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A Guide to the Best Cocktail Lounges in New York City



Most New York apartments are barely big enough to house a queen-sized bed, much less entertain a crowd of people. For this reason (and many more), New Yorkers have perfected the art of the cocktail lounge. Dark, sexy and mysterious, a good cocktail bar often hits a few marks: high-quality ingredients, bartenders who care, and possibly a hidden location known only to the most adventurous imbibers. 

From places like Dead Rabbit, a two-story speakeasy in the Financial District with over 72 cocktails on the menu, to Pouring Ribbons, a joint with a dedication to chartreuse and a laid-back atmosphere, the city's best cocktail lounges don't disappoint.

If you're looking more for lounge-y ambiance than a perfectly crafted beverage, you'd do well to check out Rockwood Music Hall. A cozy space that packs a big crowd, the music changes hourly, so you can settle in for an evening of live entertainment to match your drink(s) of choice. 

Though it can be difficult to know what you're looking for when you're in a new city, this list will point you in the right direction, down a few staircases and back into a few dark alleyways to uncover the best cocktail lounges in the Big Apple. 


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9
West Village
Little Branch


On first glance, Little Branch doesn't look like much at all. This teeny, narrow space lives behind a discreet door in the Village – often the only clue that you've found the right place are the people queuing up outside. Upon further inspection, however, you'll begin to notice the nuances: a well-worn piano stands guard in the corner and the social decencies of the past are stringently enforced. No nonsense or talking loudly permitted. If you're permitted entry, you'll likely find a jazz trio manning the corner, and a smattering of suspender-wearing bartenders pouring up old classics. Order a Manhattan, or even better, scotch neat.

Recommended for Lounges because: It's a hidden bar with a sexy, sultry vibe that's perfect for date night.

Andrea's expert tip: Slip the bouncer a $20 at the door for easy access.

Read more about Little Branch →


8
Lower East Side


If your definition of a fantastic lounge includes good tunes alongside your cocktails, you've just found your new favorite bar. Rockwood Music Hall is a cozy space where artists rotate hourly. This means if you don't like a performer, they'll be off the stage before you even finish your cocktail. Speaking of cocktails, don't come here for the best ones on the list, but the entertainment sure makes up for it. Prices are reasonable and there's rarely a cover. Instead, they'll pass the hat for tips at the end of a set. If you're able, check the website before you go to listen to the evening's acts.

Recommended for Lounges because: It's a great place to relax with a few drinks and listen to fun music.

Andrea's expert tip: Try to snag a seat in the balcony section for the best views.

Read more about Rockwood Music Hall →


Brandy Library


Upscale, decadent and set in the heart of TriBeCa's legendary restaurant and entertainment scene, the Brandy Library is a great place to catch your breath (and look good doing it!) at the close of the day. Booze, not books, line the floor-to-ceiling shelves behind the candle-lit bar, and the skilled waitstaff has a veritable cornucopia of top-flight bottles on hand, from aged single malt scotches to a 1945 Darroze armagnac. If a bite or two is in order, their menu doesn't disappoint thanks to high-brow offerings like tuna tartare, croque-monsieur and Valhrona chocolate cake. Food is served until the small hours, so yes, you can have fresh eclairs at 2am.

Recommended for Lounges because: There are few - if any - places better to do a proper scotch tasting.

Lucy's expert tip: Unless with a parent, you won't gain entry unless you're over 25.

Read more about Brandy Library →


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6
Chinatown


Finding this Chinatown speakeasy is your first task. Apotheke is located down a dark, quiet alley - at first, you may think the cab has dropped you in the wrong spot. Once inside, you'll find bartenders donned in white lab coats dolling out "prescriptions" in the form of spirits. Antique bottles collected from around the world and a vintage vibe will take you back to the old days of the apothecary and leave you wondering why all pharmacists don't offer absinthe. A farm on the rooftop and weekly visits to the local greenmarkets ensure only quality, organic ingredients are making it into your cocktails.

Recommended for Lounges because: Hidden speakeasies are always fun finds to stumble across - you feel like you're in on the secret.

Andrea's expert tip: Go Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays for live jazz.

Read more about Apotheke →


5
Flatiron District
The Library Bar
Photo courtesy of Benoit Linero


The NoMad Hotel's Library Bar is anything but bookish. Jacques Garcia, of Paris' L'Hotel fame, designed the interiors of this smart cocktail den and the adjoining NoMad restaurant. Walk through the dining room (it's a little awkward, yes, but the staff will guide you along) to reach the bar in the back. Though the leather-bound cocktail list and glamorous dark wood tables present a strong argument towards the formal, the atmosphere at The Library Bar is surprisingly relaxed and welcoming. Skilled bartenders are happy to make recommendations, and pour a variety of classics and house creations by Jessica Gonzalez, most recently of the East Village's seminal Death & Co. cocktail bar.

Recommended for Lounges because: It elevates the concept of a hotel bar, giving the best cocktail lounge a run for its money.

Andrea's expert tip: Take this opportunity to order from the NoMad's stellar menu.

Read more about The Library Bar →


4
East Village


At Pouring Ribbons, cocktails are rated on two sliding scales: one teeters between refreshing and spirituous, the other comforting and adventurous. Drinks like the Chain of Command with gin, lemon, Earl Grey tea, dry curacao and amaretto fall on the refreshing, comforting side, while head turners like the Wings of Desire - a genmaicha-infused rum, bianco vermouth, cinnamon, peach bitters concoction - land on the other end of the spectrum. Like all places on this list, you'd be best served to show up early, or you may end up bargaining with the doorman to let you pass. Once inside, the pretension turns way down - expect a laid-back vibe and attentive service.

Recommended for Lounges because: Once inside, it's a laid-back vibe with some of the best cocktails in town.

Andrea's expert tip: Go early, or be prepared to wait on line.

Read more about Pouring Ribbons →


3
Hell's Kitchen
Ink48 Hotel
Photo courtesy of Kris Tamburello


The Press Lounge at Ink48 Hotel is perched atop the city, rewarding patrons with unobstructed views of Manhattan and the Hudson River. It's won accolades the city over, including from The NY Times' Frank Bruni who wrote it was "without question, one of the city's most attractive bars." Stunning views aside, the bar's impressive cocktails make it a favorite among in-the-know New Yorkers looking to impress clients or dates. It's equally suited for both occasions, but if you're looking for the former, regulars say The Press Lounge could be your lucky ticket. Keep in mind that luxury like this comes at a price - you'll find drinks are poured for a premium, but they're worthy of the up-charge.

Recommended for Lounges because: It's easily offers one of the most stunning views to sip your fancy cocktails.

Andrea's expert tip: Don't shy away if it's chilly - you'll find heat lamps on cooler days and nights.

Read more about Ink48 Hotel →


2
East Village


The Wren is where you envision yourself drinking when you finally "grow up." Reminiscent of a country cottage, the Wren turns out drinks that are delicious, inventive, and yes, pricy. Unless you're a finance "mogul" or PR "maven," this certainly isn't somewhere your wallet can comfortably afford 5 nights a week, but it's more than worth the occasional bi-weekly visit. When deciding what to order, don't miss the Wren-quila, a margarita spiced up with house-made habanero-infused tequila, or a keep it simple with a classic like the old-fashioned. The Wren also dishes out really delectable seasonally sourced food from their kitchen, and bonus: the basement is available to rent out for private parties.

Recommended for Lounges because: It's a highly sought after spot to get sufficiently sauced.

Andrea's expert tip: Brunch is delicious, but get here early to skip the crowds.

Read more about The Wren →


1
Financial District


Regulars have their preference on whether they'd like to sit upstairs or down, but it really comes down to what you're drinking. The Taproom (downstairs) is more informal, with a long list of whiskeys from around the world. The Parlor (upstairs) is a nod to the 19th century, with bartenders on hand to mix one of 72 cocktails from the menu. Dead Rabbit has won more cocktail awards than we can count, including one from Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards for World's Best Bar in 2015. Like all places worth going, you'll battle the crowds during prime hours, but it'll all be worth it once you take your first sip.

Recommended for Lounges because: It's continually awarded best cocktail bar and list by numerous in-the-know publications and societies.

Andrea's expert tip: If you're into whipping up cocktails at home, consider buying the Dead Rabbit book.

Read more about Dead Rabbit →


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Meet Andrea Wien

Andrea Wien was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.

When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll...  More About Andrea

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