The Best Downtown Bar Crawl

According to me, Karen Chee.

Reporting at Proletariat. Photo: Karen Chee
Reporting at Proletariat. Photo: Karen Chee

There are many occasions that deservedly call for a bar crawl — a bachelorette party, a milestone birthday, a big farewell. There’s even a calendar dedicated to reasons to party every day of the year. What I’m saying is, there are plenty of good reasons for a boozy evening, and then there is the best reason of all: because it’s Tuesday and you live in New York.

I know because I’ve only ever gone on bar crawls accidentally, in hindsight, by enjoying a friend’s company so much that when one bar closed, we walked to the nearest one that was open, again and again, until we realized it was 3 a.m. and we needed to be at work in six hours. On these nights I loved the whimsy of it, the discovery of a sparkling new cocktail, the taco truck that magically materialized at midnight. Each location, offering its own set of stimuli, urged us into different genres of conversation: work and dating, sure, but also insecurities, quiet hopes, universally liked pop culture that we can’t seem to get into. But inevitably, I wished we had planned it out beforehand.

So, inspired by the accidental bar-hopping and random lovely nights out — and because I am a TV writer who currently has a lot of free time — I did a little research and crafted this bar-crawl route. There were a few parameters: I wanted a string of places that varied in size, ambience, and alcohol; for this particular crawl, I stuck to downtown Manhattan; I did not want places with TV screens or music so loud that I couldn’t hear the other person.

Yes, I went with someone else! (As I explained to my editor on the phone: “I’m sad but not that sad.”) For this intellectually rigorous, scientifically researched project, I called up my good friend and one of my old college roommates, Devon. He still hangs out with me despite the fact that I spent most of college earnestly doing improv and obeying all traffic laws in Grand Theft Auto. A true friend.

I’ve organized the list by what I found to be the best time to arrive at each bar, and because there are cocktail writers who are far more qualified to declare various bars the “best” this or the “most exciting” that, I have also decided to bestow a series of alternative honors. (No offense to the professionals, but these honors are much more valuable.)

6 p.m.: Analogue

We start the night on West 8th Street at Analogue, which has all the trappings of an excellent first date locale: upscale but not uncomfortably so, with little alcoves for privacy. The music is just loud enough that you can speak without being overheard, which makes this the Best Bar to Gossip In. Devon and I dished on our mutual acquaintance [redacted] who [redacted] with [redacted]. Isn’t that wild?!

The bartenders here are also notably friendly and knowledgeable. “I like to actually taste my alcohol,” said Facundo, whose friends refer to him as Paco, whipping up a cocktail called Belle of the Ball (summery, with cucumber, so probably healthy; I am basically Gwyneth Paltrow).

7:22 p.m.: Proletariat

From here, we take a 12-minute walk to Proletariat. Truthfully, I was steering us to Burp Castle, where the bartender and guests will collectively shush the crowd if someone dares speak above a whisper. I love Burp Castle; I vehemently hate noise. My friend once pointed out that everyone I’ve dated speaks like they live in a library, which is true and hot to me. Unfortunately, we entered the establishment and did a genuine double-take at the high speaking volumes: The bartender explained with a resentful sigh that it was a monthly brewers guild meeting. “I’m not thrilled about the noise either,” he said gruffly, which I found endearing.

Proletariat is small, unassuming, and boasts a wide selection of ales. It’s not as old as McSorley’s or as quirky as Burp Castle, both of which are on the same stretch, which makes it feel like something of a middle child. But Proletariat, while cozy, is still well-lit, which makes it the Best Place to Drink Alone With a Big Book and Feel Smug About It. Please notice me casually reading Lonesome Dove!!

8:30 p.m.: Attaboy, attempt No. 1

Google “best bars in New York” and you’ll find glowing reviews of Attaboy on the Lower East Side. Despite all its publicity, Attaboy still feels like a secret you’ve been let in on. As expected, we got added to a wait list. Once the host eventually called us, we’d have 15 minutes to claim our coveted spot in person. I know most restaurants share this policy, but when he told us, I nodded with the gravity of an agent agreeing to a mission.

8:38 p.m.: Double Chicken Please

To pass the time, we checked out Double Chicken Please to see if they had space in the “front room.” (Don’t even get your hopes up for their ever-full “back room.”) Double Chicken Please would certainly be a proper stop on this crawl if it weren’t so hard to get into; there’s an eternal line running down the block, and their reservations are impossible to snag. But the hype is genuinely worth it: DCP is like if that high-school lunch table of cool Asians all grew up and decided to frequent a bar together.

Though this was not an official stop on the crawl, it is still the Best Place to Refuel: The front room had availability, so we popped in to try their DCP house shot, a mezcal-and-plum combo that’s both sweet and sharp. Like me!!

9:05 p.m.: The Back Room

After this detour, we headed for the Back Room, another speakeasy that’s an eight-minute walk from Attaboy so that if called, we could down the rest of our drinks and haul ass. The Back Room is like drinking in the living room of an old mansion, with couch-like seating areas and large paintings on the walls. Devon and I sat side by side on a couch sipping our cocktails, which made it the Best Place to Google Your High-School Nemeses. (Turns out, one is a lawyer? What??)

Then I got a call from Attaboy. We duly hauled ass.

9:36 p.m.: Attaboy, for real

Everyone loves Attaboy and it’s somehow still underrated. I asked my bartender for something “light and airy,” then teared up while sipping on what felt like a cloud. Who knew egg white would give me such an emotional reaction? I literally drew a cloud in my notebook and wrote “oh my GOD” in all caps because I am very respectful (of Attaboy).

Attaboy is the Best Place to Plan a Heist. We sat first at the bar, where the dusky ambience was still well-lit enough that we could, say, scrawl a secret plan on a map and not have to squint. Then we moved to one of the railroad-style series of tables where we could, you know, hunch over a contraband map with our fellow conspirators.

You might think that at this point in the night — after five drinks — that I, towering at five-foot-one, would be a little intoxicated. But that is wrong: I was plastered. We continued on.

11 p.m.: Peachy’s

If you walk 12 minutes (17, if you’re stumbling) you’ll find Peachy’s, a bar with a bright-pink neon sign to telegraph its vibe (loud and underground). You have to yell to be heard, but if you stop by this late in the crawl you’re probably yelling without realizing anyway. Peachy’s is the Best Place to Scream All the Song Lyrics Incorrectly.

At this point it was time to start winding down, so I thoughtfully drank a large glass of water. And one gin-and-tonic.

11:48 p.m.: The Crown

If Peachy’s is too much for you (it was too much for me), swing by the Crown instead. Their main draw is their view of the city, atop the 21st floor of the hotel 50 Bowery. They close at midnight on weekdays, and their bar service ended just as we arrived, but it’s just as well that we didn’t order anything. At six drinks in, I honestly don’t remember much from here, except that I stood for what felt like an hour on the deck staring at the city. The Crown wins Best Place to Feel Like You Are in a Movie About New York.

The thing about New York is: You are simultaneously the main character and a forgettable extra. It puffs up your ego then punctures it carelessly. But if you’re on a rooftop that towers just high enough above all the trash and sirens and crowds, you can focus on the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers and think, My God, am I lucky to be here right now! And it’s true: You will be lucky, you will be grateful, and you will be, ideally, very drunk.

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The Best Downtown Bar Crawl, According to Karen Chee