If you're planning on watching the big game at an uptown bar this Sunday, you've got plenty of choices: from neighborhood pubs to boisterous beer gardens, there's truly something for everyone.
But what if you're just not that into football and would still like a nice evening out? The fact is it's not always easy to order a drink at a bar without a huge, distracting screen shining in your face.
Luckily, Harlem has an increasingly wide array of low-key cocktail bars sans big TVs. From north to south, here are five to check out this Sunday–or any day you need an escape from that bright, LED glare.
This tiny, brick-walled bar in the upper reaches of Hamilton Heights has an uncomplicated feel that'll cater to your inner Luddite. There's a record player behind the bar playing everything from Aretha Franklin to The Strokes, a rotary dial phone on the wall straight out of the '70s, and a range of classic drinks ready to be stirred. The menu lists the bar's many bourbon offerings as well as cocktails divided into three categories: "With Ice" (Old Fashioned, Boulevardier), "Up" (Sazerac, Hemingway Daiquiri) and "Just the Glass" (Champagne Cocktail).
A fun, late-'70s suburban basement vibe envelops you at the Honeywell, extending to a poster of a young, bathing suit-clad Tom Selleck in the bathroom. In keeping with the theme, many of the bar's wild, original drinks come in tall tiki mugs or are set aflame before they're served. Still, don't let the decor fool you: this is one of the best cocktail bars around. Try to sit directly in front of head bartender Marcio Ramos (above; he's the cocktail genius behind a lot of the concoctions) and order the off-menu Funkadelic, which arrives in a lava lamp. (Note: technically there is a tiny, vintage TV at the Honeywell, but it's more decor than anything else.)
There's a very good reason to head to this underground space on an otherwise quiet stretch of upper Broadway: It serves some of the most imaginative, meticulously-crafted cocktails you'll ever try. Inspired by the Tokyo cocktail scene, the Japanese crew behind this popular destination create exquisite drinks served in lightbulbs and beautiful glassware that will make you ooh and aah (they're also veterans of the downtown boîte Angel's Share). Start with a classic Negroni or Pisco Sour, then move on to something more unexpected, like the Grapefruit cocktail, a mix of mezcal, elderflower, grapefruit, and lime–presented with a burning stick of palo santo in a Mexican sugar skull mug.
With its dim, speakeasy vibe, this East Harlem bar specializing in lovingly hand-crafted cocktails truly feels like a secret. But you don't need a special password to get in–the address will suffice. Once you've settled in at the bar or one of the handful of tables, choose from the compact-but-creative drinks menu that includes signature cocktails such as the Uptown Royale (Rye, Averna, Curacao, bubbles) as well as classics like the Sidecar and the Dark & Stormy. There's plenty of leeway here: the bartender will be happy to make you something special, just let him know the flavors you prefer.
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A Harlem classic that just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, this intimate, bi-level bar is both sophisticated and chill. Its name is a nod to the Five Points address where a famed 19th-century black-owned dance hall once stood, and drinks like the Sazerac add to the earlier-era feel. The expert bartenders whip up all kinds of intriguing-sounding craft cocktails, like the Angel's Shoulder and The Color Purple (above), which you can enjoy against a backdrop of intricate wallpaper and wrought-iron details.