After the shops close and the packed streets empty out, there is still rich nightlife to be found in Chinatown. From karaoke lounges to upscale cocktails and dive bars, the neighborhood has something for locals and visitors alike. We take a closer look at 10 of the best bars in this historic New York City neighborhood.
On the tiniest street in Chinatown, there hangs a small black sign with a green Erlenmeyer flask. Go through the door below to enter a posh Victorian living room, complete with velvet upholstery, candles, and loud, stylish music. Apotheke’s bartenders are dressed in lab coats. They serve elixirs of alcohol mixed with fresh produce like the Sleepy Hollow which has butternut squash and apple, or the Stolen from Eden cocktail which features fresh herbs like dill and basil. It gets packed on the weekends so plan ahead. No reservation means you might not get in. And trust us — you want to get in.
You will be sure to meet some interesting people inside Whiskey Tavern. Featuring decent bar food alongside a fully stocked bar, there is also a small garden out back where you can play flip cup or challenge a fellow patron to a game of Jenga. Drinks are average price, but they have decent happy hour specials, and serve a damn good pickleback. The bar tenders are welcoming and playful, and if they take a liking to you, they might bring over an extra large accoutrement with your drinks, in full sparkling glory. We don’t want to ruin the surprise, but we guarantee it will be worth the trip.
It’s easy to miss this bar on the basement level of Mott Street; the large green sign on the building is solely in Chinese characters, and the entrance is not well lit. Once you step inside, though, it is all white décor and brightly colored lights, with large capital letters spelling out ‘ bar On’ along the back wall. Service is laid back but friendly, and there are two large karaoke rooms you can rent by the hour. You can also sing in the main lounge right from your seat (there are plenty of microphones to go around!), or join a pay-for-play game of darts. The place is full of lively groups of people trying to win at Liar’s Dice, a favorite bar game in China. It’s a communal activity, so play with the friends you brought or the new ones you meet throughout the night.
Grab your squad and head over to Up Stairs, a no-frills karaoke establishment on Canal Street. The small number of bar stools are often taken up by regulars, but you and your karaoke crew can grab one of the many large booths that line the walls. There’s a tall video screen and an open floor plan, leaving a large space in the center to showcase your karaoke skills and best dance moves. To add to the adventure, the songbook does not include the names of any artists, so your $1 song may not be the one you intended to perform (we recommend you do it anyway). Oh, and there’s no stage here — just your fabulous charm to keep the audience’s attention.
Guacamole and special guacamole? Yes please! If you want strong margaritas and a full menu to go along with them, then Pulqueria is the spot for you. They are also the first establishment outside of Mexico to serve pulque, a sweet and frothy liquor made from fermented agave nectar, the Aztec drink of the gods. They mix it with different fruit combinations, or, in the Tijuana Flashback, with some spice: pulque, mezcal, tomatillo, cilantro, habanero bitters, and lime. It can be hard to find (the name of the restaurant is written inside a doorway above a basement entrance), but the tasty drinks, charming décor, and happy hour specials make it worth the hunt.
Opened by a team of guys from the fashion, hospitality and film industries, this bar is quickly becoming a favorite among the hip under-thirty crowd in New York City. Situated on what feels like a deserted corner under the Manhattan Bridge, the bar is named after the locally famous real estate broker Mr. Fong (he helped the owners find the place). The menu has a slight Asian influence, with the Salty Plum Old Fashioned, pickled daikon and cucumber bar snacks, and Malaysian jerky. Part aesthetically pleasing dive bar and part fancy cocktail lounge, the drinks are always strong, so come through! And there’s a jukebox, which is always a huge plus.
Quiet, comfy, and dimly lit, Clandestino is a great spot for a sweet date or to catch up with friends. Mastering the art of being mellow, their well-curated music selection adds to the ambiance: fashionable and hip without being pretentious. The bartenders are knowledgeable and make a tasty Whiskey Mac or Pimm’s Cup. They have a small but quality selection of beers on tap, and a hand-picked selection of French, Spanish, and Argentinian wines. This is very much a neighborhood bar, and a fabulous place to become a regular.
A ‘soul jazz oyster bar‘ that is also one of the oldest watering holes in New York City? You’ll find it where Chinatown meets the Lower East Side at the 169 bar. Going for a vintage tiki aesthetic, the bar features indoor palm trees and a leopard print pool table. Some of the more interesting cocktails are the Pickle Martini, Hurricane, and Bloody Gargoyle. The New Orleans inspired menu also includes $3 dumplings. A huge plus: the kitchen is open until 4am. We will see you there for second (or third) dinner.
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