, or that giant FAO Schwartz, consider Rouge Tomate. The wine list is curated by the lovely Pascaline Lepeltier—put yourself in her hands and you might taste a Chenin Blanc from her native Loire Valley, though she'll urge you to explore producers in New York as well. Feeling red? Grab a glass of gamay from Herve Souhaut in the Rhone Valley. There's wonderful cider from Eric Bordelet and some local producers, and thoughtful non-alcoholic options as well ($5-8), which make use of their fresh juice bar.
Betony: 41 W. 57th Street, New York, NY 10019 (map); 212-465-2400; betonynyc.com; Center Bar, Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10019 (map); 212-823-9482; centerbarnyc.com; Rouge Tomate, 10 E. 60th Street, New York NY 10022 (map); 646-237-8977; rougetomatenyc.com
Near the Empire State and Penn Station: NoMad and The Breslin
Are you tired of us talking about how much we love the cocktails at NoMad? Well, we're not tired of drinking them. With such an extensive list (and, between the main bar and the library, such beautiful places to linger), it's always worth a revisit. What's more, Leo Robitschek's range of cocktails—from classic to innovative, booze-forward to aperitifs to booze-free—can appeal to anyone in your party, from the beverage connoisseur to the novice drinker. (All cocktails $15, nonalcoholic $8.) When you're near Penn Station or walking out of the Empire State and there's nothing in sight but chain restaurants and Irish pubs, well, you'll be happy you know that NoMad's there.
The Ace Hotel is the other bright spot in this otherwise sad stretch of the 20s, and you'll find excellent cocktails (all $13) at the Breslin, too—like the Blood Red Sky pictured above, a take on the Blood & Sand, with Szechuan peppercorn-infused Pig's Nose Scotch, orange juice, Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth, and Cherry Heering.
Museum Mile: Bar Pleiades
I distinctly remember my first winter in New York, when my family came for Thanksgiving; after a long afternoon at the Met, we wandered the Upper East Side looking for somewhere, anywhere, to get off our feet. In that moment, I would've been overjoyed to find Bar Pleiades—part of Daniel Boulud's restaurant-bar empire, located in the Surrey Hotel.
While the cocktails are admittedly pricey ($16+), they're beautifully crafted, served in an elegant hotel bar, and accompanied by gratis bar snacks; and given that this is a neighborhood of $7 cappuccinos, the cost becomes a bit more understandable. (If you'd prefer a longer walk and cheaper drink, find your way to the pubby Earl's Beer & Cheese or the slightly more refined ABV, both near East 97th.)
Financial District: The Dead Rabbit
The Financial District has never been known as an eating or drinking destination, but whether you're walking through Wall Street, visiting the Ground Zero memorial, or finding your way to the Brooklyn Bridge, there are plenty of reasons to end up all the way downtown. If that's the case, head to The Dead Rabbit, a stylized Irish-American-slash-Old New York multi-level bar with an epically long cocktail list, all derived from 19th century recipes and drinking mores. Looking for flips or cobblers, punches and slings? They're all here. (Most cocktails $13-14.)
High Line and Chelsea Market: The Tippler
Food-minded visitors will often find themselves at Chelsea Market, and visitors and New Yorkers alike all come together on the High Line. Either way, The Tippler is a good choice for a cocktail. This cavernous underground bar turns out sophisticated cocktails like the vicious but drinkable Crippler pictured above ($13)—with initial gentle butterscotch-vanilla rum notes (J.M Overproof Rhum and the Austrian rum-tea liqueur Stroh Jägertee) before the bite of WhistlePig rye and Vida mezcal come in—while also serving "Lushies" ($12), blended frozen cocktails, for something a bit more lighthearted.
Union Square Christmas Market: Corkbuzz
Corkbuzz is as civilized as Union Square and the Union Square Christmas Market are frenzied, a softly lit bar and restaurant considered one of the best wine-drinking destinations in the city. After 10 p.m. every night of the week, and during Sunday brunch, all bottles of Champagne are 50% off for their "Champagne Campaign"—a pretty unbeatable discount. If you'd prefer red, consider the Domaine Faury Syrah ($13/glass) or Olivier Cousin "Pur Breton" Cabernet Franc ($14) on their current list. Corkbuzz also does a beautiful job pairing fortified wines and desserts. (Cocktails, beer, and a short list of spirits are available, too.)
Times Square: Lantern's Keep
Lantern's Keep could be considered the anti-Times Square: a sophisticated cocktail bar hidden away just behind the desk at the Iroquois Hotel lobby, its intimacy a welcome antidote to the neighborhood's madness. Ask the skilled barkeeps to shake up something to your liking—bartender's choice is a great way to order, here—or dip into the list (all drinks $15). On a recent visit, we loved the Clean Shave, with gin and aquavit as a backbone, shaken with lemon, a layer of Campari at the base and cayenne pepper on top; and, under their 'Nightcaps' section, a creamy Grasshopper alive with fresh mint.
Theater District: Rum House
Also close to Times Square, and square in the middle of the Theater District: The Rum House, from the same folks as Ward III downtown. It's a swanky place for a cocktail, with live music many nights, but my favorite activity here is people-watching; the mix of tourists, off-duty Broadway folk, cocktail hounds, and Midtown suits is a sight to see. The classics are all made well here—choose your bourbon or rye for an Old Fashioned or Manhattan—as are the house cocktails, like the Negroni Leoni, with Santa Teresa 1796 Solera rum and Ilegal mezcal as the base spirits. (All cocktails $14-16.)
Lincoln Center: Lincoln
While Jonathan Benno's Lincoln is quite a formal place for a meal, their bar is a bit more laid-back, easier to sneak into without a reservation, and has one of our favorite cocktail features out there: a Negroni Bar (cocktails $15). Mix and match gins, amari (Campari, Cynar, Aperol, along with less well-known bitter options), and vermouths (as well as Lillet and Cocchi Americano). Straight up, on the rocks, or with a Prosecco float—the choice is yours.
Little Italy: Randolph Beer Bar and Mulberry Project
Little Italy gets its fair share of tourists, but please, do us a favor—don't get a glass of wine at one of those 50 identical Italian restaurants on Mulberry Street. Opt instead for Randolph Beer, a spacious, rustically comfortable room with 36 beers on tap and many more by the bottle. That's your best bet for a casual drink; if you're looking for cocktails and a bit of a scene, consider the Mulberry Project, down a rather unlikely-looking staircase right on Mulberry Street—bespoke cocktails are the name of the game here, the bartenders shaking up just about anything you choose.
Randolph Beer Bar: 343 Broome Street, New York NY 10013 (map), 212-334-3706, randolphnyc.com; Mulberry Project: 149 Mulberry Street, New York NY 10013 (map), 646-448-4536, projectgroupnyc.com/mulberry-project
Washington Square Park: Otto
We often talk about eating at Otto, but it's a great place to drink, too. An impressive marble bar and a whole room of standing tables mean there's usually room to post up; their hours, from 11:30 a.m. straight through to the evening, allow you to stroll in for a drink and a snack any time. And their extensive list of wines by the quartino (1/3 bottle) gives you something for almost every palate. Try one of their cocktails, if that's more to your liking, such as the Bitter Wifey ($12) pictured above, with bourbon, Mandarine Napoleon, and orange. And their menu of charcuterie, cheeses, and small vegetable dishes is ideal for snacking as you go.