Although New York downtown neighborhoods tend to get all of the love, there’s so much to discover in the city’s uptown streets—and the Upper East Side is a great place to start. From craft beer bars to wine-focused joints to speakeasy-style cocktail bars, there’s certainly no shortage of great places to imbibe due east of Central Park. Curious where to go? Check out our guide on where to eat, drink, and stay on the Upper East Side, according to an uptown-based local.
35 E 76th St, New York, NY 10075
Situated inside The Carlyle Hotel, Bemelmans Bar is an absolute must-visit for fans of well-made cocktails and serious old school New York vibes. The bar first opened its doors in the 1940s and has since welcomed the likes of celebrities and locals alike—even John F. Kennedy used to regularly frequent the bar during his residence at the hotel. Expect strong martinis and live music in a dimly lit ambiance clad with Ludwig Bemelmans’ very own murals on the space’s walls. Fair warning, since Bemelmans’ recent renaissance, you’ll likely wait a bit to get in—though we promise it’s worth it.
1614 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10128
Although the Upper East Side isn’t necessarily known for its bustling wine bar scene, Kaia Wine Bar is worth a trip to the neighborhood in itself. Regarded as the city’s only South African-focused wine bar, this eclectic neighborhood spot is brimming with delicious bites and beverages, including over 50 by-the-glass wine pours to choose from at all times. Kaia’s extensive list also designates which wines are made by BIPOC and/or female winemakers, as well as denotes pours that are served chilled, pulled from the library, and beyond. Stop in from 4-7pm daily for founder Suz’s steal of a happy hour, which features $8 BTG pours and $8 gin or vodka martinis.
1488 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10075
While cocktail bars are seemingly popping up and left and right across the neighborhood, few boast the quality and ambiance of Key & Heels. Tucked away behind a locksmith / shoe repair shop that opened in 1971, this serious cocktail lounge serves up a variety of bespoke cocktails and snacks, as well as meticulously executing the standard classics, all beneath the lights of a shiny, shimmering disco ball. Fun fact: Key & Heels is the third brainchild of Massimo Lusardi, the Upper East Side-based restaurateur behind nearby Uva and Uva Next Door.
1590 1st Ave., New York, NY 10028
Those looking to relive their favorite Parisian memories will take delight in AOC East. Located on First Avenue, this French-inspired bistro and wine bar offers traditional plates and by-the-glass pours served up in a warm, brick-lined setting. The bar first opened its doors in 2017 and has since expanded to include a number of wine-focused events, including French Wine 101 classes, live music Wednesdays, weekend brunch, and more.
Pro Tip: The Upper East Side is home to a number of wine and cocktail-focused gems, including the bars listed above, though the real lifeblood of the neighborhood is its epic amount of Irish pubs, sports bars, and craft beer joints. For neighborhood classics, execute a pub crawl through Trinity Pub, Ryan’s Daughter, and The Pony Bar, with a pit stop at Bondurants for elevated craft beer and small bites.
1590 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028
For craft cocktails, delicious bites, and over 70 whiskeys to choose from, look no further than The Penrose. Conveniently located just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the 83rd Street exit on the Q train, this bustling gastro-pub has become a neighborhood staple for locals and visitors alike. Despite its two spacious bars, dining room, and outdoor seating, the place is regularly slammed with people, so we recommend making a reservation or getting there early, especially on the weekends. Best of all, the kitchen stays open until 3AM, making it the perfect place to soak up the damage of a boozy night of bar hopping.
1400 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10021
For fresh seafood, delicious cocktails, and an all-around vibrant ambiance, check out Mission Ceviche. Spearheaded by co-founders Chef Jose Louis Chavez and Brice Mastroluca, this Peruvian-focused restaurant brings a modern take on classic dishes through using a number of seasonal and diverse ingredients. Expect a variety of raw crudos and ceviches, hot appetizers, and grilled fish, as well as tasty sides (patatas bravas, garden greens, and fried sweet plantains) to share.
1621 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028
For old school Italian cuisine—and a good chance at celebrity sightings—book a table at Elio’s, an Upper East Side classic since 1981. This neighborhood staple serves up generous portions of traditional American-Italian favorites (think all the carpaccios, spaghetti, and fried seafood you could imagine) alongside an Italian-heavy list, all at the hands of dapper servers clad in floor-length aprons. Pro tip: Snag a sidewalk table for unforgettable people watching.
Pro Tip: The Penrose, Mission Ceviche, and Elio’s are just a few of the many delicious places to grab a bite on the Upper East Side. While these three addresses are certainly a few of the neighborhood’s bigger names, be sure to explore the smaller mom-and-pop joints tucked away on the ‘hood’s side streets, including 83 ½, L’Osteria, and Heidi’s House—and be sure to hit Pil Pil for delicious Spanish-inspired tapas and wine.
35 E 76th St, New York, NY 10021
For a taste of true Upper East Side luxury, look no further than The Carlyle. This Madison Avenue-based accommodation has been hosting guests—and housing wealthy residents—since 1931. Conveniently located amongst some of the city’s best shopping, this ultra-luxurious property is ideal for those looking to indulge their wildest Gossip Girl-inspired dreams, as well as rub shoulders with socialites, celebrities, and long-standing residents alike. Best of all, guests have direct access to Bemelmans Bar, which is worth the hefty price tag in itself.
164 E 87th St, New York, NY 10128
For more reasonable Upper East Side accommodations, check out The Franklin Hotel. Located on the quiet side street of 87th between Lexington and 3rd Avenue, this historic property offers a perfect mix of charm and attainable luxury. Guests of the hotel benefit from complementary breakfast, as well as evening wine-and-cheese receptions hosted on-site. The property is also conveniently situated around the corner from the 4/5/6 trains, making exploring the city’s other eclectic neighborhoods easier and more accessible than ever.
540 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065
Located at the southerly tip of the Upper East Side (essentially bordering with Midtown East), Loews offers the perfect jumping point for discovering a number of NYC neighborhoods, with the Upper East Side included. Guests enjoy direct access to Central Park, an on-site spa, and delicious hotel dining. Whether camping out in one of the hotel’s 321 guestrooms—or splurging for one of the 58 suites—these sleek and sophisticated accommodations offer the ideal place to lay your head at night after a long day of city exploring.
Vicki completed her Bachelor’s degree at CUNY Hunter College with a double major in French Language and Italian Language, along with a minor in English and additional studies in Spanish and Polish. Her wine industry career began at Sud de France Développement in Manhattan, followed by a Wine Consultant/Buyer position at Quality House Wines. She went on to work full-time as a staff writer for VinePair.com from September 2016 – July 2017. She now freelances full-time; her work regularly appears in Food & Wine, Wine-Searcher, Beverage Media, Matador Network, Wine Enthusiast, and more.