14 Legendary New York City Bars You Must Visit

Wanna sip a tipple like a Gotham local back in the 1700s? Dust off your beer goggles, we're taking you on a tour of New York City's must-visit legendary bars.

Pour one out for all the hammered heroes who went before you, blazing the trail from a well-worn barstool to the dimly lit washroom — and back again — with nary a dart to the head. These are the watering holes that lived to tell the tale, that smell like prohibition and spilled pints, that welcome you like an old friend. They're the historic haunts of New York City. And you've really gotta see them to believe them.

In a city with 25,000 bars, clubs, and restaurants, sampling the keg behind the bar of a true icon can feel kind of needle-in-a-haystack-ish. But thanks to stories passed down by seasoned bartenders, expert historians, looong-time residents, and architectural conservationists, you can put your butt in a seat that Abraham Lincoln sat in, too — actually, you can't sit in it, but he did! Let's throw one back, shall we?

The Campbell

Well-hidden inside midtown's Grand Central Terminal, The Campbell showcases the Gatsby-like former office space of financier and railroad mogul, John W. Campbell. And it looks almost exactly like it did back in 1923.

Soaring 25-foot ceilings, a tall stone fireplace, and original leaded-glass windows frame the jewel-toned mohair seating in The Campbell Bar. Step into the Campbell Palm Court to transport yourself to somewhere Miami-ish, and grab a cool cocktail on a warm summer night on the Campbell Terrace. 

While it might be easy to screw up an Old Fashioned at home, it's even easier to sip one on repeat when it's mixed by The Campbell's most beloved bartender, Paris DuRante. Or, you could always go for the GG Manhattan (it's the bar's most popular cocktail). DuRante has been a familiar face there for decades. He turns a stunning location into an unforgettable experience thanks to his attention to detail and sixth sense for knowing what you need.

Drink: GG Manhattan with Woodford reserve bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, and Angostura bitters ($22). Eat: Pretzel Bites with Dijon mustard and beer cheese ($12). Be merry: Live jazz on weekend evenings, the kitchen closes at 11 p.m., and the dress code ranges from casual to business profesh.

The Campbell

15 Vanderbilt Ave, New York, NY 10017

(917) 209-3440

Bemelmans Bar

Well you can't take yourself too seriously when you're drinking a martini next to an illustration of a rabbit smoking a stogie and all the schoolgirls from the Madeline books. The bar's namesake Ludwig Bemelmans (original creator of the Madeline series) painted the murals on the walls and accepted 1 ½ years of free boarding at the hotel above the bar (also for his family), as payment.

Nestled into The Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side, Bemelmans feels like an art deco hideaway from the bustle of the city. Established in 1947, and restored to its original glory in 2002, you can snuggle up on a chocolate leather banquette and hypnotize yourself by looking at the glimmering 24-karat gold leaf ceiling. For the pint-sized set, reserve a spot for the beloved, sing-a-long Madeline Tea, hosted every Saturday in November and December. (Word on the street is that the kid-friendly dessert bar is its own legendary experience.)

Drink: Gold Fashioned with Oban 14 yr Single Malt Scotch Whiskey ($34). Eat: Homemade Pigs In A Blanket ($23). Be merry: A live music cover charges begins at 5:30 p.m. for the pianist with additional table and bar charges for jazz performances. A smart dress code also starts at 5:30 p.m.: collared shirts for men.

Bemelmans Bar
35 East 76th St., New York, NY 10021

(212) 744-1600

Ear Inn

Over 200 years ago, in 1817, somebody was like, "It would be cooler if we sold beer out of here." But that's not even the earliest history behind the SoHo gem, the Ear Inn.

The building was originally built in 1770 for George Washington's aid, James Brown. After Brown died, the spot became a home-brew sales depot, then a restaurant, and then a prohibition-era speakeasy. It was given a name in the 1970s. Hoping to skirt the red tape involved in getting a new outside sign approved, they covered the curvy parts of the B in "BAR" so the original sign read, "EAR." (It still looks like that.) The dive-y Ear Inn is one of the oldest consistently operating bars in New York City. Hey, if it ain't broke in 200 years, don't fix it.

Drink: Speakeasy Dark & Stormy ($15). Eat: The 8 ounce Pat LaFrieda Burger with fries ($17.50). Be merry: On Sundays the house band plays, with visiting artists appearing on Wednesdays.

Ear Inn
326 Spring Street, New York, NY 10013

(212) 226-9060

Fraunces Tavern

Powder your puffiest wig. Fraunces Tavern [FROWN-siz] is the actual location you wish your high school American History class took place. Written accounts show that George Washington celebrated the end of the Revolutionary War by popping in for dinner there in 1783. It's a legit national treasure, people!

An icon of the Financial District, Fraunces Tavern is one of New York City's oldest bars, having been established in 1762. The building survived several fires, near-demolitions, new owners, almost being razed into a park, additions, renovations, and multiple addresses. While it may not look exactly like its original self, it certainly acts like it. Fraunces Tavern even hosts their own public museum and tours, showcasing the building's patchwork past. Pick your poison with multiple rooms to choose from; Hit up the Independence Bar for casual drinks, the luxurious and leathery Dingle Whiskey Bar for an extra rare bottle, or the newer Piano Bar for a full bar with plenty of yummy snacks.

Drink: Presidential Punch ($18). Eat: Slow Roasted Chicken Pot Pie ($26 *It was George Washington's go-to, America). Be merry: Enjoy live music every night of the week.

Fraunces Tavern
54 Pearl St, New York, NY 10004

(212) 968-1776


Once serving Herald Square Theatre District's A-list clientele (some actors hustled in for a drink during the intermissions of their own shows), Keens Chophouse has been setting 'em up and knocking 'em back since 1885. Just ask the nude woman in the oil painting above the bar. She's definitely seen some things.

Churchwarden pipes were kept on site and registered for their owners to use when they stopped in. You can still join the Pipe Club, which houses more than 90,000 pipes. Keens' regulars included Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, Herbert Hoover, J.P. Morgan, and John Barrymore. By 1905, British actress Lillie Langtry had enough of the boys' club and sued for access to the men-only establishment. (Celebrate in the Lillie Langtry room with up to 24 of your friends.) The bottle collection and food menu here are enormous, with lots of old-world recipes and cocktails that knock it out of the park. You can even reserve a wine, scotch, or steak tasting.

Drink: Glenlivet Nadurra ($ N/A). Eat: Our Legendary Mutton Chop ($68). Be merry: Reservations are suggested.

72 West 36th St, New York, NY 10018

(212) 947-3636

The Landmark Tavern

A favorite of Hell's Kitchen, The Landmark Tavern has been cooking up Irish American bangers and mash since 1868. Now, there's plenty of Guinness, Smithwick's, and their own Landmark Lager on tap.

Back when it first opened, The Landmark Tavern sat on the Hudson River waterfront (The place where 12th Ave would later be built). The building itself has been spiffed up in the years since, but still maintains most of its original charm. That means you can grab a seat at the indestructible mahogany bar, under the pressed tin ceiling, with a penny-tiled floor that's cracked and uneven, showing its age. 

Drink: Knappogue Castle 12 ($ N/A). Eat: Corned beef sandwich ($14.50). Be merry: This place does St. Patrick's Day like it's their job. Wear something green or get pinched (Them's the rules).

The Landmark Tavern
626 11th Ave, New York, NY 10036

(212) 247-2562


At Dante in the West Village, a white-washed tin ceiling, subway tiles make it feel more like a bright Italian deli than a bar. But, at just 104 years old, it won World's Best Bar at the Spirited Awards in 2019.

Originally known as Caffe Dante back when it opened in 1915, the vibe is humming. (By the way, you only think your whiskey cocktail tastes like a bacon egg and cheese bagel because you've unknowingly made the pilgrimage to the BEC mecca.) This Dante revitalization prefers a high-profile collab, live music, and usually shows a waitlist for rezzies. Just check out their merch line for everything from a Dante's signature cocktail tray, to sweats, cocktail-inspired candles, and the Negroni Occasions Box. Famous regulars over the years have included Jerry Seinfeld, Al Pacino, Bob Dylan, Whoopi Goldberg, and Ernest Hemingway.

Drink: Dante's Garibaldi ($15). Eat: Pappardelle All'Ragu ($29). Be merry: Reservations suggested.

79-81 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

(212) 982-5275

McSorley's Old Ale House

The motto at McSorley's Old Ale House is, "We were here before you were born." Since the business launched in 1854, that's usually true. (No offense, ghosts.) The golden rule for the bar? "Be good or be gone." (Re: Ghosts.)

While ladies weren't allowed until 1970 (they didn't install a women's bathroom until 1986), during the nearly 80 years prior to that, a whole lot of shenanigans went down. What began as The Old House At Home, briefly became a full bar in 1905. McSorley's then stuck with beer-only (light or dark) to become America's oldest Irish bar. Look for an original John Wilkes Booth "wanted" poster, and handcuffs worn by Harry Houdini. Abraham Lincoln also stopped in after his Cooper Union address (his chair hangs above the bar). Plus, Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy regularly knocked back a pint or two. 

Drink: Light or dark ale, which comes as a 2-for-1 ($8). Eat: Liverwurst sandwich ($6). Be merry: Cash only, and no kids after 6 p.m. (P.S., just because it's cash-only doesn't mean the same etiquette for tipping won't still apply.)

McSorley's Old Ale House
15 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003

(212) 473-9148

Old Town Bar

Gramercy haunt, Old Town Bar, is home to New York City's oldest, working pulley system for moving food between floors: The dumbwaiter. From the first floor, you'll see the gears grinding by the end of the bar to bring your cheeseburger to you via its own little elevator. 

Originally owned by Germans in what was a German neighborhood, Old Town Bar (Called Viemeisters, back then) opened in 1892. You can sit in the same hollow booths that hid alcohol bottles during prohibition. Just sidle up to the 55-foot marble and mahogany bar, order yourself a refreshment, and chat up the neighbors a couple stools over. There won't be any TV's flashing overhead — or too-loud music — providing you with the perfect conditions to have your own moment. 

Drink: A martini ($ N/A). Eat: Hamburger platter (Starting at $17.25). Be merry: No reservations accepted, and no more than two credit cards per table.

Old Town Bar
45 East 18th St, New York, NY 10003

(212) 529-6732

The Brooklyn Inn

Lean into that ancient dive bar energy. You might usually be nose-deep in the latest craft beer power rankings, but at Boerum Hill's coveted outpost, The Brooklyn Inn, you'll have what they're having. 

It's one of the borough's oldest watering holes, featuring a wooden bar brought over from Germany, circa 1870. The spot officially opened 15 years later, in 1885. Inside, you'll find pool tables, a jukebox, usually-friendly service, and a full bar — all of which make this a go-to hang for Brooklyn locals. While they don't serve food, you are more than welcome to order in. Pull up a chair and stay a while.

Drink: Brooklyn Lager ($ N/A). Eat: No food — but takeout menus provided. Be merry: Cash only.

The Brooklyn Inn
148 Hoyt St, Brooklyn, NY, 11201

(718) 522-2525

Peter McManus Cafe

Chelsea gem Peter McManus Cafe also claims the "oldest bar" title — but with a twist. They're the oldest bar in New York City run by the same family the entire time. And they've kept that Irish whiskey flowing since 1936. (As the story goes, Peter McManus — the person — left Ireland for the States with just $5 and a single potato.)

Much more of an unassuming dive bar than regular cafe, this relative youngster among the Big Apple titans on this list offers a welcome respite from its neighboring scenesters. Slide into one of their two original wooden phone booths, or grab a leather stool at the bar to admire the decades-old Tiffany stained glass windows. Expect to be chatted up by customers and staff. After a few pints, you'll feel like part of the family.

Drink: Jameson & Ginger ($ N/A). Eat: McManus' Reuben ($15.25). Be merry: Alcohol is available until 4am every day of the week, but the kitchen closes at 12am Sunday through Wednesday, and 1am Thursday through Saturday.

Peter McManus Cafe
152 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10011

(917) 261-5504

Pete's Tavern

Ever since 1864, Pete's Tavern has been graciously serving the Gramercy Park crowd and anyone else who stops by. Around here, a pint of dark beer goes with summer, fall, winter, spring, summer — did we mention summer?

Pete's Tavern goes head to head with McSorley's for the oldest continually operating restaurant and bar in the city (missing the title by a teensy decade). While it might reveal a little less personality than the other bars on this list, the stunning rosewood bar, tile floors, cavernous wood booths, and shiny tin ceilings are originals from back in the day. Most famous of the booths would be the second one, where writer O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) wrote "The Gift Of The Magi." And the tavern's prohibition-era business front? Selling flowers. 

Drink: O. Henry's Negroni ($18). Eat: Gramercy Burger ($23). Be merry: Happy hour from 4-6pm Monday through Friday. Kitchen closes at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 11pm the rest of the week.

Pete's Tavern
129 East 18th Street at the corner of Irving Place

(212) 473-7676

P.J. Clarke's

Ignore all the other P.J. Clarke's dotting the city, and head to the Third Avenue outpost — the one that started it all. Shortly after the building went up, taps were officially cracked open in 1884.

Curious about the watering hole's notable history? Apparently, singer Buddy Holly and his future wife got engaged there, a mere five hours after meeting each other. Frank Sinatra stopped in late night (his table was #20), songwriter Johnny Mercer grabbed a bar napkin to write the hit "One for My Baby (And One for the Road)," and Nat King Cole himself loved the bacon cheeseburger so much, he compared it to the fanciest car around: The Cadillac. Oh, and the Kennedys also came by frequently for burgers. The flawlessly restored Third Avenue spot is popular with the Wall Street set, and the bar can get packed. Expect an old-world feel, set to the clicking of dress shoes from an upscale crowd.

Drink: Perfect Manhattan ($ N/A). Eat: East Coast Oysters ($24 for ½ dozen, $46 for a dozen). Be merry: Happy hour runs from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays. P.J.'s also has a membership-only dining room called Sidecar, available via staircase on 55th Street.

P.J. Clarke's
915 Third Avenue, at 55th Street, New York, NY 10022

(212) 317-1616

White Horse Tavern

At the West Village's White Horse Tavern, it's just another day in 1880 — retooled for people accustomed to reliable electricity. It's one of the holdouts of a working class era, in a neighborhood that's decidedly boogie. Think elevated takes on classic bar food and drinks, without being a snoot about it.

Affectionately known as "The Horse," it was a home away from home for bohemian music industry legends like Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison, plus literary icons like Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and James Baldwin. Don't miss the original bar and tin ceilings from this registered landmark as you navigate through the NYU crowd. Who knows, maybe a few sheets to the wind and you'll be writing the next best-selling novel in a moody corner of the bar. (Keep your tab open — you've got some stiff historical competition. Dylan T's reported max whiskeys was 18 at a time.)

Drink: White Horse Martini ($18). Eat: French Dip Sandwich ($28). Be merry: Happy hour is 4-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 2-6 p.m. on Friday. Brunch specials like $10 cocktails happen on Sundays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

White Horse Tavern
567 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

(212) 989-3956

How we chose these particular NYC bars

While we would happily slide into a booth at any one of these fine establishments, we relied on available historical record, press releases, and reputable interviews to suss out the most impressive stalwarts of the New York City bar scene. Okay, also, we may have left a little wiggle room for exaggeration as part of some of the folklore, but no one can ask Abraham Lincoln about it, so we're going with those semi-unofficial official accounts.

No biggie, but we like to think that we nailed it. (Drinks on us! Well, no, not really!)

Tip your bartender correctly no matter where in the world you grab a drink — especially when your Gotham-poured pint is served with a shot of jaw-dropping history. Plus, you can pay homage to those old-school mixologists by making your own scratch cocktail using the golden ratio bartenders swear by.