The Big Apple is the most fruitful of cocktail havens, and Manhattan’s East and West Villages offer a plethora of outstanding alcoholic experiences for those seeking artisan cocktails mixed by skillful bartenders in trendy NYC venues. We present our list of thriving cocktail bars in two of New York City’s most beloved neighborhoods.
Please Don’t Tell is a great way to introduce out-of-towners to the quirks of the East Village. While the secret is out among local New Yorkers, newcomers are sure to enjoy the novelty of a cocktail bar hidden inside a phone booth inside a hot dog joint. For access to Please Don’t Tell, visitors must enter Crif Dogs to the 1940s phone booth in the corner, then talk to the hostess on the other end of the phone. Whilst waiting, try one of Crif Dogs’ infamous hot dogs. Please Don’t Tell is fun and whimsical; the interior is dimly lit and decorated with avant-garde taxidermy pieces sporting sunglasses and statement jewelry. Try the Benton’s Old Fashioned; a bacon-infused bourbon with maple syrup and angostura bitters.
Employees Only is a wonderful spot for a sophisticated dinner and a cocktail. A seat in this bar is coveted, so a reservation is necessary for every day of the week. For something to eat, try the bone marrow poppers. Pair your meal with a bold cocktail of cognac, chai-infused sweet vermouth, pomegranate juice, and fresh lemon juice.
Those who are seeking a fun, no-frills night of drinking should try The Wayland. This establishment is located between two public gardens, inspired by a vision of an open fields escape from the city’s hustle. The bar is tasteful but unpretentious with a dive-chic atmosphere, and the drinks are exceptional. Popular cocktails on the menu include the Garden Variety Margarita, comprised of blanco tequila, ginger and kale juice, lime, agave nectar, and smoked sea salt. Food is served at the bar all night and a live band is usually jamming out bluegrass or folk vibes. Order a tasty plate of fresh cheese, local oysters, or a pulled chicken sandwich.
Orient Express in the West Village aims to transport guests to the luxurious era of the Orient Express train. This opulent cocktail lounge focuses on everything locomotive; sit in a faux train booth decorated with vintage luggage and lighting while sipping a concoction inspired by the days of yore. The food menu is inspired by classics derived from the Orient Express’s past destinations, such as Istanbul. Try a Death on the Orient Express; an absinthe-based drink accompanied by Becherovka and Prosecco; or the Hercules III, comprised of black walnut-infused Old Overholt Rye, Antica Formula, and Ardberg Scotch foam.
Highlands is an alternative to the speakeasy environment that can become tired for New York bar hoppers. This is a modern gastropub, where whiskey enthusiasts come to enjoy the best of Scotland’s drinking program in New York. Highlands serves twisted whiskey classics such as the ‘Nova Scotia’, concocted from angostura, Red Jacket, maple, lemon, and soda. An authentic beer selection is also on offer, with Scottish and European beers and ciders. Although Highlands is acclaimed for it’s drink menu, the food (which includes brunch) is also notable, comprised of hearty Scottish soul food.
Death & Co contributes to the East Village’s elegant nightlife scene. The curious name is an ode to the former days of prohibition, or the ‘death’ of the American bartender and cocktail. The menu is decorated with black ink drawings of objects such as a ship, a king’s crown, a smoking handgun, and a tumbling glass of wine. Gin, rum, whiskey, agave, and brandy are the preferred drinks here. Try the incredible Trampoline, comprised of Beefeater Gin, Lillet Blanc, pineapple juice, strawberry basil syrup, lemon juice, Pernod Absinthe, and house Peychaud’s bitters.
The East Village’s Mayahuel creates next-level cocktails combining agave, Tequila and Mezcal. Mayahuel uses authentic Mexican ingredients, but don’t come here expecting your typical margarita. Cerveza(beer) cocktails are available alongside an extensive beer list. The interior is designed to mimic the interior of a Mexican monastery, with geometric stained glass windows and red ambient lighting. There is room for guests to enjoy the nearly par food menu of Mayahuel with their outstanding drinks.
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, Asian, American, $$$
Baked goods, Asian-American food and a range of drinks are all on the menu at the Momofuku Ssam triad of venues. Booker and Dax is a small cocktail bar inside a noodle bar attached to a milk bar, where you can indulge in some post-dinner desserts. Here, the art of mixology is taken very seriously and employs the use of bunsen burners and liquid nitrogen. If a spot at the bar is possible, the experience here becomes an epic scientific experiment-turned-performance. If you’re in the market for some food, the steamed pork buns are highly recommended. A cookie is the only sweet item offered directly to the Booker and Dax bar, however, the full sweet menu is available only steps away in the milk bar.
Angel’s Share is another literally hidden gem, located inside another business though set apart for its inviting and comparatively quiet atmosphere. This bar is atmospheric with a striking mural on the wall, and the space is perfect for conversation or cocktail-fueled contemplation. The drinks are aesthetically pleasing and those that come recommended are Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Serenity. There is a full Japaneserestaurant just downstairs for guests to enjoy either before or after their drinks.
Little Branch is a classic and beloved speakeasy in the West Village. Newcomers will have a hard time spotting it, as it’s located underground and the signage is minimal. The space is a small and cozy den where visitors can enjoy the low-key, low-lit environment in the early evening, or enjoy a lively night out as the crowd becomes more animated later in the evening. The mixologists are friendly and well-versed, crafting drinks from an innovative menu. Ask the bartender to create something just for you, based upon your personal tastes.