Sure, it may seem like we make a lot of excuses to tell you about bars we like. That's not exactly untrue. But then, there's also a very real and legitimate case to be made for the virtues of bar hopping as an essential facet of any travel experience, right behind landmarks and food on the list of things you need to take in if you hope to understand a little bit more about the place you're visiting and the people who live there (or, for that matter, if you want to actually meet and get to know them).
Plus, Brooklyn's got a lot of bars. Arguably a gratuitous amount. And there's something for everyone in nearly every neighborhood, whether your thing is the carefully styled nouveau dive, the actual dive, immaculate cocktails, dirt cheap beer, incredibly rare, temperature-controlled beer, dancing until you sweat through your shirt, or just a nice, quiet place to drink whiskey and listen to decent music in peace after a day of sight-seeing. There are far, far too many to try to get to all of them over a relatively short (or even a relatively long) period of time without pretty grave consequences to both your health and your budget. As such, we've put together 10 of the most beloved, quintessential local bars we think any visitor to Brooklyn should spend a little time in. And, of course, suggestions for places you should check out nearby. Nothing says "exploring a city" like moving your drinking to a second (and a third, and a fourth...) location.
The Commodore, Williamsburg
- Photo via Capital New York
Anyone who's ever stepped off the Bedford L and spent a few seconds looking around can tell you that at its epicenter, Williamsburg has become a cacophonous, occasionally overwhelming kind of adult Disneyland. Wherever you stand, there are literally dozens of bars within a five minute walk from you, all of them serviceable. If we had to pick just one of them to ease you into things, though, it'd be Commodore, a tried and true neighborhood staple that, besides being a wonderfully reliable option (think cozy booths, on-point chicken sandwiches, and a solid jukebox), also feels representative of a certain genre of "Williamsburg bar," in which kitsch and junk food have become the norm and the crowd veers pretty exclusively toward the young(ish), attractive, and eager to mill around bumping into strangers.
Also try: Midway, Bushwick Country Club, Daddy's
Commodore, 366 Metropolitan Ave.
Midway, 272 Grand St.
Bushwick Country Club, 618 Grand St.
Daddy's, 437 Graham Ave.
Hotel Delmano, Williamsburg
- Photo via HighClassNoCash
On the other side of the "Williamsburg bar" coin—the side in which you've maybe outgrown the urge to wash down greasy snacks with a cheap beer-and-a-shot combo every single time you go out—there are the high-end cocktail purveyors. And few people do this better than Hotel Delmano, whose "elaborate, old-school drinks" game is so on-point that it incorporates actual absinthe fountains. Not the place for cheapskates or lightweights, but for exquisitely crafted cocktails that you'll never find anywhere else and a relaxed place to hole up away from the madness of Bedford, they can't be beat.
Also Try: Maison Premiere, Night of Joy, The Richardson
Hotel Delmano, 82 Berry St.
Maison Premiere, 298 Bedford Ave.
Night of Joy, 667 Lorimer St.
The Richardson, 451 Graham Ave.
Hot Bird, Fort Greene
Representative of another fairly common genre of bar—wood, whiskey, and elaborate iron-works abound—Hot Bird is still one of the best, most spacious places to while away a few hours with friends over beers or cocktails (their take on an old fashioned is unimpeachable), especially since Little Brother BBQ opened next door and started delivering food right to the bar. Best for low-key weeknights or afternoon drinking on the weekends (they've got a huge outdoor area), as this place gets a little crammed on Friday and Saturday nights, having become sort of a go-to for anyone looking to host a party in a bar (which is lots and lots of people).
Also try: Der Schwarze Kölner, Habana Outpost, Dick & Jane's Bar
Hot Bird, 546 Clinton Ave.
Der Schwarze Kölner, 710 Fulton St.
Habana Outpost, 757 Fulton St.
Dick & Jane's Bar, 266 Adelphi St.
They're relative newcomers to the neighborhood, but since the moment they opened their doors, Tørst has been firing on all cylinders as a truly superlative addition to the local bar scene (they also just added food, should you really need extra enticement). And with 21 taps and endless rare bottles of painstakingly chosen, how-did-they-even-find
-this beers served at varying, specialized temperatures in specially designed glasses, this truly meets the travel requirement of "things you can't experience anywhere else." Seasoned beer nerds will be giddy with joy (and have already planned this as the very first stop on their Brooklyn itinerary), of course, but even the least well-versed among us can walk in here and come out having tried and enjoyed something truly game-changing.
Also try: Manhattan Inn, Capri Social Club, Enid's
Tørst, 615 Manhattan Ave.
Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Ave.
Capri Social Club, 156 Calyer St.
Enid's, 560 Manhattan Ave.
Not all that long ago, "going out in Bushwick" really just meant "going out to Tandem"—they were early adopters, and sort of the only game in town. Since then, the neighborhood's exploded, but Tandem's rightfully held onto its status as a neighborhood cornerstone. It's also one of those places that's a perfect choice for just about every time of day, be it brunch, dinner, early evening cocktails (theirs are excellent), or a quickly slammed 2am whiskey shot and a tall boy of PBR before you head to the DJ'd back room to disappear into a haze of strobe lights, artificial fog, and sweaty strangers. In a sometimes awkwardly spread out neighborhood, Tandem also happens to be centrally located in between hubs of other bars around the Morgan and Jefferson L stops. So convenient, it's almost as if they planned it.
Also Try: The Narrows, Pearl's Social & Billy Club, Heavy Woods
Tandem, 236 Troutman St.
The Narrows, 1037 Flushing Ave.
Pearl's Social & Billy Club, 40 Saint Nicholas Ave.
Heavy Woods, 50 Wyckoff Ave.
Jackie's 5th Amendment, Park Slope
To be clear, this isn't the kind of dive where some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young owner thought it'd be nice and quaint to slap a bunch of car bumpers and suspiciously fresh-looking graffiti on the walls and call it good. Jackie's is the real, no-frills deal. So much so that last winter, they petitioned the United States government to secede from Park Slope
, which has changed drastically over the past few decades, while Jackie's hasn't changed at all—it's still home to a dimly lit back room full of rickety card tables, a $10 bucket special of those tiny little Budweiser bottles, and bartenders who aren't putting up with anyone's shit. You haven't really visited a place until you've visited one of its best, oldest dives, and here, that'd be Jackie's.
Also try: Union Hall, Pacific Standard, Fourth Avenue Pub
Jackie's 5th Amendment, 404 5th Ave.
Union Hall, 702 Union St.
Pacific Standard, 82 4th Ave.
Fourth Avenue Pub, 76 4th Ave.
Henry Public, Cobble Hill
A longtime neighborhood staple, Henry Public is as known for its burgers (juicy, perfect) as it is for its cocktails (elaborate, often involving egg whites). Come hungry, and also come ready to deal with those oft-mocked staples of local dining the rest of us have grudgingly gotten used to, namely small spaces and a strict cash-only policy. Once you're working your way through their famous turkey leg sandwich, some deviled eggs, and a Kings County Sour, it'll all be worth it.
Also Try: Clover Club, 61 Local
Henry Public, 329 Henry St.
Clover Club, 210 Smith St.
61 Local, 61 Bergen St.
Ruby's, Coney Island
As much of a Coney Island staple as Nathan's, Ruby's is both the oldest bar on the boardwalk (they've been around since 1975) and
the only one where you can sit inside, made all the more special by its sort of miraculous resilience during Hurricane Sandy—a lot of its competitors on the boardwalk weren't nearly so lucky. Given that Coney Island is an essential stop on any visitor's first trip to Brooklyn, it seems more than fair to insist you swing by and pay your respects to Ruby's, in the form of a piña colada (and possibly also a crab cake sandwich).
Also try: Tatiana Restaurant and Nightclub, drinking a six-pack on the beach and risking the $25 open container ticket
Ruby's, 1213 Board Walk West
Tatiana, 3152 Brighton 6th St.
Fort Defiance, Red Hook
- Photo via Sebastian Saint
Another place where the food is just as good as the cocktails. Which is to say, very, very
good, and liable to change along with the seasons. Truthfully, we included this very much on its own merits, but also as an excuse to get you down to Sunny's, the oldest bar on the Brooklyn waterfront that's been slowly stuttering back to life after incurring tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage during Sandy. Stop by for a post-cocktail beer (we're pretty sure this is a thing), and bask in the knowledge that in one fell swoop you've found yourself in two of the best bars this borough has ever known.
Also try: Sunny's, Red Hook Bait & Tackle
Fort Defiance, 365 Van Brunt St.
Sunny's Bar, 253 Conover St.
Red Hook Bait & Tackle, 320 Van Brunt St.
The Brooklyn Inn, Boerum Hill
- Photo via Brooklyn the Borough
Admittedly, the name makes this one sort of an obvious choice. But earlier, when we talked about a "quiet place to drink whiskey and listen to decent music in peace," this is what we meant. A laid back, even-keeled neighborhood spot, the Brooklyn Inn is an ideal place to wander into and unwind, whether you're hoping to sit at the bar uninterrupted or insinuate yourself into a game of pool in the back room. History and architecture buffs will appreciate the old, dark wood and high ceilings, and just about anyone who comes through its doors will appreciate the serenity that comes to you in a place that's everything a local bar should be.
Also Try: Building on Bond, Char No. 4, Camp
The Brooklyn Inn, 148 Hoyt St.
Building on Bond, 112 Bond St.
Char No. 4, 196 Smith St.
Camp, 179 Smith St.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.