Tourists that flock to New York City tend to tether themselves closely to places like Times Square. The fact that it is always bustling with people and lit up 24 hours a day gives visitors a sense of security and safety in numbers in a big chaotic city. However, due to the sheer volume of options, finding the best bars in Midtown to spend an evening can be daunting.
So how do you filter through the endless bars and restaurants lining the streets around Times Square? You don’t have to, cause I’m here to do it for you. I’ve been working and hanging out in bars in Hell’s Kitchen since I moved to New York. It’s kind of my home away from home in New York City. It’s where I met everyone who means anything to me in this city.
Since I have spent so much of my time in this part of the city, most of my favorite bars around Times Square are in Hell’s Kitchen, going almost as far west as the Hudson River. So I’ve put together this list to try and find a bar for every personality. After you’ve gotten your fill of Times Square, which shouldn’t take too long, hang out at some of my favorite midtown bars!
1. The Waylon
Located at 736 10th Ave (between 50th St and 51st St)
Now as far as I’m concerned, no bar in the city can even compare to the Waylon. It’s a little country bar in Hell’s Kitchen with live music and the best garden in the neighborhood. This bar holds a pretty special place in my heart as one of the first places in the city to really feel like home.
I published a pretty in depth spotlight on the Waylon not too long ago that says exactly why I love it so much. You can read my post all about the Waylon here. In a nutshell though, you’ll find great happy hour deals, yummy cocktails (some crafted by yours truly), an insanely fun trivia night (Wednesdays), and great live bands.
Located at 627 9th Ave (between 44th St and 45th St)
See that pig down there? He’s just steps away from Times Square, located right in front of the famous Rudy’s Bar & Grill. You should probably stop by and say hi to him, and maybe even settle in to one of the beat up, duct taped, red leather booths. If you’re looking for fun, cheap, and historic, you’ll be happy you stepped foot in here. It’s almost impossible to find the place empty, opening at 8am every morning, pulling in a huge happy hour crowd and then going strong through the night hours.
With history dating back to prohibition, it’s one of the best old dive bars in the city. Possibly a Speakeasy before 1933, it got one of the first NYC liquor licenses when prohibition ended and it has been open ever since. The long list of famous regulars and the bar’s history can all be found on its website, and it’s worth a read!
You won’t find a full food menu here – just great drink prices, free hot dogs and plenty of New York regulars filling the place up all day long. With some of the cheapest drink prices you’ll find in midtown Manhattan, this is one of the best places to have a night out without breaking the bank. Just $12 will get you a pitcher of Budweiser and 4 hot dogs. For around 20 bucks you can have dinner, drinks and a short cab ride home!
3. Tanner Smith’s
Located at 204 W 55th St (between Broadway and 7th Ave)
For delicious cocktails and the best brunch in the neighborhood, Tanner Smith’s delivers everything you need anytime of day. Leaning slightly towards a speakeasy vibe, the early 20th century decor in here will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
This is the perfect place to go when you want to upgrade your night out from the local dive bar scene without having to trek down to the Meatpacking District. Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion plays on the television screens while you sip some of the tastiest cocktails in the neighborhood. My favorite? The Dropkick Mule that combines a sour cherry cordial with the classic Moscow Mule.
At $16 a drink, it’s not the most budget friendly place in the neighborhood, but when it comes to the cocktail list you really do get what you pay for. Beer, however, is another story as you will overpay for staples like Corona or Tecate, and drafts are $9 across the board.
The real highlight here is their live jazz brunch every Saturday and Sunday. Their food is always incredible, but the Brunch menu is by far my favorite. The tipsy tea kettles are a must do and although you can get them all week long they really seem to be a crowd pleaser for brunch. Don’t forget that the macaroons served with the tipsy tea are also booze filled!
4. The Gaf West
Located at 401 W 48th St (between 9th Ave and 10th Ave)
I had my 30th birthday celebration here, so that should tell you exactly how I feel about this bar. Maybe the thought of celebrating your birthday in a dark, dive-y place seems terrible to you, but I feel the exact opposite. Sure, a fancy bar can be fun to get dressed up for; and I can surely sip on an overpriced cocktail with my friends; but I can just as easily get my makeup done and put on a pretty birthday dress with some uncomfortable shoes and sip a beer in an approachable, laid back atmosphere. And guess what? It’s just as fun.
It’s okay if you’re not celebrating a milestone birthday though, they’ll still let you drink at The Gaf West. And you can leave the uncomfortable shoes at home because it’s not that kind of place. Draft beers are only $6 during happy hour and there’s no kitchen so feel free to BYO pizza slice to this local hangout. Or better yet, just have the whole pie delivered and become the most popular person at the bar.
The Gaf is one hundred percent the bar where New Yorkers drinks at; mostly the same ones too — I don’t think I’ve ever been in the place without seeing a handful of the same faces. It’s exactly the kind of bar where I love to pull up a stool, wrap my koozie around a cold Bud Light, and chat up some of the neighborhood regulars. The dart boards are a popular draw, along with the free comedy shows held in the basement on Thursday nights.
5. The Campbell
Located at 15 Vanderbilt Ave (between 42nd St and 43rd St)
The Campbell (formerly the Campbell Apartment) is one of the most beautiful bars I have ever been to. Everything about it screams old, classic New York City. Like, you know: top hats, and lapels, and coupe cocktail glasses. The kind of New York I’d punch a baby to go back in time to live in. That’s the kind of classic New York I’m talking about.
The bar is in a secluded nook of Grand Central Station that can only be reached from outside of the main terminal. Often referred to as a secret bar, it can be easy to miss if you don’t know its exact location. The entrance is off Vanderbilt Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd street. You have to enter Grand Central through its exclusive entrance and walk a flight of stairs in order to reach the inside of the bar.
The Campbell is an upscale place, so keep that in mind for your visit. The dress code is relaxed, but they do state on their website to refrain from wearing flip-flops, baseball caps, or shorts. Don’t be afraid to pull out one of your nicer dresses for a night out here. You’ll definitely find a lot of suits during the week for happy hour. Also, there are only 4 large stools lining the bar, so you’ll most likely be at a table or standing.
On the upside, it does open at noon every day, and can be pretty empty and relaxed at that time. If you can make it in for an early afternoon cocktail, it’s my favorite time to go.
6. Back Pocket
Located at 462 W 49th St (between 9th Ave and 10th Ave)
I have a somewhat embarrassing thing to write here: I have worked in Hell’s Kitchen for five years now and I have still never been to Pocket Bar. I know, shameful right? One of the reasons I haven’t been is that I can be lazy finding new places to have a drink after work. As you can see, I already have a pretty solid list of places to go to. The other reason is that Pocket Bar is normally very crowded whenever I’ve walked by with the time to spare for a drink.
Enter Back Pocket. This place is a tiny gem in Hell’s Kitchen that will make you feel like you’re having drinks in your living room. Actually, if you don’t live in New York City, your living room might be bigger. It’s just a block away from the original Pocket Bar with the same exclusive Rose on tap and free popcorn.
The star of the show is definitely the Frose served in an adorable teddy bear glass, so don’t even think about not ordering it. The other notable thing to mention is the 9 ounce pours of wine, so you’ll leave feeling pretty toasty. The reusable straws are an added bonus as well!
Located at 401 W 50th St (between 9th Ave and 10 Ave)
In a city that has no shortage of Irish bars – filled with Irish bartenders, managed largely by Irish owners – this is the best one to visit. If you’re like me and you’re from the west coast, the thick Irish accents may be hard to understand at first, but don’t worry, you get used to it.
Hibernia is the kind of bar where quite literally anything can happen. During the afternoon you can easily sip a beer in a mellow atmosphere but by 2am you might (probably will) find people dancing on the tables. Good luck carving out a chunk of space during major drinking holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and don’t even think about coming during a Steeler’s game (unless of course you’re a Steeler’s fan – then you should get there early, maybe even the night before with a sleeping bag.)
When the weather is nice, you can have a seat on their patio, or choose from a selection of board games to play. Hibernia also has a delicious bar food menu filled with some of your favorite Irish dishes. Oh, did I mention their $10 burger and beer lunch special? Yum.
8. Vida Verde
Located at 248 W 55th St (between Broadway and 8th Ave)
I had reservations about this place, but finally forced myself in for lunch and a margarita in the middle of a Monday. Not just Monday though, Margarita Monday. Being from Southern California, I am used to every chain Mexican restaurant on the corner pushing out gallons of frozen margaritas with generic flavored syrup.
Because of that, I probably am one of the pickiest people when it comes to frozen margaritas. But this was hands down the best one I’ve ever had. It can only be rivaled with Nacho Macho Taco in Prospect Heights, and honestly who is going all the way to Brooklyn just for a frozen margarita? No, but you should though.
The vibe at Vida Verde felt a little pretentious for lunchtime in Hell’s Kitchen, but I overlooked that for the delicious food and awesome decor (just check out the wall mural). There’s also a rooftop that opens at 5pm during the week and they have a DJ some nights. There is a dress code that is enforced at night: no flip-flops, shorts, or baseball caps.
9. Haswell Green’s
Located at 240 W 52nd (between Broadway and 8th Ave)
The guys who opened Haswell Green’s are responsible for some of my other favorite neighborhood bars including Tanner Smith’s and the Three Monkeys. This is by far the best designed bar in their wheelhouse, though, and has some insanely delicious craft cocktails.
If you’re looking for one of the best bars in midtown to have a pre theater drink, Haswell Green’s is it. They have a cocktail menu completely inspired by what is currently on Broadway: you can sip on drinks like Pink on Wednesdays (for Mean Girls), Green with Envy (for Wicked), or Third Time’s a Charm (for Beetlejuice.) How fun is that?
They have live entertainment most nights including bands, DJs, dueling pianos and a Drag daytime brunch extravaganza. There is literally something here for everyone.
10. The Polynesian
Located at 400 W 42nd Street (on the corner of 42nd and 9th Ave)
I have a thing for hotel bars. I don’t think I have a really good reason for it, I just do. It’s probably because they are the best places to people watch. I especially have a thing for hotel bars in fancy hotels where I could never actually afford to stay. It took me a while to feel comfortable strolling through the lobby of a fancy hotel to find my way to the bar and now I absolutely love doing it.
The Polynesian in the Pod Hotel on 42nd Street is in the perfect location for drinks near Times Square. The tiki inspired bar has delicious cocktails served in intricate glassware with a rooftop that has great views of midtown. It’s one of the best ways to be in Times Square without actually having to deal with the crowds of Times Square. Also, the bartender told me they had the best Pina Colada in the world and he was not lying.