Where to Drink Outdoors in New York City, 2014 Edition
No one would ever accuse New York of being short on bars. Yet many of our establishments can't compete with LA's expansive patios or the bar backyards you'll find in Austin. Quality outdoor bars can be tough to find in the city—which is why we're giving you a guide to the best.
Unsurprisingly, the outer boroughs tend to have bigger spaces and more outdoor seating than packed-in Manhattan. But you'll find great open-air drinking spots there, too. Rooftop bars, low-key gardens, people-watching patios—whatever your inclination, we've got you covered.
Here are our favorite spots to drink outdoors around the city. Tell us: Where do you go to drink in the sun?
—With reporting from Carey Jones, Chris Lehault, and Jonathan Moxey
Cocktails and a Killer View: The Ides at the Wythe Hotel
At night, the Wythe Hotel's sixth-floor bar can get, well, sceney. (Bouncer, rope to wait behind; you can imagine the rest.) But in the earlier hours, when things are a bit lower-key, it's a stunningly beautiful place to have a drink. Even from within the bar itself, picture windows give you a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. Head out to the terrace for a walk around, and you'll see across half of Brooklyn, up and down the East River, and more.
To drink: You can't go wrong with the Summer Babe ($14), made with Greenhook Gin, lemon, and a hit of the herbal, faintly floral liqueur Genepy. Plenty on the list for beer and wine drinkers, too, and a menu of creative nibbles to sustain you 'til dinner.
Classic Drinks, Stunning Garden: Maison Premiere
It's hard to find another word: Maison Premiere's back garden is magical. With elegant greenery and wrought-iron tables, tiny lights twinkling overhead, it's hard to imagine anywhere better. Arrive for an early brunch, and you'll likely snag a seat without too much of a wait.
But even without the garden, Maison Premiere would be destination-worthy. There's the dollar oyster happy hour, which you'll occasionally see a crowd gathering for, even before opening. And there are the cocktails, many with a New Orleans theme (an excellent French 75, one of the better Hurricanes north of the Mason-Dixon), others wholly original. And if you're feeling brave, they've got an impressive list of over two dozen absinthes by the drip.
Drinks With A Group: Battery Harris
Under the BQE, Battery Harris is just far enough off the main Williamsburg restaurant rows to feel somewhat tucked away. And with a spacious patio of long picnic tables, it can be a great place for a group to gather. Drinkers of all sorts are nicely accommodated—there's a strong cocktail menu featuring "frozies," essentially spiked slushies, as well as 18 beer taps. And their Caribbean-inspired menu (Jamaican patties, jerk chicken sandwiches) means you don't have to look elsewhere once you've drunk up an appetite.
Rooftop Views Sans Pretense: Berry Park
There's an unmistakable appeal to rooftop bars... but the crowds and prices of most rooftop bars can be off-putting. (Unless $18 mojitos and a frat-party vibe are your thing.) Our answer? Berry Park, a thoroughly unpretentious, down-to-earth Williamsburg bar that happens to have a killer view back onto Manhattan. Their massive, 100+ seat rooftop is low-key enough to feel like your friend's casual rooftop party. (If your friend happened to have a bar up there, that is.)
With likable dishes including sausages and artichoke dip, a full bar, and 14 beer taps (Weihenstephaner wheat beer with your pretzel?), it's the most democratic of rooftop bars, with a view that everyone can enjoy.
Smart Cocktails, Beautiful Garden: Huckleberry Bar
While the vibe at Williamsburg's Huckleberry Bar may be laid back for a cocktail lounge, the cocktails are made with finesse and attention to detail. Living up to their motto, "fancy without the fussy," the casual service is welcome on a hot late-summer evening. The backyard (with smoking available if you like such things) features a smattering of wooden booths and mismatched aluminum tables where guests can enjoy ambitious cocktails. (Head there at happy hour, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, and all day and night Tuesday, for $3 off their $12 cocktails—a great deal for the quality.) Particularly summer-appropriate: Horatio's Wild Ride (made with Due North rum, El Buho mezcal, cucumber, lime, and fizzy Lambrusco) or Lewis & Clark (with ZU bisongrass vodka, hoppy Lagunitas IPA, apple-pear puree, lemon, and honey.)
Beer and Whiskey: Hot Bird
On summer weekend nights, it can be standing room only at Hot Bird on Atlantic. Thankfully, this indoor-outdoor venue has more than ample space, so whether you walk in with two friends or ten, you'll find yourselves a corner (if perhaps not a picnic table).
To drink: A rotating selection of craft beers, plenty of whiskey, wine and house cocktails—though beer and whiskey are what we'd recommend at this casual joint. With a relaxed bring-your-own-food (BYOF?) stance, it's fine to grab barbecue from Little Brother next door, if you need a little something in your stomach after a few pints. Cash only.
Bed-Stuy Destination: Doris
Doris is the most welcome of establishments: a truly solid neighborhood bar. Cocktails that are well-made but not overwrought. A happy hour that knocks three bucks off house cocktails and two off wine, with $5 drafts. Grilled cheese. (Good ones, properly and thoroughly toasted, courtesy of Morris Grilled Cheese.) A quirkily decorated interior and eclectic soundtrack. And most importantly, for our purposes, a spacious outdoor patio. Lots of benches, lots of tables, trees arching up to shade, lights at night—it's nothing fancy, just exactly right. Cash only, but there's an ATM in the basement.
Best Williamsburg Beer Bar: Spuyten Duyvil
Drinking outside at Spuyten Duyvil reminds us of hanging out in a friend's backyard, but only if that friend has a crazy selection of rare and esoteric beers. They have six draft lines and an extensive bottle list that leans heavy on Belgians. Spuyten isn't cheap, but it's a worthwhile indulgence if you're looking to try something you might find in no more than a handful of other bars in the country, stored and served with care. They offer a small selection of cheese and charcuterie, but save your appetite—you can head across the street to Fette Sau for barbecue, or put your name in at no-reservations St. Anselm (both establishments are owned by the same team as Spuyten) and hang out in the garden until your table is ready.
Big Enough for a Group: Lavender Lake
For many of us, Gowanus is a bit of a trek. But once you experience Lavender Lake, you'll understand that it's worth it. Walk through the spacious venue, past the long, stately bar, and you're met with a double-level patio with enough room for any group. Equally pleasant by day (opens at 4 p.m. weeknights, 2 p.m. weekends) and night. It's a popular spot, but we've never seen it too busy to be enjoyable.
To drink: It's impressive across the board, whether you opt for a cocktail, all in the $11-12 range (perhaps the Optimo, with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, lime, ginger, and cardamom bitters?) or whether you're in the mood for a beer (all local, whether you're in the mood for Sixpoint lager or Greenport Harbor's rye Saison). And the bar menu's nibbles are right on-target: excellent fried brussels sprouts, fried avocado, a Cubano sandwich, and more.
Big Enough for a BIG Group: Greenwood Park
Greenwood Park is the largest bar on our Brooklyn list, by a long shot. The South Slope spot opened last year in a converted auto garage with a full kitchen surrounded by an expansive, sun-splashed concrete patio. There are plenty of umbrella-shaded tables, three bocce courts, and a shipping container-turned-outdoor bar. With 60 beers on tap, you're sure to find something that appeals; there are plenty of local and regional craft beers, available by the pint or pitcher. As a bonus for all the day drinkers out there, drafts are $2 off until 7 p.m. during the week. Cash only.
Dog- and Kid-Friendly: The Gate
With a dog- and kid-friendly attitude, a soundtrack that runs from heavy metal to dad rock, and a solid tap list backstopped by a selection of vintage bottles, the Gate is a Park Slope stalwart that's been supplying the neighborhood with good craft beer since 1997. The porch is generally packed, but for good reason. They're constantly tapping new kegs, but you can follow their Facebook page to get updates on tap-takeover events featuring a whole lineup of rarities from one brewery to explore. The Gate doesn't serve food, but they have a huge binder of menus from neighborhood places that deliver.
Laid-Back, Great Beer: Mission Dolores
A few blocks north of The Gate, Mission Dolores is another Brooklyn beer joint housed in an old auto garage. It's an ideal weekend hang, and a long-standing favorite of the neighborhood crowd. There's a selection of 20 taps and a cask of mostly U.S. craft beer that rotates daily, bolstered by a respectable lineup of bourbons. A recent taplist featured five different brews from Peekskill, and tasting your way through those is certainly a valid Saturday plan. The courtyard out front is a great place to linger with some tacos from Oaxaca Taqueria across the street. Need a break from beer? They make a mean Bloody Mary.
Secret Patio, Great Draft Selection: Fourth Avenue Pub
Beyond the comfortable, well-worn interior at Fourth Avenue Pub and down a flight of stairs is a shade-covered sunken backyard that's perfect for hiding out. It's very relaxed and offers a couple of dozen beers on tap, ranging in style from easy-drinking Full Sail Session Black and Firestone Pivo Pils to intense pours of Bell's Expedition Stout and special brews for sour beer lovers like Avery's Barrel-Aged No. 19 Rufus Corvus. And, hey, free popcorn.
Amazing Wine Outdoors: Bar Boulud
Oftentimes in Manhattan, you'll see sidewalk seating that couldn't be less appealing. (Hmm, tables almost out to the curb, getting ignored by the waitstaff, bus exhaust in my face?) A major exception is Bar Boulud, adjacent to Epicerie Boulud, where two spacious front areas are smartly cordoned off, well-back from the street, and give patrons a front-row seat on Broadway and the Lincoln Center—great people-watching indeed.
Head sommelier Michael Madrigale, who's racked up accolades in Food & Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and as a James Beard finalist, puts together a beautiful wine list—all of which you should consider. But he's also earned a reputation (and a Twitter following) opening large-format bottles, often secured at wine auctions, announcing them on social media, and selling them by the glass. It may be one of the more expensive glasses of wine you've ever had—often $25-30 per. But it's a chance to taste a wine that might sell for thousands per bottle, the sort of wines that would never make a by-the-glass list anywhere else. (Depending on the hour, you may have to order food in order to score a table. But dining on charcuterie at a Daniel Boulud restaurant is not exactly a hardship.)
Rooftop Tacos and Cocktails: Salvation Taco / Pod 39
What distinguishes the rooftop bar at Pod 39 from any number of other rooftop bars atop hotels around town? The city views, of course. And the fact that it's the sister establishment of Salvation Taco, April Bloomfield's taqueria on the ground floor. Expect slightly offbeat, often agave-based cocktails (whether you're looking for a throwback frozen margarita or something like the mezcal-maraschino-herb-lemon Palabra Final ($13), a Last Word variant). And if you're up there long enough to require sustenance, tacos are yours for the ordering.
Cocktails and Theater: Gallow Green at the McKittrick Hotel
Book a reservation online, head to the west side, and walk right past the awkwardly meandering theater-goers awaiting their fates at Sleep No More. Use the second door for the private elevator to Gallow Green, a rooftop garden atop the McKittrick Hotel. In addition to the spectacular westside view, Gallow Green offers an experience we can best describe as "Sleep No More...Light."
While the space is, for the most part, a casual cocktail lounge where guests chatter away over signature cocktails, punch bowls and the occasional small plate, our visit also included a funerary brass band, a firepit, and a perplexed pair of lovers accompanied by their watchful daughter. Like all things Sleep No More, it's best to reserve the details and let you experience it on your own.
There are two main focuses to the drinks at Gallow Green. Guests can select from eight cocktails or, what we'd recommend, the punches ($60+ for a generous bowl); the Touch of Evil is particularly intriguing, with Dorothy Parker gin, El Buho mezcal, raspberry oleo saccharum, and a touch of nutmeg.
Elegant East River Patio: Riverpark
An upscale take on patio dining, with views overlooking Long Island City or the Kips Bay garden plaza, there is no bad seat to be had on the Terrace at Riverpark. Riverpark also has one of the best swank-to-dollar ratio of all the venues we visited, and we would gladly return for their $6-8 beers and $12-14 cocktails.
The drink menu features a half dozen house cocktails incorporating herbs and peppers farmed half a block away at the restaurant's Riverpark Farm. There's a full dining menu, but you can keep it simple with Riverpark's creative bar snacks ranging from spiced potato chips to fish tacos. Try the refreshing and slightly savory Leaf Hopper ($12), a smart shake of aquavit, green Chartreuse, celery, lemon, and a black pepper tincture.
The Best Weeknight Cocktails: Raines Law Room
The intimate, concrete patio behind Raines Law Room is a refreshing juxtaposition to the lounge's dark, leather interior. Here, we trade our plush armchairs for metal tables and concrete benches in a setting that lends itself to long, lively summer nights. The only real drawback we found was having to repeatedly walk inside to order our drinks and then wait for it to arrive on the patio via the waitstaff.
As far as backyard cocktails go, however, you will not find a better one than at Raines. The Americano variant Rome (With A View) ($13) features Campari, Dolin Dry vermouth, lime, simple, and club soda: bitter, sweet, and sippable. Make a reservation and aim to visit Raines early in the week. One note: while the bar is open late, the patio closes at 10 p.m. every night.
Manhattan Beer Garden: Loreley Restaurant & Biergarten
Just off Bowery on the Lower East Side, Loreley has all the food and beer of a traditional German biergarten minus the oompahs and lederhosen. Kölsch is king here, but there are 20 different German ales and lagers to fill your stein. (Have you compared Franziskaner to Schneider Weisse? Now's your chance.) The wurst-heavy menu of German comfort food will help you keep up with your liters, and the backyard's communal tables are mostly covered by a tent, making this a good stop rain or shine.
East Village Craft Beer: d.b.a.
One of New York's original craft beer bars, d.b.a. is still one of the East Village's most reliable spots for a good pint. There's a greenhouse-like covered patio and partly shaded yard out back if you're not looking to disappear inside the dark, well-worn bar. Among the 18 taps you'll always find Fuller's ESB (plus less-common options like Wandering Star's dark mild, Two Roads White IPA, and a Sly Fox stout on Nitro.) There's also an extensive collection of American and European beers by the bottle, plus a serious whiskey selection.
Custom Beer Below the Empire State: Birreria
At a spacious rooftop venue atop Italian megastore Eataly, you'll find 10 drafts and additional bottles featuring the Birreria partners: Dogfish Head, Del Borgo, and Baladin. If you haven't tried much Italian beer, this is a nice place to explore it in good glassware, alongside one of the better cheese and charcuterie plates in the city. Birreria's not cheap and it's often packed, but it's worth making a reservation.
Uptown Craft Beer: Harlem Tavern
It's taken Harlem a bit to jump on the craft beer bandwagon, but Frederick Douglass Boulevard in the 110s is making a strong case for heading uptown. Along with nearby Bier International, Harlem Tavern is leading the charge. The outdoor space is massive, with live music several times a week. The draft and bottle list isn't all craft, but what is makes it worth it. We enjoyed washing down the restaurant's pot of steamed mussels along with a Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin'.
Traditional Beer Garden: Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
New York's oldest beer garden, Bohemian Hall has been a fixture in Queens's Czech and Slovak community for over 100 years. There are a handful of American craft beers on tap, but the focus here is on central European lagers and rib-sticking traditional food. It's old school in all the right ways. There's a massive outdoor space filled with tents, tables and stage, and plenty of room to spread out. It gets crowded on the weekend evenings, but afternoons are pretty light even in high summer. To drink: Your best bet is a stein of some of the freshest Pilsner Urquell we've found in the city.
Unbeatable Draft Selection: Alewife NYC
Tucked away on an otherwise sleepy block of Long Island City (just a few minutes ride from Manhattan on the 7 train), Alewife has one of the top draft and bottle selections in NYC, hands down. The inside is cavernous and dark, but there's a good-size patio on the second floor for patrons to enjoy a pint of something delicious outside. There's also an ambitious event program, which has brought in brewers from Cantillon, De la Senne, and Evil Twin, to name a few. There's an affordable wine list as well.
Pleasant Astoria Hideaway: Sweet Afton
The reclaimed and repurposed industrial aesthetic inside Sweet Afton spills over into the patio out back. There isn't a ton of seating, but we found it to be a quiet and pleasant spot for afternoon beers. There are a dozen offerings on tap and as many bottles, supported by a menu of pub fare that promotes local ingredients. There's a cocktail list, too, with classics like the Paloma ($10) and a handful of housemade creations. (And there's nothing wrong with a Pickleback or two, when you're feeling frisky.) Getting out of work early on summer Fridays? During happy hour—Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.—draft beers are $4, wine is $6, and well drinks are $5.
Huge Patio for Groups: Studio Square
Studio Square has all the amenities of your local watering hole—baseball on the TV, White Stripes on the radio, even pitchers of beer—with one big difference: a massive beer garden. The 30,000-square foot space is a fresh breath amidst the concrete-laden streets of Queens.
Everything at Studio Square is aimed toward drinking and socializing, not sipping and contemplating. The tap list is split between German staples (Hofbrau, Spaten, etc.) and easy-drinking American options (Sam Adams, Goose Island, etc.) We're told it gets crazy in here on nights and weekends but we found it jovial and relaxing on our afternoon visit.
Perfect Neighborhood Pub: Astoria Brewhouse
Astoria Brewhouse is exactly what we wish we had in a neighborhood pub. With 24 beers on tap ranging from craft offerings to PBR, there is something for everyone and even the most discerning drinker will find resolve in the few stray Belgian beers in bottle. The music, like the beer, is a bit of everything ranging from Elvis Presley to Rage Against the Machine.
The small outdoor patio at Astoria Brewhouse is open year round thanks to a retractable roof and built in fireplace. This is one space you can enjoy well into the late fall.