New York is, to put it simply, a cocktail mecca. But the craft-cocktail movement has taken some of the pleasure out of drinking for the common drunk. Where does a man (or woman!) go who wants a great drink but doesn't want to think about it too hard? Who doesn't care one whit about housemade bitters? This is the list for you.
It looks too modern to be old, but in fact this is one of the oldest bars in New York; it's been refurbished, but the ghosts are still there, along with the steak and shrimp cocktail.
Mostly known as a dark, ancient, utterly authentic Irish bar of a kind rarely seen nowadays, Molly's also happens to serve a wonderful if atomic-sized hamburger. Two people can easily split it, as long as both have a good pint of stout each.
Generally when you hear that someplace is "old school," it generally connotes an antiquarian bent -- framed pictures of Teddy Roosevelt, mounted animal heads on the walls -- but Raoul's is far cooler than that. Yes, it hasn't changed since the 70s, but even then it seemed timeless, intimate, sexy, and great at what it does -- namely steak au poirve and red wine.
This place isn't just old to the point of venerability; it's downright strange. Set in a remote location and catering to a crew of oddballs and misfits, it's one of the few Manhattan bars left that truly has its own personality.
Make no mistake: this is the original New York gastropub, and you could make the argument that is defines the genre as well as anyplace anywhere. The beer selection in both the locations is outrageously wide, with literally dozens of exotic, expensive, and rare brews, both imported and domestic. And the food is far more ambitious and far more complex than anybody seems to realize, including both a full-bore barbecue program as well as a half dozen innovative game specials every day. There may be better restaurants and better pubs, but to me, this is the ultimate gastropub.
Reviewing 21 is like reviewing Mount Rushmore; it doesn't matter what you say, because it's a national monument. The last and greatest of the great speakeasies of the 1920s, it morphed into one of the supreme power scenes of midcentury New York and still has much of its old power. The food is much better than you might expect, and if you want a definitive martini, this is the place to have it.
Jimmie's Corner has developed a not-undeserved reputation as the consummate New York dive bar, and while it's probably a little too friendly / well-lit for that, the true dank stupor and ennui of a dive bar hover unmistakably in the air like cigarette smoke. This is a bar you go to sit down, have a few drinks, and run away from your thoughts as best you can. It's a refuge of desperate men, cuckolds, and the bankrupt. An occasional beam of oblivious tourist sunshine comes in from time to time but rarely stays for long.
There are Irish bars, and there are Irish bars. The Rover is one of the latter. This isn't a St. Patrick's day-themed bro-hole; nor is it even the Old Country Pubbe, made up for archaic effect, that you sometimes see in Manhattan. This is as Irish as it gets, so much so that saying the wrong thing about politics could get you killed. There used to be a bunch of such places on the west side, when the west side was tough. Now you have to go to Astoria to experience it.
This otherwise unexceptional-looking Queens pub has one special claim on the attention of New Yorkers: its famously oversized hamburger. In fact, the burger isn't actually that great; like many similar Irish bar bombs, its size doesn't correspond to flavor or, really, anything. But to eat it, when hungry, in the kind of working-class Queens bar that Archie Bunker would have gone to -- that's a special treat, maybe even one worth the subway ride.
When asked, as I often am, for my opinion on the best steakhouse in New York, I often hem and haw. The meat may be better at Minetta Tavern, the sides at BLT Prime, the atmosphere (and nothing else) at Peter Luger. But for the overall package of flawless service, great meat, and by far the loveliest and most relaxing room of any steakhouse I know, the answer is surely Porterhouse New York. Here's a tip: go have a steak sandwich and an Old Fashioned at the bar, during the day. It's a great NYC experience.
The oldest continually operating bar in New York city, and maybe also the best, Sunny's started by catering to stevedores and now caters to an eclectic bunch of loyal weirdos and non-conformists. There isn't a scintilla of artifice to be found here anywhere.