Homes for the Holidays


As winter seeps into your bones, avoid the temptation to hide out in your teeny apartment. Sure, you can depend on trusty “cohorts” Jack, Jose, and Jim to keep you company during the colder months, but why not meet them at some of our favorite watering holes instead? The following bars have arranged to keep you—and some actual friends—warm and entertained whenever you decide to venture away from the remote control. Just leave the pajamas at home.

Safe Havens for Literate Lushes

Oh, pale Galilean (or bookish Brooklynite), if it is loneliness you seek to conquer during the existentially enervating holidays, make a pilgrimage to one of these storied watering holes. Eschew the food at prim Fedora, a West Village speakeasy that went respectable in the 1950s, and settle at the tiny bar with your tattered paperback of The Portable Dorothy Parker; after several very dry, very dirty martinis ($6) you’ll be very drunk—and very happy you’re not in love. For a rather more gay old time (note emphasis on “gay” and “old”) visit the Town House, a discreet, posh, Upper East Side bar for mature men of means and their admirers. There’s a dress code, but if you’re under 30 you’ll do all right in a sweater and chinos as you pose with a champagne cocktail ($8) and a copy of How to Marry a Millionaire. Perhaps you’ll meet a member of the prestigious Grolier, that private club for antiquarian-book enthusiasts whose black-tie events are as surreally camp as they are exclusive. For those with less esoteric tastes, there’s Old Town. For over a century this art nouveau saloon has been the downtown haven for crusty newspaper types and other writers. Stand at the bar with a black and tan ($6.50) and make up stories about the “good old days,” when the Voice was really the Voice . . . Or come early, colonize a booth, and fondle a copy of Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life. Just don’t yak on your cell or they’ll chuck you out before you can say “Cholly Knickerbocker.” BEGHTOL

Fedora, 239 W 4th, 212-242-9691; the Town House, 236 E 58th, 212-754-4649; Old Town Bar & Restaurant, 45 E 18th, 212-473-6728

Escape to Polynesia With Tiny Bubbles in the Wine

For those who can’t migrate to warmer climes, there is always the poor man’s vacation to the South Seas known as the tiki bar—if the atmospheric lighting, totemic idols, and scads of bamboo thatch don’t transport you to an exotic island locale, then the drinks certainly will. Take East Village bar Otto’s Shrunken Head. Order up a Pang’s Punch ($8) and you’ll know you’re going places before your first sip, when you discover that it actually glows in the dark. At heart a tiki-cum-rock-and-roll bar, Otto’s also serves up nightly music in its back room and features an old-school photo booth with which to commemorate your trip. For a slightly less grungy, more upscale incarnation of the Polynesian theme, check out Brooklyn’s Zombie Hut. The house signature drinks are the Frozen Zombie (small $5, large $8) and the Flaming Tiki Torch Shot ($5), which is not only served on fire but with marshmallows on a skewer that you’re encouraged to roast before downing this powerful brew. Zombie Hut also boasts a working fireplace that, if all else fails, is guaranteed to keep you warm while you close your eyes and picture sunny, tropical vistas.

Otto’s Shrunken Head, 538 E 14th, 212-228-2240; Zombie Hut, 261 Smith St, Bklyn, 718-875-3433

Hit the Slopes at Nearby Lodges

While downhill skiing in the city involves garbage can lids, duct tape, and landfills, a handful of local establishments have made aprés-ski a reality, complete with the prerequisite fireplace. Walk into Aspen, a restaurant closer to Chelsea than to Colorado, and travel back in time to a ’70s ski adventure, replete with deer heads on the wall. Sip their version of a Mexican hot chocolate (mint-infused tequila, combined with zesty hot chocolate, south-of-the-border style; $10). Downtown in the East Village, Kabin features a fake-log wall, antique signs (the kind that hang in every Montana home), and a sled dangling from the wall. Or take a break from Manhattan and head to Boerum Hill’s Kili, where exposed-brick walls and wooden beams scream wool sweater with snowflake prints. Warm up with a $7 mulled wine or think spring with the Kili Martini (peach schnapps, peach vodka, peach juice; $7). Thankfully, these pseudo ski lodges up the ante on the real deal by refusing to hire sucky singers to perform guitar-driven hits for drunk coeds after a long day out in the elements. BRAUNSCHWEIGER

Aspen, 27 W 20th, 212-645-5040; Kabin, 92 Second Ave, 212-254-0204; Kili, 81 Hoyt St, Bklyn, 718-855-5574

You Can Always Go Home Again

Growing up, cold winters were about wasting time downstairs in the rec room. That’s why when seasonal affective disorder gets you down, indulging in the nostalgic comforts of home can start that serotonin flowing again. An archetypal rec-room bar, Welcome to the Johnsons boasts a requisite second-hand couch encased in plastic (protecting you from the sofa rather than protecting the sofa from dirt). The bartenders here will require you to pay $3 to $4 for your beers, unlike Gramps, who barely noticed a couple missing from the spare fridge. Go ahead, build a beer-a-mid of empty PBR cans on top of the bar. You have to be 21 to drink, so no bratty kid sister is around to knock it over. If you’re homesick for the kind of basement entertainment that included your big brother’s band practice, dive into 169 Bar, where you can listen to some raw rock ‘n’ roll and loiter around like an annoying little brother. Teetering on the edge of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, 169 is devoid of pretense: The full aroma of stale beer and sweaty dudes helps you relive the good old days. REMSBERG

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

Hotel Stories

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.

In hipper quarters across town, the Back Room (102 Norfolk, 212-228-5098), a new bar that aims for “speakeasy” but doesn’t hit the mark, served three different brandies on a recent chilly night: Imoya, E&J, and Hardy, all V.S.O.P.’s ($8 a glass). The Imoya is especially tasty, throat-searing and sweet at first, then blooming with a black-pepper kick. But all three are served in BR’s signature teeny teacups on tiny saucers, which is as cardinal a sin as throwing ice cubes in a Guinness.

Move down the block to Schiller’s Liquor Bar (131 Rivington, 212-260-4555), where, happily, leather armchairs aren’t part of the design scheme. The pear-inflected Poire Williams ($9), served cold, only gets better as the drink warms to room temperature, while the Bushnell Calvados ($10) has an underlying apple-pepper hybrid taste. Bonus: Schiller’s offers brasserie-style french fries, which may seem like a “don’t” when you’re savoring brandy, but really, fries are always a “do.” WEINSTEIN

Party All the Time

A couple of New Year’s Eve bashes

From high-end boutique parties to sleazy downtown bashes, you can spend a million or nothing at all on New Year’s Eve. Chelsea boys can dance to house music for a full day at Crobar‘s (530 W 28th, 212-629-9000) 24-hour New Year’s Eve bash. Resident DJ Boris spins from 9 p.m. till 8 in the morning, then Victor Calderone takes over until 6 p.m. It’s not really 24 hours, but after 21 hours of partying, who’s keeping track? $125 if purchased before December 25, $150 after; includes open bar from 8:30 p.m. to midnight, with a bottle of champagne.

The folks at Cielo (18 Little W 12th, 212-645-5700) are celebrating for another reason: The club opened on New Year’s Eve four years ago. Resident deep-house DJ Willie Graff guides you into the New Year with a special guest still TBD. $50 in advance, $75 at the door.

Feel like a celebrity and celebrate the New Year where the stars like to go, at Marquee (289 Tenth Ave, 212-255-4223). Jus Ske spins dance and house in the main room, where you can get a V.I.P. table for a mere $300 per person, which comes with two bottles, mixers, and hors d’oeuvres. Plus, they don’t kick you out for the after-party. If you plan on dancing—not sitting—all night, $175 gets you in. Show up fashionably late (after 2 a.m.) and $35 grants you entrée.

You can leave the fancy stuff to the real celebrities and get gritty at
Lit (93 Second Ave, 212-777-7987). Last year’s down-and-dirty party featured Leo Fitzpatrick (of Kids fame), Fannypack’s Fancy and Kat, and Fischerspooner’s Lizzy Yoder, among others. This year expect a similar vibe; dance to electro, hip-hop, booty base and rock into the wee hours. ROMANO