After many nights wandering Manhattan and Brooklyn's streets looking for watering holes that fit the bill, and drinking a number of drinks (I kept that to a minimum—I was working after all), I wrote up the below account.
I also learned a few things. One, there are a lot of crappy bars in New York that I never want to see again. That's to be expected; there are too many bars in the city for them all to be good. Two, Men's Bars tend to be old bars, like Farrell's out in Windsor Terrace, and Holland Cocktail Lounge, the midtown dive. I was happy to visit those places; for me, the older the bar, the better. Three, Women's Bars don't seem to really exist as an important genre, unless you're talking about lesbian bars; where women are drinking, so are men, and vice versa. (UPDATE: Knowledgeable women have since contacted me to correct me on this account, insisting there are women bars.) Four, the 80s trend is not as healthy as it once was in NYC.
Still, I found plenty of great places, and those are the places I wrote up:
Spring bar guide
It’s 5pm: Booze away your boss-induced rage
Picture this: a cheery Irish pub about 100 paces from Grand Central Terminal. A surprising abundance of elbow room. A chatty crowd. It’s no surprise that this is the choice of hundreds of workers looking to down a couple before catching the 6:02. 50 E 43rd St at Vanderbilt Ave (212-986-7826, anniemooresnyc.com). Average drink: $6.
Working stiffs from all corners of the city make a 5pm beeline to one of the city’s most honored (and oldest—it goes back 127 years) brass rails. The bar is typically three deep and the talk loud and ebullient. 915 Third Ave between 55th St and 56th Sts (212-317-1616). Average drink: $6.
Theater folk work too—their day just ends later. After the curtain falls on Broadway, actors, producers, critics and press agents head to this sleek quasi-speakeasy. The talk is bitchy, the cocktails standard but elegant, and the star-gawking abundant. 324 W 46th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves (212-581-3130). Average drink: $14.
This dimly lit treasure trove of international beers and single-malt Scotches brims with humanity every single night, and—though is situated in slacker central—some of the patrons must be just coming off work. If noise and crowds and zero elbow room spell life at its best to you, this is the joint. 41 First Ave between 2nd and 3rd Sts (212-475-5097, drinkgoodstuff.com). Average drink: $7.
Picturesque, Belgian-bricked Stone Street leads weary Wall Streeters to this stylish dark-wood pub, where numerous nooks and glass dividers allow sippers to be part of the crowd, but also keep to themselves. 58 Stone St at William St (212-482-0400). Average drink: $7.
It may be a man’s world…
Holland Cocktail Lounge
This hallowed dive was nearly eighty-sixed last year, but the owner has brought it back. Though the place has been sheared of much of the detritus that once hugged the walls, the population of overwhelmingly male barflies has since restuck itself to its favorite glue strip. 532 Ninth Ave at 39th St (212-502-4609). Average drink: $4.
Farrell’s Bar and Grill
Men never stopped being men at this Windsor Terrace landmark. The collars are blue (like the language) and the drinks simple (Buds served in a 32-ounce Styrofoam cup). Shirley MacLaine was the first woman to ever be served solo here—and while that was back in the 1970s, few have followed her example. 215 Prospect Park West at 16th St, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn (718-788-8779). Average drink: $4.
With nine huge television screens tracking the night’s sporting action, more than a dozen beers on tap and an unmistakably Y-chromosome-inspired soundtrack, there’s little for NYU’s male population not to like here. The name is a 1920s term for a speakeasy, but it also might refer to what some drunks become after 2am. 233 E 14th St between Second and Third Aves (212-209-1573, blindpigbar.com). Average drink: $6.
This curious dive may have become an unlikely magnet for drunken, karaoke-loving hipsters, but it also remains the domain of sports-watching, dice-playing, beer-drinking Asian men. 104 Bayard St at Baxter St (212-732-2384). Average drink: $6.
Putting aside widescreen TVs and foosball tables, the pyrotechnic antics that go on behind the ornate bar of this neospeakeasy are catnip to the would-be-mixologist clientele. These guys like sports, sure, but may enjoy cool drinks you set on fire (like the patented homemade absinthe) even better. 9 Doyers St at Bowery (212-406-0400, apothekenyc.com). Average drink: $15.
BULL and BEAR
Middle-aged businessmen doff their blazers at this classic high-end watering hole, where tables ring an undulating mahogany bar, and the testosterone’s so abundant you can almost smell it. The Waldorf-Astoria, 301 Park Ave between 49th and 50th Sts (212-872-4900, bullandbearsteakhouse.com). Average drink: $8.
…but women really rule
We’re all for male pampering, but a free drink with every $10 manicure is a concept made for the ladies. If you’re a dude, expect to feel like a husband dragged through the lingerie department at this converted beauty parlor. With a drink in hand, that really isn’t so bad. 231 E 14th St between Second and Third Aves (212-539-1389). Average drink: $7.
Pink and pricey, with pillow-strewn, curtain-concealed seating nooks, a fireplace and dozens of bubblies by the glass to tickle the nose, Flute is as feminine as a bar can get. It’s the perfect backdrop for female friends to dress up, catch up and drop $100. 40 E 20th St at Park Ave South (212-529-7870, flutebar.com). Average drink: $14. Additional location: 205 W 54th St between Seventh Ave and Broadway.
Julie Reiner’s swank cocktail den attracts both genders, but the fairer sex—attracted by the sophisticated atmosphere, deferential service and expertly prepared drinks (try the deliciously sweet-tart New York Sour)—tends to dominate. 37 W 19th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-727-7741). Average drink: $13.
This tiny, lesbian-favored West Village bar gets praise for welcoming folks of all persuasions. Everyone can find a place under the crowded ceiling, which fairly drips with a sea of playful toys and bric-a-brac. Cheap drinks ($2 margaritas on Tuesdays!) don’t hurt either. 281 W 12th St at 4th St (212-243-9041, cubbyholebar.com). Average drink: $6.
Argue all you like but no genre of drinking establishment quite attracts women like the wine bar. The folks behind Hearth opened a romantic, stylish one with a prime location and an inventive, expansive drinks list (including free sherry before 6pm). 413 E 12th St between First and Second Aves (646-602-1300). Average drink: $11.
Everybody loves the ’80s
There’s enough retro culture here to make any ’80s-minded soul sentimental, including Hüsker Dü and the Pogues on the juke, and a vintage lunchbox collection, with tin renditions of The Fall Guy and The Empire Strikes Back. Drown your nostalgia in one, or 12, of the draft beers. 531 E 5th St between First Ave and Ave A (212-979-8476). Average drink: $5.
Suspenders Bar & Restaurant
Leather banquettes, stained glass, brass rails and mirrored walls make Suspenders a Cheers facsimile. It’s just as comforting and yes, maybe a tad depressing, with regular-folk patrons and staff to match. 111 Broadway at Thames Sts (212-732-5005, suspendersbar.com). Average drink: $7.
Classic stand-up arcade games root this hipster den securely in the Reagan era with as many machines as there are microbrews (Donkey Kong, Frogger, Punch-Out!!). It’s as if home computers never happened. 388 Union Ave at Ainslie St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-302-6464). Average drink: $5.
There are no traces left of the literary brat pack that made this brasserie its home in the 1980s, but after your third martini at the still-stylish bar, you might start to imagine Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis waiting in the bathroom with Bolivian marching powder. 145 West Broadway at Thomas St (212-233-0507, theodeonrestaurant.com). Average drink: $11.
On Fridays and Saturdays, this small, dimly lit and often crowded club immerses itself in new wave and Madonna. For better or worse, the crowd is usually a few decades younger than the artists they’re dancing to. 104 Ave C between 6th and 7th Sts (212-780-0202, alphabetnyc.com). Average drink: $8.