Season's Spirits

If you're looking to make merry on the holidays, the best places to be are the city's bars. It's that magical time of year when the cocktails get warmed, the fires get stoked, and the lights—and patrons—get lit. Our favorite festive finds are never short on cheer, which is probably why they're the perfect places to reconnect with friends and family—or tie one on just for the heck of it.


Winter seasonal brews are meant to fortify: These brawny beers not only taste distinctly aromatic but have hefty alcohol content, too. Think dark ales, porters, and stouts not suited for fans of effervescent American-style pilsners like Budweiser. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is typical of the style: Molasses-like in appearance, it has a rich, chocolate taste and an 8.25 percent alcohol content. Brooklyn Breweryrecommends savoring this popular stout in brandy snifters, although it's served in large plastic cups ($3 or 2 for $5) on Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m. in their warehouse, among sacks of malt and imposing metal casks. Catch the "Holiday Fest" on Saturday, December 13, featuring music, food, and beer like the limited-production Brooklyn Monster Barleywine. The newly opened Croxley Ale House & Eatery offers 75 bottle and 30 tap beers, including the pumpkin-and-nutmeg-spiced Harpoon Winter Warmer ($5). And on Saturday, December 6, this Alphabet City sports pub hosts a "Welcome Winter Party," pouring such seasonals as Sam Adams Winter Lager, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Anchor Christmas Ale, Affligem Noel, Corsendonk Christmas, La Chouffe Nice, and Brooklyn Chocolate Stout. 'Tis the season to be jolly, indeed. CARLA SPARTOS

Brooklyn Brewery, 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn, 718.486.7422, brooklynbrewery.com
Croxley Ale House & Eatery, 28 Avenue B, 212.253.6140, croxley.com


When the yen for holiday nostalgia goes deeper than Jim Carey movies and from-the-can pumpkin pie, it can tread into a hankering a Gotham studio just can't fulfill: a mantel hung with stockings and the wood-burning fire it encases. For all things hearth-related, the oldest digs in the Village are the most satisfying. Skip Gaslight and Art Bar, whose fireplaces burn low in the periphery, and snuggle up instead at Ye Waverly Inn. Its low ceilings and tidy trims exude colonial flavor, and three fireplaces crackle enough to warm the farthest table. A seasonal-drink list includes the rich and potent Robert Frost (cognac, Drambuie, and Benedictine, chilled; $10). Another Village oldie is Chumley's, the "secret" speakeasy that the masses have not kept sub rosa. It is admittedly over-hip and crowded on the weekends, but still hushedly festive on weeknights, especially near the fireplace (used to mold horseshoes before the establishment became a bar in 1922) when you have a pint of the spicy Pumpkin Ale ($6) in hand. CHRISTINE LAGORIO

Ye Waverly Inn, 16 Bank Street, 212.929.4377
Chumley's, 86 Bedford Street, 212.675.4449


Bueno Phyllis Diller, nipped and tucked peach! She of the deranged cackle—hehehehehe—ritzy housecoats, and shower cap of crinkly skunk hair. On weighing free cocktails to the drudgery of attending compulsory holiday orgies just to stay employed, Diller says this: "What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day." At our own seasonal keggers here at the Voice, we uphold the fine tradition of taking the office holiday party elsewhere once the open bar has been closed and the final drag queen has sung. One year, we stole away to the Otheroom, a secluded, candlelit cave of exposed brick and inky corners for illicit trysts with co-workers. Only beer and wine are served, so we ordered $8 glasses of a rioja, a Spanish wine, that tasted like chocolate-covered raspberries, and pledged to adopt an Eastern European teenager. Another year, we rambled east to the excellent, shadowy No Malice Palace, with its decaying, decadent heiress-gone-to-seed vibe and half-moon of doughy velvet couches. The rock critics among us throw their birthday parties here, so we knew to stick to bottles of Red Stripe ($5) and the occasional Sidecar ($7). Last year, after accidentally pinning the tail on the piñata, we wobbled over to Lotus Café, a snug, chill neighborhood joint that did not harsh our mellows. Sagging and wilted, we slouched around the long back table, circled by looming bookcases, and prayed that a round of rum and Coke ($5) would take the "no" out of noel. NITA RAO

Otheroom, 143 Perry Street, 212.645.9758
No Malice Palace, 197 East 3rd Street, 212.254.9184
Lotus Café, 35 Clinton Street, 212.253.1144


If the winter blues are getting you down, Brite Bar has the cure. Certified in helping Scrooges recall their lunch-box days, this modestly classy locale boasts a clean-cut and friendly crowd enjoying recess with strong martinis and Lite-Brites—mini versions of the age-old glowing art toy are placed along the bar with two life-size ones featured in the back among the comfy gray lounge chairs. If you're still wearing a frown, creamy Winter Warmers (Stoli Ohranj and Kahlúa; $9) will surely do the trick. Don't worry about folks' sharing their toys—after imbibing delicious and chocolaty Cupcakes (Vanilla Stoli and crème de cacao; $10), everyone remembers to play extra nice. Show-and-tell is optional. KEISHA FRANKLIN

Brite Bar, 297 Tenth Avenue, 212.279.9706


Shopping is a sport. But the easily fatigued need a time-out-and-jump-start-brew. Amid Herald Square's hubbub, catch a breather in Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill (downstairs past the "cellar-bration" of hokey holiday cheer). Set down the bags and refuel with a pitcher of Brooklyn ($16) or Rheingold ($15). Animated figurines, like Wayne Newton in the 1965 Thanksgiving Day Parade, invite you to warm the belly with fresh coffee and whipped cream spiked with Jameson's, Kahlúa, or Godiva Liqueur ($6.50). If department store prices aren't in your budget, head to Chinatown, where kitschy knockoffs reign. But when the streets feel packed with over a billion, duck into Princess Lounge, a karaoke bar with faux-marble tables and blaring hip-hop for Asian gangstas. Under the auspices of the lucky cat statue, mimic Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2 with a cheesy ballad. Or summon the spirit of Bond in Princess's imitation of the martini (note: no vermouth), the 007 (Absolut Mandarin, O.J., and 7-Up rimmed with "explosives;" $8). For those who can brave the glorious mess at Century 21, make a pit stop at Dakota Roadhouse, a joint unlike those Wall Street nouveau pubs. Snag a booth surrounded by college-boy tackiness—condiment bottles, license plates, road signage—and grab a Beck's ($5) to go with a game of pool ($1.50), Big Buck Hunter ($1), or the Lobster Zone ($2), in which you use a claw to catch one of two live lobsters. Shopping needn't be a chore. As with all exercise, remember to take breaks and drink lots of fluids. JANET KIM

Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill, 151 West 34th Street, 212.868.3001
Princess Lounge, 59 Bayard Street, 212.233.1818
Dakota Roadhouse, 43 Park Place, 212.962.9800


The folks at Rolf's demonstrate a Santa's elfish work ethic in the three weeks it takes to prepare the Christmas wunderland you'll encounter when you step inside this 19th-century German tavern. Giant firs, pine garlands, illuminated stained glass, and ornaments the size of Burl Ives's head decorate every nook and cranny of this Gramercy pub, which makes merry by offering a selection of obscure seasonal German beers and schnapps with traditional German fare. Wash down a plate of potato pancakes ($9.95) with a Kaiser Kümmel caraway schnapps ($7.50) or a half-liter of Hofbrau Oktoberfest ($8.00). It feels like a Christmas fairy tale, rosy cheeks and all. Brothers Grimm and Jack Frost, do your wurst. RYAN HENRIQUEZ

Rolf's, 281 Third Avenue, 212.473.8718


Face it: You're not going to pull into your parents' driveway in a new BMW this year like your younger brother. Once again, you'll be taking the bus home for the holidays. But it'll be fine—just medicate ahead for the long bumpy ride (and long grueling hours surrounded by family) with plenty of alcohol. Rather than sneaking sips from a bottle of cheap booze like the other drunks in Port Authority, head over to Splitz Cocktail Lounge, which is attached to the bowling alley on the second floor of Terminal 2. With its worn carpeting, mostly outdated r&b jukebox, and aqua-and-maroon pleather booths, Howard Johnson's seems upscale in comparison. While sipping beer (Heineken, $5) among the haggard-looking regulars, you're guaranteed to feel a little better about yourself. Take those few ounces of confidence down the hall to McCann's, a cozy Irish pub with way too many promotional beer banners, but an impressive photo-history display of the world-famous bus depot. Ordering a Jack and Coke ($6) here seems sophisticated, and even though it's a bit watered down, it goes well with the classic Motown tunes that fill the air. Stretch your legs on the way to Robert Emmett's. Through the large windows, the after-theater crowd (mostly bridge-and-tunnel soccer moms and their overfed husbands) looks out on the bustling, neon street below from a safe distance. It's the kind of place your parents would love: polished, sterile, oversize—a cheap imitation of luxury. Over a glass of wine (Shiraz, $7), you realize that coming here was a bad idea—it's as dull as your parents' living room. But then again, you might as well get used to it. KEN SWITZER

Splitz Cocktail Lounge, 625 Eighth Avenue, 212.268.6909
McCann's, 625 Eighth Avenue 212.594.1374
Robert Emmett's, 694 Eighth Avenue, 212.302.9999


There's something special about a long, horseshoe-shaped bar, such as the one at Holiday Cocktail Lounge, that can induce both conversation and solitude at once. A semicircle of faded men drinking Smirnoff and orange juice ($4.50) reminisce about how life was cheaper 20 years ago, but it's easy to tune them out, signal for another Jack Daniel's ($4) and stare into your lap. The strands of Christmas lights over the bar lend a festive air any time of year, and cast a flattering glow on the classic-rock jukebox and vinyl booths in back. The cranky old barman, Stefan, mixes strong, cheap drinks—provided he hears your order—which attracts a handful of NYU students on budgets, who tend to keep to themselves. Due to the low ceiling and narrow entryway, the place can feel like a nice, warm cave—and an unlikely place for family to find you. SHEELAH KOLHATKAR

Holiday Cocktail Lounge, 75 St. Marks Place, 212.777.9637


There's no better way to elude freezing temps and annoying, aimless pedestrians than to slip into a bar and wrap your hands around a mug of alcoholic cold comfort. Start your own personal trail of avoidance at Grange Hall, where they cook up their own wassail. For $7.50, the ambrosial concoction of dark rum, brandy, apple cider, and other autumnal ingredients may not put the spirit of Christ in your heart, but it will dump some much needed spirits into your bloodstream. After the effects of the wassail have worn off, hit the Waterfront Ale House, where you can get warm cider laced with rum, Irish coffee, or any kind of traditional hot toddy. Added bonus: when you rest your tired face over the mug, you get a free mini-facial. The downside: Cheapie facial makes you look sweaty. In need of some air, you head to the High Barin the Gramercy Park Hotel, where portable heaters keep the awning-covered roof deck toasty, so you can get lit (and light up!) under the stars. If you still feel a nip, try seasonal cocktails like the steaming Harvest Moon Brew (cider, light rum, and cranberry and orange juices with alcohol-drenched fruit), the Peach Cobbler (cider, peach schnapps, and cinnamon) and, for those who don't want a dessert in their drink, the Ginger Rum Tea (a subtle combination of rum, fresh ginger, and tea). Good thing the $14 price and carbo-load mean you can't overindulge. MICHELLE KLEINSAK

Grange Hall, 50 Commerce Street, 212.924.5246
Waterfront Ale House, 540 2nd Street, 212.696.4104
High Bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel, 2 Lexington Avenue, 212.475.4320


Blind Tiger always feels warm inside—and it's not just because of the roomy wooden booths, or the super-tasty Scotches and microbrews that are flowing from noon onward daily (1 p.m. on weekends). Because, you see, not only is the Blind Tiger's ever changing, surprise-filled beer list the closest thing you'll find to a Christmas present from a bar in this town, foot-long Sabretts (with all the fixins) are free on Mondays. Pair the dogs with a tall glass of Brooklyn Pennant Pale Ale ($3 on Mondays) for a perfect present to yourself after gift buying has left the wallet a little light. MAURA JOHNSTON

Blind Tiger, 518 Hudson Street, 212.675.3848


The husband's family (one dad, one stepmom, one neocon half-brother) is coming to town for the holidays, and though they are lovely people, we discourage them from staying at our place—noisy! cramped! mice! Instead, we offer to research budget hotels, i.e., we're going to find a cheap hotel (for them) with a loaded bar (for us). We start at the Holiday Inn, which is located in a landmark French Renaissance-style hotel. The outside may not scream "bargain," but it's another story at the bar, where elegant mosaic floors clash with salmon-pink walls. We imagine we're about to take the family on a requisite tour of Times Square. What do we need? The husband orders a J.B. and Coke ($7.40), which lacks punch, and I get a White Russian ($7.40), served nice and strong. Tired of the soft-rock soundtrack, we move on to the Hotel Pennsylvania where we find Joe O's, a well-stocked sports bar that, tonight, is overrun with lively geriatric Irishwomen on holiday. Our drinks, a stiff Jack and Ginger ($6) and a smooth seven and seven ($6), arrive in wine goblets. Sports fans cheer their teams, while our Irish septuagenarians begin to line dance to a guitarist singing "Margaritaville." Before the ladies ask us to join them, we dash out the door to the 1050 Lounge in the Skyline Hotel. No tourists here. Instead, local couples whisper at tables under the glow of urban-chic candelabras. Sinking into a red velvet booth, we opt for a tangy cosmo ($9) and a sweet Grand Marnier nightcap ($8). We toast, "To family." ANGELA ASHMAN

Holiday Inn, 49 West 32nd Street, 212.736.3800
Joe O's at the Hotel Pennsylvania, 136 West 33rd Street, 212.290.9200
1050 Lounge in the Skyline Hotel, 735 Tenth Avenue, 212.586.3400

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