Comedy and Cocktails on the Upper West Side
Lincoln Center, the Beacon Theater, and a number of jazz clubs are not your only entertainment options on the Upper West Side. The neighborhood also includes comedy clubs, cabaret theaters, and distinctive cocktail bars where you can easily while away an evening.
236 West 78th Street (between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway)
Having opened in 1986, Stand Up NY is one of the longest-running comedy clubs in New York; Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jon Stewart are among the stars who started out here. There is a show just about every weeknight and usually two shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Along with a full bar, this cozy venue offers a pub-grub menu to accompany your two-drink minimum. The club hosts primarily up-and-comers and midlevel comedians, making it an affordable night out. Upcoming shows include duo Sean Leary and Anna Simeri on December 16 and Too Many Findlings—brothers Ahri and Noah Findling—on January 3, 2020.
201 West 75th Street (between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway)
A much more recent addition to the comedy scene, West Side Comedy Club opened in 2017. Among its regular showcases is “MVPs,” featuring comedians who have performed on the late-night talk shows or been featured on cable; Daytime Emmy winner Judy Gold and Seth Herzog (the warm-up comedian for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”) were among those who recently commandeered the stage. Like Stand Up NY, this is an intimate venue with a two-drink minimum, though its food menu is primarily Tex-Mex, with plenty of options for vegetarians.
80 Columbus Circle (at West 60th Street)
Located on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental New York, the Aviary NYC does indeed offer a bird’s-eye view of Columbus Circle and Central Park via floor-to-ceiling windows. Though you can certainly nurse a martini or a gin and tonic while cradled in one of the well-cushioned curved chairs, you really should go for one of its imaginative signature drinks again. Boom Goes the Dynamite, served hot in a lab beaker with dry ice, includes two types of rum, vanilla liqueur, and vanilla-bean-infused rooibos tea; the Zombie Panda combines pisco, lychee syrup, and lemon juice, served over “raspberry marbles”—raspberry liqueur, simple syrup, and water frozen into spheres; Searching for the Emerald Sea, served in a glass that resembles the lens of a magnifying glass, includes gin, elderflower, celery, and pine. A passageway from the 90-seat Aviary leads to the more intimate Office NYC, where the bartenders will craft personalized cocktails for you based on your flavor requests or any other preferences you may have.
44 West 63rd Street (at Columbus Avenue)
Another lounge with panoramic views, this sprawling space atop the Empire Hotel includes a retractable roof, a pool for warm evenings, and a fireplace for cooler ones. If you are determined to sit outside, a reservation is suggested; however, the view is just as stunning from the comfortable indoor seating. The Empire Sunset—Ketel One vodka, rum, lime juice, fennel syrup, and blood-orange puree topped with prosecco—is indeed an ideal sip to accompany watching the sunset. The Empire Rooftop’s take on the Moscow mule uses a mango vodka infused with Earl Grey tea, and as befits a bar that in the fictional world of “Gossip Girl” was owned by Chuck Bass, there is the XOXO-Gossip Girl, a mix of Belvedere Single Estate vodka, peach puree, and Veuve Clicquot Rich Blanc. You can complement your drinks with small plates such as duck confit tacos and deviled eggs made with lobster, caviar, and jalapeño.
998 Amsterdam Avenue (between 109th and 110th Streets)
The Hamilton is more of a whiskey than a cocktail bar; its menu ranges from Jack Daniels to GlenDronach 18 Scotch to Nikka Coffey Japanese whiskey. You can order flights of three various whiskey shots as well. And the cozy, convivial spot, with whitewashed brick walls and little in the way of adornment other than its shelves of bottles, does also serve whiskey cocktails such as Penicillin, a comforting concoction of Bank Note Scotch, ginger, honey, lemon, and Bowmore 12-year-old whiskey. Like its non-whiskey assortment, its food menu is limited, consisting primarily of snacks such as marinated olives and a cheese-and-meat board.
226 West 79th Street (between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway)
Located above the Burke & Wills restaurant, this is indeed a private club, but it is also open to the public, space permitting. (Only members can make reservations.) With its tufted green-leather door, gold flocked damask wallpaper, and bookshelves lined with Dickens tomes and cricket medals, the Manhattan Cricket Club will delight anyone who loves “Downton Abbey,” Sherlock Holmes, or P.G. Wodehouse—though unlike gentlemen’s clubs of the past, women are most definitely allowed here. It will also delight anyone who want to savor a well-crafted cocktail while seated on a chesterfield sofa in a quiet, but not stuffy, setting. The whimsically named house cocktails include Bend My Elbow (No. 3 gin infused with strawberry and hibiscus paired with lime, grapefruit bitters, and soda) and Bonfire of the Calamities (Beluga Noble vodka, kaffir lime, lemon, and agave on the rocks misted with a smoking infusion of lapsang souchong tea). You can also choose from a curated selection of spirits, including nearly a dozen Japanese whiskeys, beers, and wines. The food menu is equally refined, with options such as caviar, roasted beets, crab beignets, and for true Anglophiles, sticky toffee bread pudding.
951 Amsterdam Avenue (between 106th and 107th Streets)
Nobody Told Me opened in 2019, making it a newcomer to the Upper West Side. Its unassuming, minimalist decor is especially inviting for those who might be intimidated by old-school cocktail bars. House drinks include the British Sea Power, a heady mix of gin, blackstrap rum, passionfruit, and ginger, and Midnight in Stockholm, featuring aquavit and coffee liqueur sweetened with panela (made from evaporated sugarcane) and demerara sugar. One of the bar’s founders was previously a chef at the much-lamented Michelin-starred restaurant Dovetail, so the food is as much a draw as the drinks, with dishes such as cured yellowtail served with pineapple aguachile and a chicory Caesar salad.
215 West 75th Street (between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway)
Another compact, cozy spot, the Owl’s Tale looks at first glance more like a place to grab Sunday brunch than evening sips. That impression will change once you imbibe a house cocktail such as the Golden Owl (bourbon, the French aperitif Suze, yellow chartreuse, and walnut liqueur) or Bilaro Project (12-year-old El Dorado rum, Punt e Mes Italian vermouth, amaro liqueur, and house-made orange bitters). There is also a selection of beers, ciders, wines, and Guinness on tap. While you are here, treat yourself to one of the small plates, such as mushroom crostini, oysters, or deviled eggs served three ways—the classic, with guacamole, or with truffles. Or head straight to desert with the house-made pumpkin loaf served with vanilla gelato or the Grown-Up Sundae made with Singani 63, a grape-based spirit, and Tempus Fugit crème de cacao.