New Yorkers are familiar with the whole subculture of people who just got to art openings for the free wine, but have you ever thought about going to a bar for the free art? There are tons of places around the city to imbibe while taking a gander at a private art collection. From dives to places with fancy $20 cocktails, you can get an eyeful of everything from street art to Hirsts to 16th-century old masters, all while getting your drink on. Here are a few of our faves.
Tucked under a handbag shop in Little Italy, Mulberry Project serves up tasty cocktails in its (usually loud and sceney) underground bar. But the real draw is the private, art-filled back patio. Some of New York’s best street artists have left their mark on the garden walls. Guests can sip drinks while viewing murals by Ron English, Faile, Matt Siren, Kid Zoom, BAST, and more.
The Standard Hotel has put itself on the public art map by commissioning large sculptures from artists like KAWS and Erwin Wurm. Even better is the Marco Brambilla video installation, Civilization, in the elevators that take guests who’ve managed to make it through the tough door to Le Bain or the Boom Boom Room. A multi-layered tableau of afterlife images, the elevator installation brings ascending guests from the depths of hell, through purgatory, and into heaven, spewing them out at the door of the hotel’s famed clubs.
Yep — it smells like, feels like, and is even partially located in a basement; Lit Lounge is not a bar where you’ll want to wear your new white coat. Open during regular hours, the back of this East Village post-hipster dive is the very clean and very impressive Fuse Gallery. At this showcase for edgy contemporary artists, guests can grab a drink at the bar before taking a spin through the latest exhibition. Once 8pm rolls around, the doors are closed, but you can still take a peep at the H.R. Giger sculpture that stands above the first booth outside the gallery door.
If beer halls are your thing, what better way to imbibe than in the Czech Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side? Inside the historic hall is Hospoda, an authentic Czech restaurant with a sister location in Prague. Grab a half-price beer at happy hour and gaze upon the enormous wooden mural that lines the restaurant, carved by the Czech Republic’s biggest street artist, MASKER.
This Lower East Side staple has been threatening to close due to rent increases over the past few years, yet its doors stay open. Since its debut in 1989, the bar has slowly been amassing an art collection, including some impressive permanent pieces like John Ahearn’s Bronx Elvis from 1979 and Rat Cop by Tom Otterness, who also made those Doozer-like bronze dudes in the Eighth Avenue subway station.
The Rose Bar and Jade Bar are in one of NYC’s most expensive neighborhoods, but where else can you sip on a ($19) martini amongst museum quality art works? The hotel’s collection is vast — Basquiat, Richard Prince, Julian Schnabel, and Damien Hirst works (to name a few) deck the halls in lounges, corridors, and private rooms. Complete the Old New York glamour by catching the Brian Newman Quartet every Tuesday and Thursday in the Rose Bar.
Ludlow just south of Delancey has recently become a land of fancy drinks and velvet ropes, with both Hotel Chantelle and the DL holding court. But if bottle service isn’t your thing, skip over to the (sort of) new kid on the block, Leftfield on Ludlow. The U-shaped space features live music and DJ acts on one side, in a room featuring an impromptu gallery of works by contemporary artists. With the cheapest beer on the block (Rolling Rock is always $3), the bar will soon open a subterranean dance floor, complete with commissioned murals by artist Ian Kuali’i.
Below the super clubby Greenhouse (which is also powered by renewable energy), WiP fuses art with the club scene. They often host arty events, have a rotating collection of art on display, and, for some reason, are known to host regular appearances by Debbie Harry — making it worth a visit.
Art Bar is an old standard, go-to dive that still feels a bit like the Bohemian New York of yore. Round booths flank the front bar, as well as paintings and murals by unknown artists. The back takes on a neo-Baroque feeling, with a fireplace, red velvet curtains, couches, and a collection of oversized historical paintings. Whatever your pleasures, their incredible happy hour goes for both the bar and the lounge.
True, the historic Reggio may be mostly a café, but coffee drinkers can jazz up their cappuccinos — made on New York’s oldest espresso bar — with Jameson or Baileys. The café, open since 1929, is not just the oldest café in New York, but also the only place where you can sip a glass of merlot on a 500-year-old bench once owned by the de Medici family, while sitting under a 16th Century painting by the school of Caravaggio.