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Forget trying to drink at all of New York City’s best bars. Trying to find the best bar in just one Manhattan neighborhood — the East Village — can be overwhelming enough. Indeed, whether you’re a cocktail aficionado or a dive bar loyalist, this small neighborhood has a bar for you.
For a Casual Bar With an Elevated Cocktail Menu: Suffolk ArmsWalk into Suffolk Arms, and you may feel like you’re in an English pub. But, worry not, there is more here than just draft beers. Pass by the pencil-sketched framed portraits that cover the walls and take a seat at the bar. The carefully curated cocktail menu is divided into four sections: Originals, Paradigm Drinks, New Classics and, lastly, Intractable and Unapologetic, a section devoted solely to vodka cocktails.
This is a great spot for a group of friends who usually get together to watch the game — but don’t want to watch the game for this occasion. There are no televisions, but the bar keeps it casual with pop and hip-hop music streaming from the speakers.
Drink Recommendation: From the New Classics part of the menu, the Gershwin shines. The cocktail features gin, lemon, ginger, sugar and rose water — a balance that will please those looking for something mellow yet refreshing with spice and aroma.
For a Speakeasy That Will Impress: Pouring Ribbons If you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten path, try Pouring Ribbons — though you’ll really need to look for it. Next to the steel gates of the likely closed liquor store on Avenue B, you’ll see a dimly lit side door that is unlocked. Open and climb the stairs until you reach a room that resembles an old cigar parlor, featuring deeply stained woodwork and Gatsby-esque chandeliers that dimly light the space. The staffers here are dressed in the speakeasy style popular in New York these days: a callback to the 1920s, but with a modern flair.
The first page of the menu displays a grid of flavor profiles, ranging from comforting to adventurous and spirituous to refreshing. And on the grid, numbers are scattered about, each one coordinating to a cocktail. Though untraditional, the grid is a great system for choosing a drink, even if you don’t know a single ingredient.
Drink Recommendation: Try the Pickwick Daiquiri, featuring Mt. Gay Black Barrel rum, Rhum Barbancourt eight-year rum, lime, pineapple and cinnamon, topped with shaved nutmeg. A delicious variation of a daiquiri, it packs a punch with the two types of rum.
For a Lively Atmosphere With Cocktails to Match: The Wayland The first thing you’ll notice while approaching this East Village establishment is the music pulsing out the windows. The Wayland features live music that ranges from jazz and rock to bluegrass. And you won’t find suspenders or ties here: Bartenders sport plaid shirts and knitted caps that match the rustic, casual vibe. Don’t let the attire fool you, though — they know what they’re doing.
The rustic yet slightly rowdy ambiance — with old wooden cabinets as the back bar and mason jars holding garnishes — is perfect for a date where you don’t want to compromise on quality, but don’t want a high pressure environment, either.
Visit often, as the small menu of cocktails rotates seasonally.
Drink Recommendation: Try the One-Up, a cocktail featuring scotch, Benedictine and mushroom-infused sweet vermouth. It’s a balanced variation of a Rob Roy cocktail, with just a hint of mushroom funk to make it memorable.
For the Dive Bar Loyalist: Holiday Cocktail Lounge I get it — you hate cocktail bars; you wouldn’t be caught dead using the word “mixology;” and nothing is better than a beer and a shot to close out the night.
Head over to St. Marks, descend a couple steps and enter Holiday Cocktail Lounge. Year-round Christmas lights light the dark bar, while wall sconces and wood paneling lovingly recall a 1970s-style basement. Plus, there’s nothing ironic in the way the bartenders are dressed: T-shirts and beanies are worn because they’re comfortable.
But if you can resist the urge to order a Tecate and tequila, open up the cocktail menu, and look at the elaborate list of favorite classics as well as house originals.
Drink Recommendation: Enjoy a Say It Ain’t So, a spicy margarita variation of tequila, chili liqueur, cucumber, lime and smoked salt.
And let’s face it: You’ll still have room for that shot.