In its glory days, lower Manhattan was filled with hip yet seedy neighborhoods, divey rock bars, and budding art studios. From Greenwich Village to TriBeCa, what was once underground has gone full-on trendy. The Lower East Side (LES) is one of the few neighborhoods left in the area that still feels authentically New York, and that’s largely because of its unique nightlife.
If you want to get a taste of old Manhattan grit mixed with new Manhattan glam, hopping through these LES bars is the best way to do it.
Drink Bulgarian brandy in an ice cave:
Affectionately nicknamed the “House of Gypsy”, Mehanata bar is one big old Bulgarian party complete with rakia, an eastern European fruit brandy, and plates full of hummus, feta, and shish kabobs. On the weekends they go all out, turning into a “disco dive bar” and “global nightlife revolution”. You can even don full Russian military garb and head downstairs to an ice cage where shots of chilled vodka will keep you warm.
Oysters and dumplings at an NYC OG:
This New Orleans themed jazz bar, 169, has been around since 1916, billed as “one of the last, oldest, & original bars”. Now, it’s a little bit of everything all rolled into one. While the jazz soul tunes and the oyster bar may stick with the theme, they’ve also got (really good) dumplings, text-to-order service, dinosaurs, hula dancers, and a cheetah-print pool table, all lit under the light from fake candelabras. It works, somehow.
Happy hour and 80s ‘flicks:
The best thing about The Library is their buy one get one free happy hour from 4-8pm —you can’t beat a BOGO offer in lower Manhattan. But it’s also a local favorite for the book-lined walls, 80s movies shown via a projector that’s also probably from the 80s, pac-man, and one of the best juke box selections in the city.
Supreme flights for the spirits lover:
If you prefer your liquor straight and without the gimmicks, Whiskey Ward is the place to be. They might not have a lot in the way of décor and events, but they have one of the best whiskey and scotch collections in the city, and a damn good flight offer. Purchase a flight of 3 whiskeys of your choice and pay half the price of a full shot for each 1 oz pour. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Craft cocktails in a speakeasy:
The speakeasy concept has spread through America’s bar scene like wildfire. Although it’s a little tired at this point, Attaboy is a revamped version of one of the originals that started the whole scene to begin with —Milk & Honey. If you manage to find the unmarked entrance, just ring the doorbell, and prepare yourself for some of the best custom cocktails in Manhattan crafted by suspender-wearing mixologists.
Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t dead:
“A night of debauchery” is not usually had in a grocery store, unless you’re in the LES. Arlene’s Grocery is a bodega turned rock bar, and it’s one of the few remaining greats a la CBGB. It’s been around since the 90s and seen the likes of Jeff Buckley, the Strokes, Lady Gaga, and Lana Del Rey. If you like your beer cheap, your music loud, and your personal space non-existent, this is the place to be.