Best Of :: Nightlife
You may feel like you've seen versions of this dive before, but Astoria's Mad Donkey is a neighborhood bar first and foremost. Friendly bartenders make conversation freely and remember your name after one visit, especially if you're bold enough to try one of their bar challenges. Drink all of the beers on tap, survive two fishbowls (a sugar-laden bowl of whiskey, tequila, vodka, and Bacardi 151 topped off with Swedish Fish), or polish off the appropriately named Donkey Mess (a slophouse of all their appetizers in one super-sized meal), and you can get your photo on the wall. (For the less ambitious, there are board games and a pool table.) Whiskey lovers will delight in the extensive list. Free peanuts are provided, and you're encouraged to litter the floor with the shells, a charming detail that adds to the bar's grungy atmosphere, complete with bras hanging from the ceiling. The bar also hosts regular events in the area, like the Mad Donkey Costume Party, attracting older locals who are happy to share a story or two. As you stumble out at three in the morning, you know you'll likely make a return visit.
32-07 36th Avenue, Astoria, Queens
In a pilgrimage that's become a rite of passage for New Yorkers of a certain scene, Michelle Lhooq (@MichelleLhooq) spent the first half of her September in Berlin, dancing to techno almost every night until after sunrise. Unlike most of her peers, though, she could call it a work trip: Lhooq is the features editor at Vice's electronic-music site, Thump, where she covers the dance music she goes out to hear almost every night of the week. New York was starting to feel like "too much of a good thing," she says. "So I went to Berlin on a soul-searching mission to figure out if it was New York that was getting me down, or if it was the raving that was getting me down."
Thankfully, she just needed a reset. Which is fair: Lhooq has been going out since she was a teenager visiting megaclubs in Singapore and Tokyo. When she came to New York nine years ago, she joined the EDM-focused rave scene (think stretchy beaded bracelets and neon platform boots) before eventually making her way to the blossoming Brooklyn underground. "Sadly, Manhattan's days as the center of nightlife are over, with the whole Meatpacking bottle service scene," laments Lhooq. "But the underground is so, so poppin' right now, and what's cool is that a lot of it is happening outside of clubs."
Warehouses mostly, but not always: There are parties in Chinese restaurants and cruise ships, and this winter Lhooq threw herself a birthday bash in the back of a chicken-and-pizza joint underneath the J/M/Z tracks, rotating DJs every hour. "I wanted to showcase the diversity of [New York's] electronic music scene — to have my techno friends dancing to reggaetón and vice versa," she says. It's a stark contrast to mainstream electronic music, where most performers play bass-abusing EDM and are "basically all white dudes," sighs Lhooq. "Thump recently did a gender breakdown of the [lineups at] big festivals, and the highest percentage [of women] we found was around 19 percent. Something's very wrong if that's the best ratio." Raving in New York is proof that it really doesn't have to be this way: Subversive parties like Papi Juice and Discwoman put queer and femme DJs and fans of color first while keeping every edition totally packed, and Lhooq also praises bigger Brooklyn clubs like Output (74 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, outputclub.com) and Good Room (98 Meserole Avenue, Brooklyn, goodroombk.com) for exposing more mainstream-leaning audiences to underground artists.
She spreads this egalitarian vision to Thump, where she's published essays, features, and interviews championing diverse performers. "This idea of nightlife being a secret bubble that the 'real' world can't infringe upon is idealistic," she says. "It's just a microcosm — dressed in glitter and feathers."
There's a rooftop in Chelsea where you can travel back in time and sip scotch on a soft bed in a dimly lit library, or toast your compatriots while lounging in a fireside rocking chair, or at a desk filled with parchment and quills. Some of your fellow imbibers at the Lodge at Gallow Green may hold eerie white masks — may even be wearing them — but don't worry. You haven't stumbled into some horror movie; they likely just found their way upstairs from the interactive theatrical production Sleep No More, which adapts the story of Macbeth for a silent performance. Upstairs in the Lodge, a wintertime version of the hotel's open-air Gallow Green rooftop bar, nothing else matters: Even if it's a frosty nightmare outside, you're snug in this dark haven as you savor drinks like A Rose by Any Other Name and Something Wicked. But be forewarned: This old-fashioned escapade will cost you modern-day prices.
542 West 27th Street, Manhattan
Doris sounds like the name of your kindly elderly neighbor, and this Bed-Stuy bar is just as friendly. The easy-to-miss-despite-being-yellow door on Fulton Street conceals a warm, stuccoed interior. Potted succulents sit on plank shelving, and small electric bulbs cast the place in what feels like candlelight. The indoor booths provide a place for intimate evenings (bartender Tom O'Neill says Tuesdays seem to be Tinder nights), but the real attraction is the airy backyard. Tables are big enough for groups, though people also tend to share, making this a good place to strike up conversation with someone new. O'Neill describes Doris as an "oasis," which is a thing bartenders say, but in this case it happens to be accurate. The ping-pong table at the back of the patio may make you fear an invasion of guys with backward caps, but not to worry: No beer pong allowed! (It says so right on the table. With the exclamation point.)
1088 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
The Crown Inn is a neighborhood bar: It. Is. For. Drinking. "Beer and wine crowd" is how bartender Wolf Henry describes the clientele, and isn't that exactly the right answer? Located on Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, the Crown Inn finds a sweet spot between dive bar and more self-consciously stylish options: The seats aren't sticky, the draft selection is reasonably broad, and you still don't have to pay a fortune. Take your drink to the patio — lushly shaded by an elm the circumference of a cocktail table — or slip into one of the wooden booths near the back. That brings up one other thing about the Crown Inn: Apparently a lot of necking goes on there. The back room is dimly lit and, if Yelp reviewers are to be believed, the customers make good use of those darkened spaces.
724 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn
New Yorkers are so used to shelling out $12 and up for a quality cocktail that most people glancing at Yours Sincerely's menu for the first time will likely do a double take — all but one of the drinks at this Bushwick establishment are $8 or less. That's because all the cocktails at the bar, opened this year by the proprietors of lauded Wilson Avenue restaurant Dear Bushwick, are on tap. The nitrogen-powered taps send cocktail components straight to the cup, relieving bartenders of all that tedious shaking and mixing — and you of the cost of all that labor. Yours Sincerely's cocktails are twists on classic drinks: The Pineapple Express is a light and refreshing take on a piña colada, while the Empirical Formula is a gin and (deliciously bitter homemade) tonic. There are more adventurous options as well, like the Chaos Theory cocktail shot, which includes Owney's Rum infused with Jamaican jerk flavoring. Drinks are served in gimmicky chemistry beakers, but they're good enough, and cheap enough, that it's hard to care.
41 Wilson Avenue, Brooklyn