The Absolute Best Bar in the East Village

Day or night, this is the best place to grab a drink. Photo: Noah Fecks

It’s time to select the best bar in the East Village, a neighborhood that — despite the best efforts of NIMBYs and Community Board 3 — still boasts the most active nightlife scene in the city. In fact, per the SLA, the neighborhood’s zip code is home to 585 active liquor licenses, which means there’s a lot of variety, not all of it great. The six bars below, however, officially rank as the East Village’s most excellent drinking options.

The Absolute Best

1. The Wayland
700 E. 9th St., at Ave. C; 212-777-7022

The very concept of an “East Village bar” conjures up plenty of different kinds drinking establishments — dives, high-end cocktail joints — but the ideal version is the same as any neighborhood’s best bar: comfortable, able to turn out decent drinks that don’t cost too much, not too crowded, and, most important, fun. That sums up the Wayland, in Alphabet City, more or less perfect. The thing about starting a night here is that there’s a good chance you’ll end up staying, and closing the whole place down, too. There’s occasional live music, very well made cocktails (the notorious kale-juice margarita is improbably terrific), and far-better-than-they-need-to-be sandwiches (get the BLT). The space is particularly nice when sunlight streams in onto the piano and the worn wooden floor slats, so make a point to drop by for happy hour, when cocktails are $8 and oysters are just a buck. Late-night, local bartenders crowd in after shifts at neighboring pubs, and the staff has been known to throw impromptu seafood parties. Plus: The hype around the “I Hear Banjos” — a stirred whiskey number that’s finished when the bartender “traps” some applewood smoke by topping it with an inverted, empty glass — is justified; it’s one of the city’s most impressive cocktails.

2. Lois
98 Ave. C, nr. 6th St.; 212-475-1400

There are several things Lois does to put you immediately at ease: First, all of the wine’s on tap, so rather than force customers to fumble through a big list, the owners can guide people with tastings of every offering, helping you choose a glass best suited to your palate. (By all means try the Glass Thief, an orange wine that Red Hook Winery makes just for Lois.) Second, the light-wood-filled, fresh-flower-accented, white-walled décor is sunny and cheerful, which matches the temperament of co-owners Phoebe Connell (who runs the kitchen) and Nora O’Malley (who runs the bar). And finally, there’s no tipping; wherever you land in this debate, it admittedly takes a good deal of stress away from the closing-the-check process.

3. Standings
43 E. 7th St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-420-0671

Whoever coined the term shoebox-size was likely watching a baseball game at Standings, where a group of six Mets fans can make the place feel crowded. But the small size (three tables, bleacher seating, and a dozen bar stools) means you’re forced to make friends with everyone in the bar. That’s easy since sports are the thing here — MLB standings are updated on a chalkboard daily — but it’s a lot more charming than simple sabermetrics and watching a game. Standings is a place where you can unite over commiserating about your team’s defeat in game seven of the ALCS, or celebrating with a fifth craft beer after a Stanley Cup advance; it’s a make-your-own-family bar in a city that desperately needs that.

4. Jimmy’s No. 43
43 E. 7th St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-982-3006

Just below Standings is this beer-centric pub (that also has a crush on whiskey, especially local bottles). A sign proudly blares, “No crap on tap,” and the beers change frequently enough to warrant white-duct-tape handles on the taps, so the names can be more easily swapped. Owner Jimmy Carbone is well-known for helping local beer-makers; they repay him by coming here for Barrier and Other Half drafts and kielbasa from the East Village Meat Market. Vaulted brick ceilings and wooden beer barrels above the bar lend the place such an old-timey feel that it’s actually surprising the whole place isn’t lit by candle.

5. Josie’s
520 E. 6th St., nr. Ave. A; 212-228-9532

Josie’s, which can be found by locating the black bear outside the door on 6th Street, is a dive to be sure, but not an all-out, falling-apart, dirty-bathroomed hole like many of its neighbors. You could take your parents here, and locals drop in to the Victorian-wallpapered space for cheap drafts and to feed dollars to the pool table or the jukebox (Pavement, Hole, Tom Waits, Nina Simone, etc.).

6. Mother of Pearl
95 Ave. A, at 6th St.; 212-614-6818

On a late-summer afternoon, the best place in New York to post up with a cocktail is the airy bar at Mother of Pearl, where a breeze reaches in from the hardy-banana-plant-bedecked front room’s open windows. Cross your fingers that cocktail maven Jane Danger (a onetime CBGB bartender) is tending to the drinks, and ask her to make you a Shark Eye (passion fruit, bourbon, served in a shark-shaped glass) or a Tide Is High (cashew, pineapple, mezcal, and fresh-flower garnish). The experience is transporting, and the pricey cocktails prove their worth, besting the drinks sold at many neighboring mixology temples.

The Best Bar in the East Village