Homes for the Holidays

Bars to hibernate in when the weather dips

Welcome to the Johnsons, 123 Rivington, 212-420-9911; 169 Bar, 169 E Bway, 212-473-8866

Hotel Stories

illustration: Gina Triplett and Matt Curtius

After a day spent braving the elements of holiday shopping (the cold! the crowds! the cash!), the relative tranquility of a hotel bar is guaranteed to soothe. Devoid of the usual must-be-seen hipster narcissism, these bars, with candlelight and soft tunes, can calm jangled nerves; and, you can always get a stiff drink. Cibar, which sits below the Inn at Irving Place, passes all three tests. Red love seats combine with low lighting to lend the place an accessible elegance. Secluded tables in each corner ensure that you'll be able to quaff your holiday ennui away with a Suffering Bastard (Malibu, Myers's, Captain Morgan, tropical juices, and a flaming floater of 151; $12) in peace. Those with more minimalist tendencies and fatter wallets should head to Thom Bar at the 60 Thompson hotel. This large and beautiful space's basic black-and-white decor impresses without trying. Kick back in one of the many nooks, order a fizzy Passion Fruit Bellini (passion fruit juice and Mo $14), and relax. Although the Lower East Side location and red carpet (!) of the spanking-new Hotel on Rivington should make it too trendy and crowded by half, the Thor Bar and Restaurant in its lobby turns out to be loud, fun, and not too overly full of itself. Make your way to one of the rectangular Ikea-style couches circling the space and realize that you may not be able to hide out; but after a couple of Hemingway Daiquiris (rum, maraschino liqueur, lime juice, champagne, and mint; $11), you'll happily blend in. LEE

Cibar, the Inn at Irving Place, 56 Irving Pl, 212-460-5656; Thom Bar, 60 Thompson hotel, 60 Thompson, 212-219-2000; Thor Bar and Restaurant, Hotel on Rivington, 107 Rivington, 212-796-8040

Hide Out at These Subterranean Dens of Iniquity

Ugh! The holidays—a supposedly joyous time ironically rife with stress and depression and loaded with awkward social chitchat. If the family doesn't lobotomize you, that bore two cubicles over surely will. You need to drink deep in intimate environs. Double Happiness, the Chinatown institution, is a subterranean den of iniquity (we say that not 'cause of its mafia-owned gay bar/speakeasy past, but 'cause we once spotted Macaulay Culkin partying monsterly). Asian themed with dungeon-comfy private-esque digs, the tasty and clean Green Tea Martini ($9) is calming and faux-healthy. If Red China won't do it for ya, get down all KGB-secret stylee in the and fairly trendy Pravda—an atmospheric two-floor underground dwelling with dark wood floors, cozy plush-leather booths, and a vault-like ceiling. They specialize in vodka from all over the globe; we suggest spicing things up with the caviar and smoked fishies ranging in prices from serf to czar. BOSLER

Double Happiness, 174 Mott, 212-941-1282; Pravda, 281 Lafayette, 212-334-5015

Entertainment Tonight

When the winter doldrums set in, the scene at numerous bars fizzles from outdoor patios and cavorting crowds to sipping a lonely, flat lager and hoping for a decent jukebox selection. At this moment, you should recognize a need for entertainment—and I don't mean the type originating in your chemically screwed brain. So stop vegetating in your drafty apartment and get the blood flowing to your digits at Williamsburg's Barcade. Thumb muscles go into overtime working the 20 different arcade games, including Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris, and Galaga. Those feeling lazier should take in a drag show at Barracuda, sitting back while someone sexier does the work. Or head to the West Village venue Rose's Turn, where at the downstairs piano bar you'll find some of the best voices this side of Broadway, and the upstairs cabaret space packs a crowd. As part of your two-drink minimum, try a Rainierita, their signature margarita (Cuervo, Grand Marnier, lime juice; $8.50) named for the bartender, Rainie. Most importantly, you'll be able to break out of your winter stupor for at least one evening. BRAUNSCHWEIGER

Barcade, 388 Union Ave, Bklyn, 718-302-6464; Barracuda, 275 W 22nd, 212-645-8613; Upstairs at Rose's Turn, 55 Grove, 212-366-5438

Tips for Sips

Brandy, you're a fine swirl

After months of heat waves and floods, the Farmers' Almanac predicts that we'll have a snowy December and "exceptionally cold" late January; you can either bundle up and cry or head out for a nip. As downtown bars increasingly skew low-rent luxe—gorgeous wallpaper and cheapish bottled beer—perhaps it's time to warm up with a brandy, an aristocratic drink whose time for co-option has come.

But first, a tutorial, courtesy of Shyda Gilmer, of Madison Avenue fine-liquor emporium Sherry-Lehmann: France produces the world's most illustrious brandies, of which cognac and Armagnac are the two main types; the latter is more of an earthy, sitting-before-the-fire, petting-a-German-shepherd drink. There are three classes of brandy, a hierarchy based on how long the liquor has been aged: V.S. bottles are usually four to seven years old, V.S.O.P.'s are five to 13 years old, and pricey X.O. brandies may be aged several decades.

Venture to Tribeca's Brandy Library (25 N Moore, 212-226-5545), a polished, genuinely upscale bar, for an unbeatable list of fine brandies, starting at around $9 a glass. Swirl the brandy around and sniff, then sip slowly—the longer you wait, the more the taste will evolve, as the different nuances mature and cohere. "You want to open up the beautiful flavors," Gilmer advises, employing words like "luscious" and "otherworldly" while rhapsodizing on the taste of a brandy that's reached its peak.

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