Bemelmans Bar – 35 E 76th St
On the wall of this Upper East Side classic is a charming mural by Ludwig Bemelman—creator of the 1939 book Madeline—depicting animals in Central Park, including an elephant taking a stroll, rabbits eating lunch under an umbrella, and sheep listening to a brass band on (fittingly) Sheep Meadow. Patrons can expect nightly jazz performances—with the occasional Woody Allen clarinet solo or an impromptu duet by Cyndi Lauper and the house band.
Insider Tip: Art restorers used Wonder Bread to clean up decades of nicotine buildup on the mural in the 2000s. Arrive before 9pm to avoid a cover charge during the jazz concert. Photo above by @outlierimagery.
White Horse Tavern - 567 Hudson Street
Tote your college copy of Under Milk Wood to the historic tavern where Dylan Thomas worked, played, and took his last shot of whiskey (his eighteenth that evening) before he died. Since Thomas, a long list of patrons have frequented the White Horse, including Jim Morrison, James Baldwin, Anais Nin, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer and the young Bob Dylan (who named himself after the late poet). Jack Kerouac was repeatedly kicked out of the bar, despite that he lived in the apartment upstairs. Pictures of the namesake white horse hang on the dark, wood-paneled walls of this 135-year-old New York watering hole.
Insider Tip: Visit the White Horse in the afternoon, before the after-work crowds and NYU co-eds settle in for the night. Photo by @stagprovisions.
Blue Bar 59 W. 44th St
The upscale Blue Bar at the Algonquin hosted The Round Table, a self-named group of New York’s most prominent writers, actors and playwrights of the 1920s, including writer Dorothy Parker, playwright George Kaufman and New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross. In later years, Maya Angelou and Simone de Beauvoir stopped by.
Insider Tip: Sink into one of the plush leather booths and order the signature drink—a Manhattan. Photo by @emlarue.
Old Town Bar - 45 East 18th St
Old Town Bar prides itself as a hub for good conversation — no television screens here; cell phone use is prohibited. The Gramercy pub goes back five generations, surviving the Prohibition as a speakeasy, and gaining public recognition as the beloved writing spot for Frank McCourt. (A signed copy of Angela’s Ashes hangs above one of the booths.) Other writers to frequent this dimly lit saloon include Nick Hornby, Seamus Heaney and Billy Collins. Order a martini at the bar and wait for your food, which comes via a dumbwaiter from the kitchen upstairs.
Insider Tip: The “no-cell phone” policy is not a joke. Leave it in your pocket. Photo by @ericboehlert.
Minetta Tavern 113 Macdougal St
In 1937, Minetta Tavern opened its doors with a menu written entirely in Italian and a basement occupied by a new literary publication—Reader’s Digest. Partly because of its downstairs neighbor, prominent writers like Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, Joe Gould (alias Professor Seagull) and Eugene O’Neill frequented the Greenwich Village bar. A renovation to Minetta in 2009 under restaurateur Keith McNally (Balthazar, Morandi, Pastis) solidified the tavern as downtown’s ultimate dinner spot, where reservations are a must. Today, the restored checkered tile floor and solid oak bar are a nostalgic glimpse into the bohemian neighborhood’s past.
Insider tip: Don’t leave before checking out the back wall, covered in an original fresco showing scenes of Greenwich Village life in the 1930s. Photo by @samucagourmet.
WestHouse Den 201 W 55th St
Of course, you can always stop by your private bar at the WestHouse Den for a nightcap, and maybe write your own novel!