There’s no denying that New York City’ famous nightlife is known the world over. You have to give credit where credit is due — NYC has some of the best bars in the world! As a local, I wanted to share my personal list of the best bars in Manhattan.
Why Manhattan? Well, it tends to be the most popular borough folks visit during their first time in NYC. But don’t worry, I plan to share my favorite bars in the other boroughs soon (looking at you, Brooklyn).
Whatever the cause of celebration, because sometimes surviving 2020 feels like celebration enough, there’s an epic NYC bar for you. Below is a list of great bars in Manhattan you should make an effort to see.
Best Bars Manhattan, NYC
Dante Caffe dates back to 1915. It served as a staple for the community before slowly fading into oblivion before two Australians decided to breathe new life into the historic institution in 2015. The result was striking, Dante was named the best bar in the world in 2019 (4 years after re-opening!) and appeared on the list again in 2020.
And I dare ask, what better way to cap off a romantic day in the New York City than by getting a drink at the best bar in the world?
The menu is well curated with small fare but the drinks is where this popular NYC bar truly shines. The hardest part about this iconic experience is getting reservations because this is one of the busiest spots in the city.
After visiting Dante on several occasions, I can confirm that their drinks are some of the best (and strongest) I’ve had in the city. The dirty martini is particularly memorable but my partner is partial to the negroni.
Dante boasts two locations — Dante West Village and Caffe Dante, the two bars are located a few blocks apart. I haven’t had luck getting into Caffe Dante without a reservation, so I suggest booking in advance. Try to book Friday evening during the spring and summer because they usually have a pleasant live jazz band.
Locations: 551 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014 & 79-81 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012
Happy Hour: Both Dante locations have generous happy hour between 3pm and 5pm. Dante West Village offers martinis for $10 and Caffe Dante offers negronis for $10. The price/quality ratio can’t be beat!
When it comes to iconic bars in New York City, Bemelmans Bar usually graces the top of the list. Found in the classy Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side, this NYC bar is best known for the alluring murals that adorn the walls.
The murals were hand-painted by none other than the beloved illustrator behind the famous Madeline books, Ludwig Bemelmans (for whom the bar is named). The beautiful murals were commissioned in the 1940s and depict Central Park in all four seasons.
Peel your eyes away from the handsome walls and you’ll notice the pianist serenading patrons. Allow your eyes to wander and watch generous pours of perfectly-executed drinks make their way from one table to the next.
In a lot of ways Bemelmans Bar is exactly what a New York City bar should be. The staff are dressed to impress, the bar is dimly lit and the aged leather banquettes offer an air of sophistication and class. It’s the only place to celebrate a special occasion.
Address: 35 E 76th St, New York, NY 10021
If you’re looking to impress out of town guest then you need not look further than The Campbell, located in Grand Central Terminal. There’s a few reasons the Campbell is considered one of the best cocktail bars in New York City, but let’s start with the basics.
First, arriving to the bar is an experience itself. A grand marble staircase drops you off at what appears to be an office fit for an oligarch — which isn’t too far of a stretch from the truth. The space was previously used as John Campbell’s private office, he was a notable railroad magnate that spared no expense in making himself feel like a million bucks.
Today, regular folks like you and me get the benefit. The Campbell serves as an elegant bar with sky-high ceilings and memorable drinks, bust most notable is the classic Manhattan, which they’ve perfected throughout the years.
Address: 15 Vanderbilt Ave, New York, NY 10017
The Dead Rabbit
Named after an Irish gang that ran rampant in lower Manhattan, the Dead Rabbit was opened in 2013. The founders, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry hail from Belfast, Ireland and had a simple goal. They wanted to create one of the best upscale cocktail bars in NYC with the atmosphere of an Irish Pub. And they delivered.
The phenomenal cocktails being crafted at this New York City bar have earned it several awards, most notably #1 bar in the world in 2016. But it’s the hot toddy that steals the show for me.
Address: 30 Water St, New York, NY 10004
Ask locals about the best bars in New York City and the honest ones will mention, the dishonest ones still want to keep it a secret. The appeal at this Manhattan bar is the overall vibe, mixologists in lab coats create inspired cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t lack imagination or romance.
The menu is broken down into six distinct sections: Health & Beauty, Aphrodisiacs, Pain Killers, Euphorics, Stimulants and Stress Relievers. Cocktails are referred to as prescriptions, feeding into the whole old-school European apothecary experience.
Regardless of the drinks you choose to order at this classy cocktail bar in Manhattan, one thing is certain, you can’t be disappointed. Using organic produce and house-made ingredients, everything tastes refreshing and satisfying.
Address: 9 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013
Started by and adventurous duo, Nico de Soto and and Greg Boehm, Mace has graced the list of World’s 50 Best Bars for three years in a row. An astonishing feat, considering this popular Manhattan bar was opened in 2015, merely five years ago.
The concept of this trendy cocktail bar in Manhattan is simple: incorporate adventure and travel into every perfectly-crafted drink. The menu boasts extravagant drinks feature exotic spices from around the world. The bar’s popularity grew like wildfire as evidenced by the fact they had to relocate to a bigger space in the heart of Greenwich Village.
Getting a reservation at Mace, one of the best bars in New York City, may require nothing short of a miracle. Unless you’re willing to toast before 5pm and after midnight, make sure to make reservations well in advance.
Address: 35 W 8th St, New York, NY 10011
McSorley’s Old Ale House
Opened sometime between 1854 and 1862 (the exact year is debated), McSorley’s Old Ale House is one of the most historic bars in New York City. Indeed, it’s the oldest Irish Salon in New York City and has hosted notable patrons throughout the years. Famous names include Abraham Lincoln, Ulyssess S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, Houdini and E.E. Cummings.
The bar boasts two mottos: “We were here before you were born” and “Be Good or Be Gone.” However, before women were allowed in bars in the 1970’s, McSorely’s motto was: “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.”
Located in the East Village, everything about this iconic bar in New York City oozes with old-world charm. In fact, not a single item has been removed from the walls since 1910. You can find Houdini’s handcuffs on a bar rail and wishbones hung by young men going off to World War I.
The menu at this famous Manhattan bar is limited to two options: dark and light ale. Some things never change, and (frankly) shouldn’t.
Address: 15 E 7th St, New York, NY 10003
The Bar Room at the Beekman
Classy is an understatement for the gorgeous Manhattan cocktail bar located in the opulent Beekman Hotel. Bar Room is located in the hotel’s lobby and serves an exciting seasonally inspired menu of perfectly crafted drinks.
The cocktails boast creative names and ordering the Oaxacan Old Fashioned is non-negotiable.
The Lab at Patent Pending
The Patent Pending is a very popular NYC speakeasy, but what some folks don’t realize it that there’s now a second bar tucked behind it called The Lab. Opened in 2021 and seating only 30, the space is tiny (does “intimate” sound more romantic?) but memorable.
This newly-opened Manhattan bar is housed in the building where Nikola Tesla lived. This is the very building where he performed various experiments on radio waves. Today you can experience the world he surmised a century ago whenever you pull out your phone and connect to WiFi. This bar is located in the heart of innovation and action and simply can’t be missed.
Serving some of the most exciting cocktails in Manhattan, the Lab is all about creativity. I’m partial to the Suspicions of Espionage (Peruvian Pisco, Single Malt Scotch, wildflower, passion fruit and egg white) and the Radio Waves (Tequila, Mezcal, basil, Thai chile, lime and cucumber).
Address: 49 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
Fraunces Tavern has been in operation since 1762, effectively making this one of the oldest (but not the oldest) bars in New York City.
This iconic New York City bar holds historical significance that can’t be beat, it hosted George Washington on several occasions. Most notable when Washington came here to bid his troops an emotional farewell after the Revolutionary War victory in 1783.
Washington invited soldiers from the Continental Army to join his in the Long Room at Fraunces Tavern and a surviving account of the parting is well documented by Benjamin Tallmadge, who was present:
At 12 o’clock the officers repaired to Fraunces Tavern in Pearl Street where General Washington had appointed to meet them and to take his final leave of them. We had been assembled but a few moments when his excellency entered the room. His emotions were too strong to be concealed which seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After partaking of a slight refreshment in almost breathless silence the General filled his glass with wine and turning to the officers said, ‘With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.’
Whenever I visit this great NYC bar I’m always surprised by the lack of tourists. This seems more like a local joint, which never ceases to amaze me considering the history behind it. Make sure to visit the museum located upstairs, which history buffs are sure to appreciate. It’s home to fascinating relics and they even recreated the way the room would have looked when Washington bid farewell to his troops.
Best Manhattan Bars (Post Summary)
In summary, these are the best bars in NYC, specifically Manhattan.
- Caffe Dante
- Bemelmans Bar
- The Campbell
- The Dead Rabbit
- Fraunces Tavern
- The Lab at Patent Pending
- McSorley’s Old Ale House
- The Bar Room at the Beekman
Further Reading: 10 EPIC Pizza Joints You Can’t Afford to Miss
Map of the best bars in Manhattan
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.