New York’s Top Ten Bars

No city, save perhaps London, has a higher concentration of high-performing cocktail bars. This list could easily be twice as long and still be full of great venues, but this is the cream of the current abundant crop plus one more, writes New York Times bar correspondent Robert Simonson.

A two-level fantasy of mid-19th century drinking styles.

Amor Y Amargo

A tiny cocktail bar with a big heart. Originally intended as a pop-up showcase for amaro and bitters, it proved too popular to close, largely due to the challenging and excellent drink selection and back bar (if there’s a new amaro on the U.S. market, they’ll have it first) and the hospitality skills of barman Sother Teague.


The original space of Milk & Honey, but reborn as a more convivial and reservation-free bar. You’d be a fool not to order Penicillin from Sam Ross and a Greenpoint from Michael McIlroy, the two bartender owners and New York’s most dynamic cocktail duo.

Booker & Dax

Proof that molecular mixology needn’t be stuffy or pretentious. A lab-full of gizmos go into the creation of Dave Arnold’s hi-sci cocktail list, but, once the liquid nitrogen has dissipated, you need only pay attention to the deliciousness lurking inside your glass. The bottled Manhattan, Gin & Juice with clarified grapefruit juice, and Banana Justino stand out.

Clover Club                              

The fullest expression of cocktail queen Julie Reiner’s talent for putting out well-crafted cocktails at high volume. The grand, yet relaxed, dark-wood-and-leather hall was an early forerunner in the Brooklyn cocktail movement and remains a standard bearer. They do classics well here (Daiquiri, Sazerac). House creations like The Slope and Mr. Brown aren’t bad either.

Dead Rabbit

A two-level fantasy of mid-19th century drinking styles: beer, whiskey and grub in the more casual ground floor, ornate cocktail emporium upstairs. Don’t get too lost in the mind-bendingly complex menu. As good as the drinks can be, the service (especially by Pamela Wiznitzer and Jillian Vose) and mise-en-scène (including beautiful punch bowls and moustache cups) are the top draws here.

Death & Co.

Eight years in, this East Village drinking den is still a pacesetter. The bartenders have always ruled the roost here, and that control pays off in a high percentage of success among the myriad complex liquid offerings. The capable and affable Eryn Reece currently commands the crew, and can serve you up one of her new creations, or a D & Co classic like Brian Miller’s Conference or Thomas Waugh’s Moon Cocktail.

Little Branch

With Milk & Honey currently looking for a new home, this subterranean nook is the prime incarnation of bar guru Sasha Petraske’s groundbreaking and exacting bar philosophies. Order an in-house classic, such as the Gold Rush or Red Hook, or get a ‘bartender’s choice’ in the bar where that concept began.

Long Island Bar

A stylish cocktail local in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, housed in a perfectly preserved art deco 1940s-era diner. On the right night, you may be served by master bartenders Phil Ward or Toby Cecchini (one of the owners), who keep the list short, simple and solid. Order a Boulevardier (which Cecchini helped to re-popularize) or the peerless house Gimlet.

Nomad Bar

The swankiest hotel bar in New York, with the cocktails to back it up. Leo Robitschek is in charge of the ambitious drinks program, which adheres closely to classic templates, but with smart twists. It’s hard to go wrong, but the Averna-laced Sippy Cup and vermouth-heavy, swizzle-like Joe Danger stand out. If you can score entry into the now ‘for hotel guests only’ Library Bar, so much the better.

Pegu Club

The bar that gave birth to many of the other bars on this list. Now nearly a decade old and largely unchanged, don’t let it’s age fool you. Audrey Saunders’ creations (the Gin-Gin Mule, Old Cuban and Earl Grey Mar-TEA-ni among them) are prepared as precisely as they ever were. Recently, ace bartender Giuseppe Gonzalez has been behind the stick.


The speakeasiest speakeasy of them all, and one of the most famous bar names in the world, Jim Meehan’s through-the-telephone-booth sanctum sanctorum remains a must-visit. The drinks, service (by head barman Jeff Bell, if you’re lucky) and taxidermy-heavy décor continue to charm. And the bacon-laced Benton’s Old-Fashioned is one of the city’s classic tipples.