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Where to Drink on the Upper East Side

Where to Drink on the Upper East Side

Skip the cab downtown (or to Brooklyn) for a night, because there are some excellent watering holes on the UES. Our wide streets and snazzy townhomes may not spout celebrity bartenders, but they do have quality drinks—because we all know that just because you’re famous, doesn’t mean you’re “good.” Plenty of these traditional barmen can whip up a mean Martini, a spicy Margarita, and a chilly glass of Sancerre with serious je ne sais quoi that you won’t find in village haunts or hipster hangouts.

Bemelmens Bar

The epitome of a New York City bar, this cocktail lounge in the Carlyle Hotel screams old-school, from the mini lamps that top of the tables to laundry list of classic cocktails on the menu. In fact, I would bet anyone that Bemelmens makes the city’s best Manhattans, and the Martinis aren’t a bad runner-up. Settle into the cozy banquette if you can grab a spot or pull up to the bar, ready for a stiff drink. Plus, there’s live music every night: a pianist during after-work hours, and a jazz trio starting at 9.30 p.m. ($25 cover). And if you’re wondering, the whimsical murals that adorn the walls have quite the story. They were completed by Ludwig Bemelmens, known for creating the Madeline children’s books, in a trade for accommodations at the hotel for his family while he posted residence in the Big Apple.

The Jeffrey

Beer snobs, look no further: This is about to become your new favorite place—if, of course, you haven’t been already. The beer list here changes by the hour, so much so that the team reprints off the menu of dozens of beers on tap multiple times a day. They specialize in small-production, craft beers, breweries with cult followings, and experimental brews that may only serve guests for a night. Wine lovers can also get into the vibe here, as the bar offers local wines from the North Fork of Long Island on tap, and whiskey lovers will enjoy seeing some of their favorite Scotches on the shelf. Don’t miss the truffle pop for light snacks, and I certainly won’t judge you if you double-down.

Sant Ambroeus

Looking for a quiet spot to sip wine and chat with a girlfriend? Head immediately to Sant Ambroeus, where their house wine, made by sister restaurant Felice, is quite standout for the price. Take a seat by the massive windows to gaze at Madison Avenue shoppers and ponder your own purchase at Intermix across the street. You can practically window shop from your table!

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Who doesn’t want to sip Chablis and hawk at tourists attempting to make their way around the MET? Ok, irregardless of the latter, downing some cozy red wine or a refreshing cocktail after taking in hours of art does sound appealing, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art can make that happen to you at the Great Hall Balcony’s Amari Bar. Settle into a table along the railing to peer at guests middling about below, and peruse a surprisingly robust menu for a small spot: There is everything from Paper Planes and Aperol Spritz to a flight of Negronis. The wine list includes Champagne and there’s, of course, craft beer, plus a standout house-made lemonade with fresh bergamot for those not wanting the afternoon booze. In warmer months, head to the rooftop, for killer views of Central Park plus site-specific art installations that change year-to-year.

East Pole

This farm-to-table restaurant pays just as much attention to the wines and cocktails as it does the source of the ingredients for its delicious menu. On any given night, the bar will be full (but never too packed to not get a spot) with neighborhood regulars ordering up their go-to Sancerre, Scotch on the rocks, or signature cocktail. I’m partial to the smoky Sgt. Pepper’s mezcal-based cocktail or the thirst-quenching Summer in Avignon with lavender garnish. It almost goes down too easily. At brunch, don’t miss the spicy Bloody Maria, a tequila-based Bloody Mary with extra heat, though, it’s the sort of place where a glass of white wine is perfect for a Saturday mid-day meal too.

Stumble Inn

If getting Sunday Funday sloshed in your idea of a good time, then head to the Stumble Inn. I think the name says it all—but in case you are wondering, there’s no shortage of sports on television, shots on the bar, and singles ready to mingle. It may not be the most upscale, but it’s definitely a good time when the right mood strikes.


Take a mental trip to Tuscany at this quaint wine bar, which stocks a hefty collection of Italian wines. The décor takes a nod from the Mediterranean country as well, with a charming backyard garden flanked by Tuscan green shutters and a rustic interior that calls to mine little caverns in Chianti.

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