Below, our favorite new watering holes, cocktail lounges, and wine bars from 2015! Leave your favorite tippling spots in the comments.
EL CORTEZ When the food flying out of the kitchen of Chris Young and Stephen Tanner's Bushwick answer to Commodore is as good as this, it almost crosses into restaurant territory. But with its list of wild polynesian cocktails and a six-days-a-week DJ lineup, El Cortez occupies bar territory just as firmly. The festive Tiki decor further enhances this as a party spot, where Zombie cocktails and Rum Punches reign and fuel late night dance parties with their sugary fire. Before things get too crazy, chow down on the bar's excellent Taco Salad ($11) or Chicken Buddies ($11), mini fried chicken sliders playfully served on a stick.
El Cortez is located at 17 Ingraham Street in Bushwick; elcortezbushwick.com
Hailstone (Matt Piacentini)
THE UP & UP Nestled between hookah lounges, cookie chains, tattoo parlors and fratty bars is this subterranean charmer ready to transport you away from the insanity of MacDougal Street. A well-dressed host greets with a query about your party size, after which you'll either be whisked away to a table or offered the promise of a table as soon as one opens up. It's this policy that creates a tranquil atmosphere leaps and bounds ahead of anything in the vicinity.
The cocktails are the main event, capable of winning over even those whose patience for the mixology craze has waned. The Hailstone ($14) drinks like a melted creamsicle, though its spiked with rye and has grown up spice courtesy of mace. Their bottled cocktails are a fun alternative to the coup, arriving flask-style in glass bottles like their Teague Old Fashioned ($14) with Old Overhold Rye, Demerara sugar, Angustura and orange bitters.
The Up & Up is located at 116 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, (212) 260-3000; upandupnyc.com
BUTTER & SCOTCH You can have your martini and eat cake too at Butter & Scotch, a new Crown Heights establishment that's a bakery by day and cocktail den by night. Though really it's both things all the time, especially during the evening hours when the bar serves up specialty cocktails alongside mini cupcakes, cookies and lots of other confections baked on site. Cocktails like the Honeychile Rider (gin, passion fruit, lemon, Mike's Hot Honey and Bittermens Tiki Bitters, $10) have been early favorites, but the team's spiked milkshakes and boozy floats are a good trip down nostalgia lane—oh, and they also make homemade Jell-Ohh shots paired with a High Life for $6.
Butter & Scotch is located at 818 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, 347-350-8899; butterandscotch.com
PORCHLIGHT Danny Meyer's casual Chelsea cocktail bar opened back in February, concocting low-key drinks and hickory-smoked small plates in its "Southern accented," barn-like space. Drinks are split between lighter "Guzzlers," and alcohol-heavy "Sippers"—with offerings from the former including the Salty Spaniel (Tito's Vodka, Grapefruit, Lime, Citrus Marmalade and Spicy Honey) and a daily punch, and the latter boasting a Rittenhouse Rye-made Flagg Day and something called the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, crafted with Oloroso sherry, Dolin Blanc and Cocchi Rosa. There are also classic cocktails like Sazeracs and Amaretto Sours, and "Nerdy" drinks characterized as "late night experiments that worked," like a Whiskey and Cola and a bourbon-heavy cocktail called Alright Alright.
Southern-style eats include avocado and crab toast, tater tots, biscuits, and a Double Trouble bison burger, topped with tasso, pimento cheese, and barbecue sauce. (Rebecca Fishbein)
Porchlight is located at 271 11th Avenue in Chelsea/Hudson Yards, (212) 981-6188; porchlightbar.com
(courtesy June Wine Bar)
JUNE WINE BAR Those searching for a subdued atmosphere in which to sip a glass of natural wine have a new champion in this romantic Cobble Hill destination spot, which has been a draw for local neighborhood folk and wine lovers from around the city in equal measure. Wines are the specialty, of course, with a sizable amount available by the glass or quartino and even more by the bottle. Expect pours from Europe—Tuscany, Rhone and Loire Valleys—but domestic bottles from California and New York make the cut as well. Beer and spirit drinkers are taken care of as well, with brews from Finback and Other Half, as well as cocktails and a list of cordials to enjoy pre-or-post meal.
June Wine Bar is located at 231 Court Street in Cobble Hill, (917) 909-0434; junebk.com
HOLIDAY COCKTAIL LOUNGE It's usually a damn shame with a classic East Village dive gets a whitewashing, but when the bones have been kept lovingly in place—albeit with a fresh coat of paint—there's cause for cautious optimism. The neon signs advertising bargain beers and cigarette brands have been replaced with tasteful sconces and the vinyl seats are no longer held together by tape, but the spirit of Holiday Cocktail Lounge lives on in the staff's dedication to getting you drunk—on tasty cocktails.
An entire section of the menu is devoted to classic cocktails like the Corpse Reviver, Negroni and Pisco Sour, then there are their signature cocktails, an irreverent collection served with things like "a word of encouragement" and "a song by Steve Perry (while supplies last)." This isn't hushed mixology and the bar is well aware of its history and neighborhood, which is why you can also score a draft of ice cold Narragansett for $5.
Holiday Cocktail Lounge is located at 75 St Marks Place in the East Village, (212) 777-9637; holidaycocktaillounge.nyc
THREES BREWING Though they're brewing suds just a few feet from their bar, the minds behind this Gowanus bar and event space are keen on making it a place for everyone, not just hops heads. Of course, they're serving their fun and funky brews, too, like the aptly named Superf*ckingyawn, which packs a 9.5% ABV punch, and the You People, an IPA made with oats. But they're touting other breweries' wares as well, plus ciders and a full spirits selection including barrel aged cocktails like Negronis and Manhattans. Live music, DJs and special events are also part of the program, plus comedy shows, soccer screenings and even a running club.
Suffice to say, there's a lot going on, and the team is very interested in connecting the dining and drinking communities, including a rotating cast of local flavor occupying their on-site kitchen. For much of December, the Roberta's team is slinging pies and then their "Sancho's Backdoor Tex-Mex" menu, which includes eats like queso, fajitas and a taco plate.
Threes Brewing is located at 333 Douglass Street in Gowanus, (718) 522-2110; website
BAR GOTO This sleek izakaya-style bar, helmed by Pegu Club alum Kenta Goto, debuted on the Lower East Side back in July, serving up classic cocktails with a Japanese-style twist. These creative concoctions include the Umami Mary, a Bloody Mary-like drink made with miso, shiitake mushrooms, lemon, tomato and Clamato; a Sakura Martini, made with sake and gin and garnished with a maraschino and cherry blossom; and the Shochu cocktail, made with barley shochu, aged gin and hop liqueur. You can also sample Japanese comfort food like Grilled Cheese Okonomi-yaki, a cabbage pancake filled with white cheddar, parmesan and gruyere, housemade french fries, or miso chicken wings. (Rebecca Fishbein)
Bar Goto is located at 245 Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side, (212) 475-4411; bargoto.com
Ambrette (L); Thai Chili (R)
MACE The jars of spices lining the walls at this new East Village cocktail den should clue you in to what you're about to experience, namely a trip through the world of spices and their interplay with alcohol. Each drink on the list focuses on a specific spice as its source of inspiration, adding layers of booze, tinctures and juices along the way. Sounds gimmicky, but everyone's gotta have one. The Thai Chili ($13) is a must-drink for spice heads in addition to being beautiful to look at, and while grass isn't a staple of most spice racks, its interplay with silver needle white tea-infused shochu and grapefruit oil warrants exploration.
The bar's a tight, railroad-style establishment that can get tricky to navigate once it gets full. The back boasts a few low tables with low, romantic lighting. Though it's a little cramped, try to snag a table up front by the window so you can watch the tiny, brindle French bulldog puppy greet customers of the neighboring wine store.
Mace is located at 649 East 9th Street in the East Village, (212) 673-1190; macenewyork.com
MESS HALL During the daily (yes, including Saturday and Sunday) happy hour at this casual Harlem pub, a can and a shot will set you back $6, with drafts, bottles and picklebacks just $5. But the reasonable prices are just one of the reasons it was a welcome addition to the area—the cheese balls and popcorn being another one. Since opening, the spot has expanded its offerings to include nibbles like hot dogs from Brooklyn Bangers topped with chopped onion, sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard (Brooklyn Dog, $5.50) and their "Adult Happy Meal" offering, which includes any of their dogs plus a can and a shot for $10.
In addition to cheap food and drinks, the bar does weekly trivia events, live music in their backyard during the summer and smaller acts inside during the winter, all presided over by their resident taxidermy.
Mess Hall is located at 2194 Frederick Douglass in Harlem, (646) 692-309; messhallharlem
THE CAMLIN It was the killer cheese selection that first enamored us to this romantic Williamsburg wine bar, which manages to be aesthetically classy while keeping the prices out of second mortgage territory. Owners Mandy Oser and Amorette Casaus created the well-appointed space as one that would serve the desires of everyone; to that end, there's wine, naturally, but also beers and craft cocktails, plus the superlative cheese list, oysters (often priced at just $1) and a dinner menu of familiar dishes made gourmet.
That's all to say that you can swing by for a quick glass of wine and wedge of luscious Brillat Savarin ($6), a pasteurized cow's milk cheese from France that'll knock any other triple-creme cheese out of your favorite spot lickity-split. Or sit down for a larger meal of Steak au Poivre $18) with creamed spinach and an Old Fashioned ($12).
The Camlin is located at 175 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, (718) 384-4100; thecamlin-ny.com
JULIA'S Ridgewood was blessed with a slew of new neighborhood bars this year, but quaint Julia's has won over locals handily with its local brews, wines, and tasty small plates. Julia's is a second effort from Crystal River Williams and Denise Plowman, who opened cafe Norma's back in the pre-Bushwood year of 2012. They're offering reasonably priced pours of organic and sustainable wines, plus an all NY beer list stacked with Six Point and Ommegang, and beer-and-wine cocktails priced around $7. Beef turnovers have been a big hit, as are their melt sandwiches and cheese and charcuterie plates.
Julia's is located at 818 Woodward Avenue in Ridgewood; website
LEYENDA Ivy Mix, one half of the duo behind Leyenda, won American Bartender of the Year at this year's Tales of the Cocktail, so trust that a cocktail here will be both delicious and thoughtfully prepared. The Tia Mia ($13) is the bar's signature drink, a fruity but tart mix of mezcal, Jamaican rum, orange cuacao, lime and orgeat, and it's a treat for the eyes, too, with a jaunty orchid and pleasingly crunchy crushed ice. But the bar is equally excited about serving their spirits straight, like a trio of mezcales from Oaxaca or sips of three styles of rum.
The atmosphere is casual and convivial, and if you get a spot near the window, it's a treat watching revelers meander up and down Smith Street. The food menu follows the Latin American bent, like the Peruvian Ceviche ($13) with ahi tuna, apples, pomegranate seeds, candied ginger and pistachios and the comforting Ham & Cheese Croquetas ($8), stuffed with ham, chiles, chihuahua and manchego cheeses.
Leyenda is located at 221 Smith Street in Cobble Hill, Phone number (347) 987-3260; leyendabk.com
KING TAI By day, this sun drenched Crown Heights bar is a quieter place to sip a pint or a pina colada, but by night, the DJs get the place turnt up and into party mode. Look in particular for their Brazilian vinyl nights, with themed cocktails to match, plus Flashback Fridays when DJs are spinning classics from TLC, Biggy and other R&B/slow jam hits. When it's sunny and warm, score a seat at one of the outdoor tables, or slide into one of the retro stools at the bar for service from the attentive staff.
The place has been known to offer some tasty eats, too, like pop-ups from Colina Cuervo with slow-roasted pork sandwiches, and bar snacks like tamales and pepitas.
King Tai is located at 1095 Bergen Street in Crown Heights, (718) 513-1025; kingtaibar.com
Honorable Mention: Slowly Shirley in the West Village, Nowadays in Ridgewood, Drexler's in the East Village, Lois in Alphabet City, Brooklyn Barge Bar in Greenpoint, and Four Horsemen in Williamsburg.