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Whiling Away the Happy Hours -- Many of the city’s best bars suddenly become more affordable from 4 to 8pm or thereabouts, when it’s definitely a happy hour if you can snag one of those signature cocktails ($20 martinis, anyone?) at half price or two-for-one; or maybe there’s some free bar food, or another value-saving offer. Happy hour is a great time to stop by those pricey places you’ve heard so much about.

Drinking with Ghosts

The ghosts are everywhere in New York. You might find them in the silent halls of some of the city’s greatest structures. Or maybe wandering through narrow downtown streets. But the best place to find the ghosts is in a few of the city’s more aged drinking establishments. Three of the oldest bars in town are a good place to start when seeking out the ghosts.

Pete’s Tavern, 129 E. 18th St., at Irving Place (tel. 212/473-7676; www.petestavern.com), claims to be the city’s oldest continuing operating establishment. Warm up at Pete’s on a cold winter night and after a few frothy pints, you might see writer O. Henry, a regular at Pete’s over a century ago, sitting alone and unkempt in a booth, sipping his beer in between paragraphs of his famous 1906-written Christmas tale Gift of the Magi.

Across town in the West Village there’s the White Horse Tavern, 567 Hudson St., at 11th Street (tel. 212/243-9260). At this 1880s pub, through the maze of frat boys chugging domestics, you might see a desolate figure, head on table snoring, empty shot glasses in front of him. Could that be the ghost of Dylan Thomas, author of A Child’s Christmas in Wales and White Horse regular who took his last sip at the legendary tavern in 1953? Or maybe it’s just another tipsy yuppie.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 E. 7th St., between Second and Third avenues (tel. 212/474-9148), is over 140 years old and—and while Pete’s is the oldest tavern in New York, McSorley’s claims to be the oldest “saloon.” If there is indeed a difference, it probably doesn’t matter to a ghost. Here, if you can avoid the busloads of fraternity Greeks (not from Greece) who come to pay respects to their shrine, and visit on, say, a quiet weekday afternoon, you might think you see a tall, well-dressed man sitting at the bar taking notes, nursing an 8-ounce mug of ale. Could that be the ghost of New Yorker magazine writer Joseph Mitchell, author of Joe Gould’s Secret? And are those notes for his 1943 book, McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon? Well go up and ask him—before he disappears.

Meanwhile over in SoHo (or technically in the neighborhood newly labeled “Hudson Square”), you may hear creaks or cracks beyond the worn floorboards at the 19th-century Ear Inn. It could be Mickey the sailor, a one-time regular rumored to goose female patrons, light the fireplace, and drain cellphone batteries. 

The New York Dive Experience

Not all of New York nightlife means bars and clubs with expensive cocktails, cover charges, and velvet ropes. There are places that you should be rewarded for braving—old, dark places where the top shelf is low and the characters colorful. Below are some dive bars that are just as New York as their trendy counterparts, but also check out the cheapo Holiday Cocktail Lounge at 75 St. Marks Place, near First Avenue (tel. 212/777-9637) - complete with duct tape on the back booths. If a $9 pitcher and occasional bartender buyback suits you, try the Patriot Saloon near City Hall, at 110 Chambers St. (tel. 212/748-1162).

Jimmy’s Corner -- 140 W. 44th St., between Broadway and Sixth Avenue (tel. 212/221-9510). Owned by a former boxing trainer, Jimmy’s is a tough-guy joint that’s been around for decades and survived the Disneyfication of Times Square. Pictures of boxers line the walls, and the jukebox plays lots of R&B and ‘70’s disco. Beer is cheap and drinks aren’t fancy. So maybe you should skip the area’s theme bars and restaurants and go for an after-theater shot at Jimmy’s instead.

Rudy’s Bar & Grill -- 627 Ninth Ave., between 44th and 45th streets (tel. 212/974-9169). This Hell’s Kitchen bastion is no secret; the standing pig out front beckons the masses to suck down cheap beer, including the house brand, Rudy’s Red, a weak brew served in pitchers or a huge plastic cup for 3 bucks. Arrive before 5 or 6pm, grab a seat at a duct-taped booth, and keep your eyes open for the bartender doling out free hot dogs. In the summer Rudy’s opens its cement back garden for drinks ‘n' smokes.

Subway Inn -- 143 E. 60th St., at Lexington Avenue (tel. 212/223-8929). An all-time classic dive, the Subway has been around for over 60 years, and some of the regulars have been on their stools the entire time. The red neon sign marks the spot where inside, no matter what time of day, it’s midnight dark. The booths are wobbly and the dusty models of Godzilla and E.T. continue to decorate the shelves behind the bar. You might find workers from the neighborhood’s upscale stores and office towers slumming at the Subway, but this joint remains the pinnacle of divedom.

Tap a Keg -- 2731 Broadway, between 103rd and 104th streets (tel. 212/749-1734). This dog-friendly establishment owns the king of the dive-bar mottos: “Beer is much more than just a breakfast drink.” Come here for the 7-hour happy hour; stay for the cheap pool table, dart board, video games, and three TVs.

Checking into Hotel Bars

A hotel bar should provide comfort and hospitality to the out-of-town visitor. And in New York, it’s also likely to be a destination unto itself for locals, too. There are many fine ones whose throngs of moneyed patrons jockey for limited seats, like the Lobby Bar at the Bowery Hotel (tel. 212/505-9100) and Bar Pleiades at the Upper East Side’s Surrey Hotel (tel. 212/772-2600), but here are the most noteworthy:

Ace Hotel Lobby Bar -- In the Ace Hotel, 20 W. 29th St., at Broadway (tel. 212/679-2222; www.acehotel.com). The Ace is easily the hippest of its kind since it opened in 2009 in the former Hotel Breslin space. Get here before evening time if you want a shot at a seat; otherwise expect to sip your delightful $11 Breslin bloody mary while mingling amongst the well-dressed patrons in this gorgeous nouveau-classic setting. The sudsy, proprietary Breslin Aberdeen, a hand-pumped, cask-conditioned, Scotch-style ale, is not to be missed.

Bemelmans Bar -- In the Carlyle Hotel, 35 E. 76th St., at Madison Avenue (tel. 212/744-1600; www.thecarlyle.com). A New York classic, here is everything you want in a hotel bar: white-coated service; lush seating with many dark romantic corners to sink into; a nice mix of locals and guests; and incredible cocktails, such as the Old Cuban, a mojito topped with champagne. The bar is named after children’s book illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans, who created the Madeline books after he painted the whimsical mural here.

The Standard -- In the Standard Hotel, 848 Washington St., at 13th Street (tel. 212/645-4646; www.standardhotels.com). Planted around the High Line elevated park, take your pick of the Top of the Standard, Le Bain, Living Room, or street-level Biergarten, and take in the views of the city and the beautiful people at this Meatpacking fashion hotspot. The place gets exclusive after about 9pm, so arrive on the early side to settle in and enjoy one of the zingy cocktails.

King Cole Bar -- In the St. Regis, 2 E. 55th St., at Fifth Avenue (tel. 212/753-4500; www.kingcolebar.com). The birthplace of the bloody mary, this theatrical spot may just be New York’s most historic hotel bar. The Maxfield Parrish mural alone is worth the price of a classic cocktail (ask the bartender to tell you about the “hidden” meaning of the painting). The one drawback is the bar’s small size; after-work hours and holiday times, it’s usually jammed.

Oak Room at the Algonquin -- In the Algonquin Hotel, 59 W. 44th St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues (tel. 212/840-6800; www.algonquinhotel.com). The splendid oak-paneled lobby of this venerable literati-favored hotel was made to linger over pre- or post-theater cocktails. You’ll feel the spirit of Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table that pervades the room. Try the Matilda, a light, refreshing blend of orange juice, Absolut Mandarin, triple sec, and champagne, named after the Algonquin’s legendary feline in residence.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.