It may not have the punks and beatniks of days gone by, but the East Village retains vestiges of its past in a nightlife scene that is alive and well. With dive bars, cocktail dens and dance bars packed into its borders, the downtown enclave is a veritable booze buffet. Whether you’re looking to drink a cheap can of beer while shooting pool or sip a custom cocktail with ingredients you might need to google, there’s an East Village bar that will deliver. For details on 20 of the best, read on.
For proof that at least some of the 1980s East Village hasn’t died out, check out this bi-level dive that’s stood strong on the corner of East 2nd Street and Avenue A for almost 40 years.
Order this: PBR-and-a-shot combo
Pop it like it’s hot: Take advantage of free popcorn while you people-watch through the bar’s big wraparound windows. An upstairs lounge hosts occasional live music.
7B, Vazacs, Horseshoe Bar—the bar known by all three names is the dive we’re talking about.
Order this: Any of 30-plus rotating drafts, from Kona Big Wave to Leffe Blonde
Casting call: The delightfully grungy establishment has appeared on screen in Rent, The Godfather II and Jessica Jones. Despite its celebrity, the bar is welcoming to the after-work crowd and anyone in the mood for a punk soundtrack. A jukebox and a photo booth will keep you entertained all night long.
It may be the kind of dive with decades’ worth of scrawl on the bathroom walls and no credit card reader, but it’s also the kind with a trusty pool table and drinks under five bucks.
Order this: Picklebacks and well drinks
True colors: Owned by the same Ukrainian family for decades, the bar takes its name from the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Somewhere between a dive bar and a rock club lies Niagara, owned by D Generation musician Jesse Malin and longtime promoter Johnny T. Look for the eye-catching mural memorializing Joe Strummer on the bar’s 7th Street exterior.
Order this: The Hunter S. Thompson, a bourbon, sugar, walnut and orange bitters combo
Throwing it back: In the back room, you’ll find a plaque commemorating A7, a former tenant and the reputed birthplace of NYC’s hardcore music scene. Niagara still hosts punk bands (and other music and comedy acts) in the back of the bar.
Courtesy, Amor y Amargo
This tiny space on East 6th Street dubs itself a “bitters tasting room,” which translates to a place to sip your way through a flight of Fernet or a custom, bitters-driven cocktail.
Order this: Di Pompelmo, with grapefruit liqueur, Aperol, tequila and hopped grapefruit bitters
Stock up: Despite only having space for about a dozen seats, the bar makes room for shelves of bitters and bartending paraphernalia for sale. Pick up some to try your hand at DIY stirred cocktails.
Courtesy, Angel's Share
Opened in 1994 above a Japanese izakaya, Angel’s Share was a pioneer of the craft cocktail scene in the East Village and a “secret” bar until word got out. The speakeasy-style space churns out customized drinks and expertly mixed classics.
Order this: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, made from bourbon, bitters, smoked cloves and cinnamon
Seeing double: The popularity of this not-so-secret bar was enough to merit a second clandestine location a few doors down.
Killer cocktails earn this sophisticated lounge its somber moniker—and the dark interior serves as reinforcement. Snag a coveted seat at the bar to taste avant-garde drinks and ingredients from a seasonal menu.
Order This: Cave of Wonders, which mixes port, Batavia Arrack, carrot eau de vie, pineapple, moroccan bitters and seltzer
Weird science: Death and Co.’s reputation for inventive concoctions began with its first bartender, Philip Ward, who created the Oaxaca Old Fashioned by replacing whiskey with two types of mezcal and then topping the drink with agave, bitters and an orange twist.
This second-floor bar (from Death & Co. and Milk & Honey alumni) is as unpretentious as its Avenue B environs, but wood paneling and art deco lighting keep the atmosphere sophisticated and warm.
Order this: Drag Race Thailand with curry- and lime leaf-infused gin, Thai iced tea, lime and coconut
In the matrix: With cocktails organized along the axes of “refreshing, spirituous, comforting and adventurous,” the menu at Pouring Ribbons makes it easy to expand your cocktail repertoire.
Bar Veloce. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite
This location of Bar Veloce (there are five more in NYC) is a glossy, modern wine bar bringing a bit of Italy (and its wines) to the East Village.
Order this: Barolo by the glass
Dare to pair: Alongside the menu of predominantly Italian vintages, you’ll find a full list of piatti (small plates), bruschetta and panini, including a particularly bold prosciutto, Taleggio and grappa-soaked apple rendition.
If you like the idea of sipping wine in your living room, then Lois, which could pass for a well-designed abode, is for you. It’s a bright, unintimidating space on Avenue C serving tap-only wines in casual, stemless glasses.
Order this: The 16 taps rotate often, but at least one usually dispenses a local wine like the Brooklyn Winery's Roebling Blend.
Hot tip: This vine-to-keg spot was an early adopter of the no-tipping movement in NYC. That means there are no calculations to do with your party once you polish off that carafe and cheese plate.
McSorley’s Old Ale House. Photo: Malcom Brown
Established in 1854, McSorley’s has persisted through Prohibition and two world wars, served former presidents (Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt) and remains one of the more interesting places to have a pint in NYC.
Order this: Light or dark McSorley’s ale—those are your only choices.
Off the wall: If the menu here is simplistic, the decor is anything but. Feast your eyes on presidential portraits, vintage menus, newspaper clippings, poems, book jackets and sports memorabilia that layer the bar’s walls like fish scales.
Keep an eye out for this narrow beer hideaway on St. Marks lest you walk right by it. Inside you’ll find out-of-the-ordinary craft beers—true to the motto on the chalkboard and window—and a hip-hop playlist curated as deliberately as the menu.
Order this: Taps rotate frequently, but the pear-inflected Italian sour ale from Birrificio Loverbeer is a good example of a brew you won’t find in your average beer bar.
All in the family: Many of Proletariat’s other drafts, bottles and cans come from local NYC brewers including Interboro, Kings County, Threes and Other Half.
With plenty of seating, a full menu of tapas and gin and tonic on tap, Huertas deserves a spot on your East Village radar.
Order this: Rebujito, a mix of dry sherry and ginger soda
In a pinch: Huertas serves Basque-inspired raciones (shared plates) and pintxos (small bites), like patatas bravas and croquetas.
When thirst and hunger strike, let your appetite lead you down Loisaida (aka Avenue C) to the oysters, cocktails and southern hospitality at this local favorite.
Order this: I Hear Banjos (Encore), with apple pie moonshine, rye whiskey, apple-spice bitters, applewood and cinnamon bark smoke
Mic check: Tune in to live music at the Wayland Sunday through Wednesday nights, with a side of bar snacks like crispy cauliflower or burrata with honey.
Ghost Donkey. Photo: Charles de Vaivre
Right on the border of the East Village and Nolita, this pink-neon-lit, Mexican-inspired bar focuses on tequila- and mezcal-based drinks and serves a mean plate of nachos.
Order this: Mole Negroni, with mezcal, cynar, vermouth, rabarbaro zucca, mole spices and bitters
Chill zone: For a quick cool down try the frozen Stealth Margarita (deceptively strong) or the Prosecco & Paletitas, topped with a popsicle from La Newyorkina.
A tiki bar for the modern age, Mother of Pearl serves reimagined daquiris and tiki drinks that taste like vacation in a glass (or perhaps ).
Order this: Botanical Berry, which combines cucumber water, lime, ginger, aquavit, Branca Menta and club soda
Island vibes: If the flavors of rum and tiki bitters don’t land you mentally beachside, the retro floral patterns, breezy white curtains and barstools carved like totem poles should do the trick.
Impress your friends (or a date) by locating the nondescript entrance to this tiny, dimly lit sake bar, its entrance marked by a flashing “On Air” sign.
Order this: The earthy junmai takumi sake
By the numbers: Decibel, NYC’s first sake bar, opened in 1993. It now serves almost 100 varieties of sake and shochu (plus other Japanese spirits and beer).