Ever try to get a reservation at the newest, hottest, trendiest restaurant that you’ve been dying to go to and get closed out? Try dining at the bar instead where you can often enjoy the full menu while conversing with the bartender and making friends with your neighbors.
Bar Boulud: Choose to sit at the polished oak charcuterie bar for a fabulous meal at Daniel Boulud’s Lincoln Center bistro and wine bar. Unusual for most bar set-ups, table servers wait on you here as well. The plus is that bar dining at Café Boulud brings you even closer to the star chef’s culinary stage. The display of meats, terrines and pates is mouth-watering and you’ll also have an extensive seasonal menu and choice of Burgundy and Rhone Valley wines to accompany. My favorite: rosettes de Lyon to start and the herb-accented dorade, accompanied by a crisp summer-friendly rosé.
1900 Broadway, barboulud.com , (212)-595-0303
Picholine: The bar at Terrance Brennan’s acclaimed Picholine sits outside its formal dining area, separated by elegant, floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains. With guidance from talented bartender Eric Hipp, you can put together a French Mediterranean feast (try the Chicken Kiev) with a fabulous cheese plate for dessert, paired with a varied selection of wines and sherries. While the hushed atmosphere of the main dining room may not be your taste, the bar setting allows for conversation and is a great choice before or after a ballet or opera at Lincoln Center. Both the full menu and a less formal bar menu are offered. Make sure to save room for one of Laurie Jon Moran's desserts or sorbets.
35 W. 64th St., picholinenyc.com, (212)-724-8585
Spice Market: The spacious bar seating at Jean-George Vongerichten’s Southeast Asian restaurant in the Meatpacking District offers a view of the busy, open kitchen. Conversation with servers flows as you watch the chefs prepare the many “street food”-inspired dishes. Cocktails are inventive and include the restaurant’s standout ginger margarita or a traditional Singapore Sling. A chocolate Ovaltine kulfi dessert is the perfect cooling ending. The restaurant is open for lunch daily and dinner until the wee hours.
403 W. 13th Street, spicemarketnewyork.com, (212)-675-2322
Vinegar Hill House: Located at the edge of DUMBO in Brooklyn, this cozy informal restaurant accepts no reservations. If you’re not inclined to wait for a table to free up, the bar next to the kitchen is a convivial locale for dining and drinking. Food and drinks here change seasonally, incorporating what’s freshest at the market. Knockout signatures like the Cast Iron chicken or the pork chop are always terrific. The bar also offers fun bar snacks like homemade pickles. Vegetarian options are available.
72 Hudson Ave., vinegarhillhouse.com, (718)-522-1018
The Wright: Serving upscale international cuisine, The Wright is a design-forward restaurant located in the Guggenheim Museum. Inside, the white and orange-toned space is divided into tables around the edges, a communal table, and a snakelike bar where both the full menu and a lighter bar menu are served. Bartenders here are as knowledgeable about the music being played as about the dishes being served. An added benefit: Guggenheim Museum members receive a 10% discount. Dinner is served Thursday-Saturday; lunch is offered on all days except Thursday. Brunch is offered on weekends.
1071 5th Ave., Guggenheim Museum, thewrightrestaurant.com , (212)-427-5690
The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges: There’s a wonderful bar option at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new Upper East Side bistro in The Mark Hotel. Set in the middle of the site’s three rooms, the bar has high-backed red leather seats and full and bar menu choices until 1am. Choose from simple dishes with a flair like the cheeseburger with black truffle dressing or the Jean Georges’ signature sweet pea soup with parmesan. Cocktails are fun, too. Try the grapefruit gimlet for a summer cooler, perfectly enjoyed with chili-dusted popcorn and edamame peas.
East 77th Street, at Madison Avenue, themarkrestaurantnyc.com, (212)-606-3030.
Esca: Mario Batali's ever-popular Italian seafood restaurant near Hell’s Kitchen has a small, first-come, first-serve bar that’s popular both pre- and post-theater. Diners here enjoy not only fabulous eats, including the restaurant's outstanding selection of crudo, but also the skilled mixology and foodie knowledge of bartender Victor Borg. Take a seat at the bar and ask about any of the wines from the nine-page regional Italian menu. If wine’s not your thing, Victor will make a perfect Bellini.
402 W. 43rd St., esca-nyc.com , (212)-564-7272