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© 2020 by The Curious Uptowner

5 stylish, low-key Harlem cocktail bars without big-screen TVs

February 2, 2018

 

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 that 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.

 

Uptown Bourbon

 

 

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). 

 

The Honeywell

 

 

OK, so there's a theme at The Honeywell–the entire place resembles a suburban basement bar straight out of the late 70s–but what a theme it is. Who wouldn't want to see a poster of a young, bathing suit-clad Tom Selleck while using the bathroom? What's more, the wild, original drinks, many of which come in tall tiki mugs or are set aflame before they're served, make this the best new cocktail bar in the area, if not for miles. 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: there is a vintage black-and-white TV at The Honeywell, but it's pretty inoffensive in terms of size and location.)

 

ROKC

 

 

There's a very good reason to head to this underground space on a not particularly exciting 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.

 

Mess Hall

 

 Image via Instagram

 

Fair warning: there's a movie projector in the front of this bar that's likely to be showing the game this Sunday. But on most other nights it's projecting old movies straight onto a wall charmingly decorated with molding. Plus, the overall vibe is old-timey and designed for conversation, so this place gets a major pass. Stop by and see for yourself: order a cocktail or beer (their hot dogs are popular, too) while taking in the charming decor, complete with mosaic floor tiles and some impressive taxidermy. 

 

67 Orange Street

 

Image via Instagram

 

An oldie but a goodie (it first opened in 2008), this intimate, bi-level bar on Harlem's original restaurant row 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.

 

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