NYC: The Best Bars to Entertain Holiday Visitors

The holiday season means higher-than-usual tourist density in New York City, and naturally, that spike in traffic is due in no small part to your own eager friends and family, who descend on the city for an authentic, fairy-lighted experience of the Big Apple in winter. But after a day at Macy’s, an evening at Rockefeller Center, and a dinner somewhere “New York-y,” as per their request, where do you, their trusty tour guide by default, take them for a night on the town? Here are a few crowd-pleasers that will still earn you some street cred, whether that crowd involves your boyfriend’s distant Uncle Larry, Mom and Dad, long-lost friends who’ve emerged from the woodwork, hard-to-impress rubberneckers, or your old high school mates. A comprehensive list of the best yuletide boîtes to celebrate the new year – and the best of NYC.

Bars with Games Good For: Who doesn’t like to indulge in the nostalgia of old-school games, especially this time of year? Whether you’re with a raucous bunch of old friends, have a score to settle with your Mom over ping pong, or need to take the focus off a conversation with relatives you barely know, these bars offer distractions and can make for a festive time. Bar 675: Basement rec room goes for casual chic with Jenga, cards, and board games. Earn extra points from sceney friends, who will be thrilled to tell the folks back home that they hung out in the Meatpacking. The Diamond: Brooklyn bound? Beer makes shuffleboard so much more fun at this Greenpoint joint. SPiN: Table tennis for mom, and the fact that it’s owned by Susan Sarandon will appease cousin Name Drop as well. Barcade: Are your friends from the Midwest looking for “authentic Brooklyn?” Watch their wide-eyed wonder as they take in skinny-jean gangs playing thumb-cramping faves like Frogger and Tetris for an authentic 25¢ a pop. Ace Bar: Skee-Ball bar pleases the kiddies and anyone else who likes bare-bones décor sprinkled with bits of pop-trinket nostalgia from your childhood. V Bar: Siding with the gaming snobs of the world, this spot is best for your Princeton-alum brother (who happens to be a chess genius). Café and wine bar stocked with NYU grad students, chess and Scrabble battles, and a nice selection of beer and wine.

Next: Cozy Fireplaces

Cozy Fireplaces Good For: Catch up time with people who came to really enjoy holiday spirit in the city. Rose Bar: Have friends or family more interested in being around artists than actual art? For example: I once took someone here who fawned over what he thought was a Warhol (he read about it in a city guide) loud enough so that he was sure Neve Campbell, seated a table away, could hear. It was a Haring. Rubber-necking friends aside, the velvety banquettes and giant fireplace are a cozy departure from the winter weather courtesy of Ian Schrager and Julian Schnabel. The Lobby Bar at the Bowery Hotel: Wood paneling, stuffed animal trophies, and twin oils of hunting hounds give off an English-manor-library vibe. Can be a headache to get a good spot, which are usually reserved for “hotel guests,” monied travelers, and pretty hipsters. Try eating at Gemma first and brown nose your server for a spot by the fireplace. The Back Room: Semi-secret spot for those wishing it was still Prohibition. They’ll get a kick out of drinking their $11 cocktail from a mug. Employees Only: High-class weirdness, with a gypsy psychic at the door and stellar mixologists to determine your fate. The smell of the fireplace and the sight of all the handle bar mustaches will really transport your visitors. Highlands: Décor is pub-meets-hunter’s-lodge, with stuffed deer on brick walls and salvaged woods. Cozy, and it exacerbates that whole “New York Melting Pot” idea. Savoy: A townhouse in the middle of Soho with a fireplace as the festive cherry on top. Shoolbred’s: Scottish pub parlor warmed by actual fireplace. Ten brews on tap. Scotch, natch. It’s Highlands for the East Side set, with a low key (NYU students) crowd.

Next: The Oldest Bars in New York

The Oldest Bars in New York Good For: Skip these precious spots if you’re with a crew that couldn’t care less about anywhere that doesn’t have a VIP list. Otherwise, impress friends and family with the storied, often quirky backgrounds of some of New York’s oldest watering holes. Bridge Café: Opened in 1794, old but not musty. Looks like the site of a nautical murder mystery and is rumored to be haunted by ghosts of sailors and whores, like your parents’ bedroom. Ear Inn: Classic New York-on-the-waterfront feel, minus Marlon Brando, but with plenty of coulda-been contenders. I’ve seen a Soprano in here. McSorley’s: Born in 1854, and perhaps the most renown bar amongst the younger members of the Historical Society, this beer-chugging joint sees tanked fratboys, the cirrhosis crowd, and, after a court order, a few ladies (in other words: no women were allowed until 1970). Sawdusted floors, dust-encrusted wishbones, and loads of cats make this a very special place, indeed. Delmonico’s: Quenching your bloodthirst since ’37 -1837, that is – your parents will appreciate the air of refinement this joint still exudes, not to mention the supposed hauntings. Mahogany wood dining room with glowing chandeliers is the ideal noir-glam setting for steakhouse staples and a bustling bar separate from the dining room.

Next: Mixology Bars

Mixology Bars Good For: The mixology trend is widely known across all towns and townships, so let your slightly underage cousin Timmy learn firsthand just how delightful muddling, zesting, and spicing can be. Just about anyone who doesn’t limit themselves to wine coolers will appreciate the craftsmanship and ambiance. Apotheke: For those who want the back alley as much as they want the absinthe, welcome to Albert Trumer’s quirky school of cocktail science – this former opium den has been transformed into a medieval apothecary by the Austrian mixologist. Bonus: it’s in Chinatown. The interior is antique-sexy, with warm lighting and super-friendly bartenders. PDT: Oh, this is good. Through a hot dog joint you’ll go, and then through a phone booth, where you’ll have to say some secret something-or-other (though they’ve grown lenient in their older age) before you take your dumbfounded guests back to a room with a diagonal slat ceiling, de rigueur taxidermy, and a glowing bar. Note: Make a reservation earlier to get a good seat and smooth entry. Little Branch: By far the most talked-about speakeasy, this West Village spot boasts no signage unless you count the line out the door during peak hours. Retro cocktails served with cool swizzle sticks by tall drinks of water. Go on the early side of a Sunday night to chat up the mixologists and catch some jazz. Mayahuel: The cocktail connoisseurs at Death & Co. built an agave altar. Intimate confessionals, stained glass, and communal pews evoke a Mexican mission. All tequila, all the time, with all the bells and whistles to render previous tequila blow-outs null and void. Death & Co: Dark and polished, this cocktail den packs in a lively crowd. Bartenders in suspenders and vests serve up expert cocktails, and clearly love what they do (they don’t take of their vests when they get home). Great spot for just about anyone who can appreciate such a scene. Cienfuegos: Cuban rum bar from Mayahuel/Death & Co vet seduces with pink couches and sugarcane.

Next: Impressive Hotel Bars

Impressive Hotel Bars Good For: If your guests really “wanna see stuff,” like mine usually do, guiding them to impressively-designed hotel bars around NYC—usually the crown jewels of the hotels themselves—will go over well. Here are a few that leave a lasting impression. Bemelmans Bar: It’s classic New Yawk! Located inside the Carlyle, this timeless upscale New York City bar near Central Park draws bold-faced names, many of whom your out-of-towners could care less about. They will enjoy the classic cocktails and gilded ambiance. Hudson Bar at Hudson Hotel: If your guests approach things like rock music, sushi, and democrats with trepidation, this bar on acid may not be the place for them. Shrek-green lights illuminate the escalator, there’s a chandelier the size of a Volkswagen, the floors glow, the chairs seem to float—except for the tree stumps—and the whole thing makes you feel like you’re living in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s that cool. The Waldorf Astoria: Ah, the sprawling impressiveness of the Waldorf – the stuff salads are named after! Three bars, four restaurants, and Jazz Age overindulgence. A certain spirit abides, especially during the holidays. Jane Hotel and Ballroom: This place is for your visiting sorority sisters – leave the parents at home. Dual bar spaces decked out with Edwardian charm, as befits the hotel’s 1908 origins. Posh couches, leafy palms, tortoise shell ceilings, and an ancient disco bar all made better by the creatively-dressed PYTs. Plunge Rooftop Bar + Lounge at the Gansevoort Park: This hotel bar sort of looks like the New York in the Sex and the City movies. It’s slick and arty, with shinning angles and scrumptious views of the Empire State Building. Stoke your vertigo with windows in the terrace floors that look straight down on distant midtown traffic. Your guests will feel so very modern. The Standard Hotel: So this is the place with all the naked people? Depending who you’re with, I’d say a stroll around the grounds with a stop at the bar in the hotel’s Standard Grill will be enough. Unless you’ve got some young model/socialite family members, why waste family time on rubbernecking at Boom Boom? The Ace Hotel: It has a curious cheeky quality to it without being a tourist magnet. The Lobby Bar is reminiscent of an all-American library, with Ivy League reading-room tables, a bar serving up Old Fashioneds and the cult favorite Porkslap Pale Ale, a vintage-style photobooth, and a massive, tattered American flag on the wall. Bring people—not sheeple.

Next: Editor’s Picks

Editor’s Picks Our editors are often tasked with selecting the perfect place for their cousin Sarah’s college roommate’s mother, who’s coming to the city for the first time. Here’s where they like to bring their special holiday guests this time of year. Chris Mohney: Pegu Club. Great place to take any out-of-towner who likes a good drink. Still some of the finest cocktails in the city, and now that it’s been around a while, almost always chill enough to easily find a spot without worrying about crowds. Ben Barna: Fatty Cue. It’s good for anyone, really. Except maybe vegetarians. It’s got the kind of vibe you can only find in Brooklyn, and the kind of unique cuisine you’ll only find in New York. Also, it’s a restaurant meant for sharing, so that’s fun. And the drinks are as good as the food. I’d like to just bring my bros, but it’s expensive, so I take my parents as well. Megan Conway: The Good Fork in Red Hook. I’d like to take my parents to visit this historic, less-trodden waterfront neighborhood. This cozy restaurant offers inspired grub in one of the more unique pockets of the city. Nadeska Alexis: The Dove. It’s a well rounded place that’s chill enough for friends, and I’ve been there with adults and have not been embarrassed. Fun cocktails too. Victor Ozols: Rudy’s. It’s a really lasting, authentic experience that stays with someone. Cayte Grieve: Oyster Bar at Grand Central. For New York newbies and friends and family who haven’t spent a lot of time in the city, the Oyster Bar is one of those bars-slash-attractions that sort of kills two birds with one stone. Grand Central? Check. Getting Grandma drunk? Check. All done with old-style glamour.

Next: Around Rockefeller

Around Rockefeller Good For: Sometimes you just gotta give the people what they want: A Disney-fied version of the most wonderfully commercial time of the year! While your skating, shopping, and taking photos around The Tree, you might as well ease your sensory-overloaded nerves with some family vodka time. Rock Center Café: Tourist magnet, priced accordingly, and you will wait accordingly—yes, even the early birds. Perhaps it’s best to skip the food and opt for a toast instead. Perfect before, during, or after a spin around the rink. Watching wipe-outs with the fam never felt so corporate. The Modern: Danny Meyer’s unabashed flamboyance for air-kissing culture whores. It’s at the MoMa, kids, so take only those who desire such a scene. If you’ve got yourself a crew outfitted in suits and ties longing for a culture cocktail, here’s your promised land. 21 Club: It’s so famous! Free parking if you show up before 6:30pm, if that tells you something about the demographic, but only the locals and culture snobs will take note. Skip the steaks and head for the scotch with the people who’ve read about the place or heard about it in hip-hop songs. Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe: Here’s a cozy place to get warm after running with the masses around Rockefeller. Please remember that other people longing for a night cap will also be directed to this wine bar, which boasts over fifty well-chosen wines by the glass and 2,000 bottle choices on the menu.

Where Celebs Go Out: Green Day, Serena Williams, Dr. Oz, Carla Gugino

Billy Joe Armstrong at the Broadway opening of Green Day’s American Idiot: I don’t have any favorites. I like anywhere and everywhere. I went to go see “Everyday Rapture” last night, and then I went to punk-rock karaoke down on the Lower East Side, it was at Arlene’s Grocery. ● Mike Dirnt: Honestly, I like to meet friends for a nice pint at McSorley’s, the oldest pub in New York. ● Tre Cool: I like to go to Gray’s Papaya at 72nd Street and get cheap hot dogs.

Serena Williams: Oh, I don’t go out too much. I love Mr. Chow in Miami. ● Donald Trump: Only at Trump properties! Jean Georges. ● Carla Gugino: I’m a big fan of Morandi. I just went there for brunch for the first time. And I love a little Mediterrean place called Taim. ● Camryn Manheim: The truth is I like to go to a casino and play some poker in Los Angeles and Vegas. And I love to go to all the places here after the show. Joe Allen, Angus, Bar Centrale. ● Whoopi Goldberg: I don’t go out, but when I am out in the city, I go and get my hot dogs from Gray’s Papaya. Which one? I like all of them. ● Dr. Oz at HealthCorps “Garden of Good and Evil” gala to fight obesity: I like Candle 79 a lot. It’s my favorite vegetarian restaurant. It’s easy to get to, and I love the way they pull together tastes that are unique. And by the way, they supply my food in the green room, for my show. I order out, and Candle 79 caters it. They have a seitan dish and they look like chimichurri. ● Roger Ross Williams: I hang out a lot at Norwood, which is a private club, on 14th Street. It’s a whole brownstone. There’s a restaurant and a number of bars. I live on the Lower East Side, so I hang out there at a lot of different bars. I love restaurants, so sometimes Spotted Pig, Pastis a lot for lunch. Right now, I’m like editing in the Meat Packing District at an edit house, so I’ve been to the Standard a lot. ● Rocco DiSpirito: I still go to Balthazar and Spotted Pig and places like that. I love going to Balthazar and getting a big plateau of fruits de mer, you know the three-level plateau, with a couple of friends and some good white wine. ● Ben Vereen: Koi restaurant. I like the food, the ambiance, and the people.

Kick Kennedy: ‘Rolling Stone,’ Clean Water, & McSorley’s

imageThe first thing you see is the Kennedy teeth: lots, in a broad but no-nonsense grin. Being born with a platinum spoon in her mouth gave Kick Kennedy a taste for philanthropic causes, music, history, and — journalism? “I’m an intern at Rolling Stone,“ she says. “They’re a good group of people — and it gives me a chance to explore two of my interests: music and writing.“ Which just challenges the theory that journalism isn’t a job for grown-ups because Kick Kennedy has a very old head. Always has.

“Its been absolutely amazing, and I’m inspired by my co-workers, even though I’m a lowly intern. To the same degree that I’m inspired by the philanthropists I work for, but in a different way. I have a passion for writing. I’m into journalism, maybe I love music, and I love the two, and I never thought about doing either until now, but I’ve become really into the magazine and have a similar attitude to politicians as to journalists. In terms of my writing, I love the field. I’ve really opened up at this point, carving out my path to see what I want to do. But college credits for creative writing led me here, and it was a natural mix. I really love newspapers, but …“ the voice of the journalist trails off. “My favorite writers are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Campbell, Chris Buckley, and Kurt Vonnegut, definitely in the top 10. My role models include several people from my family, and of course I’ve been inspired by my father who got me moving on Waterkeeper.”

A history undergrad at Stanford University, she’s been an environmentalist since she could spell. Nicknamed for her late, great aunt who died tragically in an air crash before the end of the Second World War, this generation’s Kick has campaigned for family and friends but leans most towards foundation work with Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper, on whose behalf she produced and “starred” in an IMAX documentary about the Grand Canyon. Every time she said “Conserve water; shower with a friend” during the press tour, her father cringed. “In fact, TEVA — the guys who make the sandals — supported the making of that documentary,“ she allows. “I went to see the film so many times while I was promoting it, and even though I knew what was going to happen next, it was tantalizing. When you see yourself on the IMAX screen, it’s scary, but being in the Grand Canyon really gave me that perspective with these humongous walls I was funneling through. You realize how small you are compared to nature.” But it was the original settlers of the Grand Canyon, the Native Americans, she credited highest, and brought them with her to New York on the press tour. “I don’t know whether they’d ever left their homes before, but they were a fantastic part of the film that everybody loved, and I’m honored that they joined us.”

She hasn’t been back, but she has seen the pyramids of Central and South America — and has a thing for Machu Pichu. “I’ve been twice, and I have a big interest in history; it’s my major at Stanford, and I think ancient civilizations are my favorite study. But Cuzco is my favorite city in the world, my oasis … and if I had to be anywhere, I’d be sitting on a rock in Machu Pichu. With a llama.”

After a stint interning for “Uncle Teddy” — a.k.a. Senator Edward Kennedy — in Massachusetts and Washington DC, she pretty much rejected the political life that consumed many of her family members in the past for a different kind of public service.

In fact, with two other early-twenty-something household family names — Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin and Sarah Delano Roosevelt — Kick has formed “Legacy Associates,” an endorsement and philanthropic group of three young ladies from America’s iconic families who donate to their favorite charities through consumer licensing and branding.

“I’m going to give you my version of how Legacy works. Basically, we are a not-for-profit, and all of our proceeds in terms what I make — as well as Sarah and Consuelo — go to the charities we want to benefit. For instance, we’re in the process of signing a contract with a clothing manufacturer, and through Legacy, they still get their full price and we will have generated a donation to Ovarian Cancer (Legacy’s official charity) as well as, in my case, the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Riverkeeper. We’ve only been at it for a month or so, that’s why I was so initially intrigued by it — it’s so unique. It’s a very interesting idea, and I think it will be very attractive to clothing manufactures. It gives them a competitive edge. It seems like so many companies have taken a philanthropic approach to their work, so in the end, everybody wins.” Busy girl.

“I got involved with Legacy when I was approached by the Destinos; they thought I could contribute a valuable asset — my name. In terms of the core women involved, Legacy is for people who are looking for strong women with an interest in philanthropy. We have a whole showboat running. The Destinos approached different people for different reasons … getting publicity, building the business plan, and business model for Legacy. Getting the clothing industry involved is just our first project.”

For her roles in both Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper, she is about to receive the Solar One award. “It is an organization that promotes solar energy, especially in New York City,” a subject she knows well: one of her missions through the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Riverkeeper is to provide the cleanest possible drinking water to all New Yorkers. “They are giving me an award on Tuesday at their center on the East River at 23rd Street (and are about to move to other locations, across and up town, to create enough energy to sell back to the City) and they plan to built Solar Two to generate enough power to run itself and other buildings.”

But in the autumn, she slips away from Rolling Stone and Manhattan to return to the West Coast and Stanford for her last year.

“I have a few ideas,” she pauses for the usual nanoquark, “and journalism school is definitely up there.” Just was for her cousin, Maria Shriver. “I’m going to see where this whole Legacy project takes me. My future is up in the air. I have a year left in school, and I would like to continue my education if it’s in the cards for me. The Legacy thing — I think I could tie it all together, especially as we all have to write our own blogs about what’s going on with the charities and the manufacturers.”

Leaving New York is another matter entirely. Shell be missed at McSorley’s. “I think my heart lies with McSorley’s — the oldest bar in New York City, and a fine place. That’s probably where I tend to meet up with my friends — it’s fun over there. But, you know where I really love? Hill Country. It’s the best meat I’ve ever had in my life.” But ladies who lunch take note: “I don’t eat out that much. I eat a lot of hummus. it’s not very good, but it is one of the most nutritious things around — and it gives you a lot of calories without having to cook.” But tonight she’s safe from having to dab another glob. “Tonight, my brother is having a barbeque in Brooklyn!”

St. Patrick’s Day 2.0 @ McSorley’s

If there was ever any confusion as to where you should be spending your St. Patty’s day, I think this website has answered the question. It’s a live patchwork of tweets and pictures from McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village, updating you on all the green goings-on at the legendary booze altar. Who would’ve thought that one of the oldest bars in New York (it opened its doors in 1854) would be so cutting edge!

This internet thing is catching on, after all. According to an update, there was a line outside at 10 a.m., but if the bar is filled with guys like this, I’m more than happy watching the festivities from the isolation of me dear computer screen.