New York City places to drink: Six of the best bars in Manhattan

THE CAMPBELL BAR, GRAND CENTRAL STATION 

Few bars have served as the private office of a mega-rich businessman, a railway signalman's office, a police armoury, and an upmarket drinking hole for the wealthy male clientele having a last drink before returning home by train to their wives. John Williams Campbell was chairman of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad from 1920 until his death in 1957. In 1923 Campbell commissioned society architect Augustus Allen to transform part of Grand Central Station into a one roomed "Florentine palace", complete with the most expensive Persian carpet in New York and a pipe organ (with minstrel gallery) to entertain friends during the Prohibition years. Today, the renamed Campbell Bar has re-emerged as a more inclusive venue – with classic cocktails priced around $US20. My favourite? The Classic Old Fashioned (Bourbon, Regan's Bitters and demerara sugar).

89 East 42nd Street; see thecampbellnyc.com

BAR SIXTYFIVE AT RAINBOW ROOM

Sixty-five floors above New York, with superb views of the Empire State Building, the Rainbow Room at 30 Rockefeller Plaza is one of the most iconic restaurants in Manhattan. But, for a fraction of the price, enjoy a superb sunset experience next door at Bar SixtyFive – and gaze at views of Central Park as well. This really is one Manhattan's best kept secrets. Book to get a table (although there's a stand-up bar in the middle) and check the dress code beforehand. Then order champagne, wine by the glass, and an amazing range of cocktails at affordable prices – dining on shared plates of devilled eggs ($US16), short rib sliders ($US22) and Kobe pigs-in-basket ($US16) while savouring views any billionaire would love to own. If you're here in sunnier weather, there's a $US65 minimum per person to sit outside.

30 Rockefeller Plaza; see rainbowroom.com/bar-sixty-five

ST CLOUD ROOTOP BAR, KNICKERBOCKER HOTEL

Times Square should be avoided at all costs, right? It's crass, crowded – and it's not even a square. Suspend your criticism, however as you're whisked in the elevator to "the Cloud"… You won't be able to move at this bar on New Year's Eve, even if you're lucky enough to book. New York's rich and famous come to celebrate on the rooftop of the five-star Knickerbocker hotel with its unbeatable view of the famous Times Square Ball that drops precisely at midnight every December 31. But the view is amazing any time of year (and in summer, a highlight is the ceviche menu). As for the cocktails, it's hard to go past the Sinatra-inspired Fly Me to the Moon (Tito's vodka, Dolin blanc, coconut charcoal, lemon and pearl onion) or the Debbie Harry-inspired Rapture (Kikori Japanese whiskey, Yuzuri, club soda and shish leaf). Both for under $US25.

6 Times Square; see theknickerbocker.com

BAR ROOM AT THE MODERN

The Modern, a two Michelin-starred restaurant with food by Abram Bissell, is revered not only for its cuisine but its view over the Museum of Modern Art's Abby Aldrich Rockefeller sculpture garden. But don't discount the livelier and less expensive Bar Room, with its 24-seater marble bar and spectacular array of just about every kind of liquor capable of making a cocktail. It also boasts excellent bar food such as Spicy Steak Tartare ($US18) or Charred avocado with Peekytoe crab and spiced breadcrumbs ($US28). Danny Meyer, the restaurateur behind The Modern, is a Manhattan legend having founded Union Square Cafe in 1985 and the Shake Shack fast food empire in 2001. Signature cocktails include Unchained Melody (Mezcal, Anejo tequila, tamarind, lime, Swedish Punsch and falernum) and Terracotta Navy (Baijiu, Japanese whisky, lemon, almond, lemongrass and Sichuan peppercorn).

9 West 53rd Street; see themodernnyc.com

EMPLOYEES ONLY

"Beware pickpockets and loose women" reads a sign over the bar set up in 2004 to recreate the atmosphere of "the gangster-era speakeasy" (consistently mentioned in lists of the World's Best 50 Bars). In the heart of the West Village, the bar has a Balkan twist. Executive chef Julia Jaksic's Croatian heritage emerges in the bar food: steak tartare, bone marrow poppers and skate paprikás. But most patrons come to sit by the curved bar, pretending they're hoodlums or flappers from the Roaring Twenties while sipping modern cocktails as if the Depression – or the GFC, come to that – had never happened. It's hard to go beyond its reinvention of the Manhattan (Rittenhouse rye stirred with Italian vermouth, Grand Marnier and angostura bitters). Or its Billionaire (Wild Turkey rare breed bourbon, shaken with lemon juice, grenadine and absinthe bitters).

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510 Hudson Street; see employeesonlynyc.com

WESTLIGHT AT THE WILLIAM VALE

There's a clue in the address, and you've spotted it. This bar – boasting "the best view of Manhattan in New York" – isn't on the island but east of the East River, in the heart of Brooklyn's trendy Williamsburg. Located on the 22nd rooftop floor of the William Vale Hotel, the Westlight not only has superb vistas of lower Manhattan, but almost 360-degree views of Queens and Brooklyn from the wraparound terrace. Critics complain it gets crowded on July 4 and other US holidays (really?) when celebrities prebook the better tables to watch the fireworks. So choose another time to visit. Dorothy Parker may be most closely associated with a martini at the Algonquin hotel ("I like to have a martini/two at the very most/after three I'm under the table/after four I'm under my host.) But here try the Dorothy Parker gin, made round the corner at the New York Distilling Company, with a suitable tonic for a classic NY experience.

111 North 12th Street, Brooklyn; see: thewilliamvale.com

Steve Meacham was a guest of NYC & Company and Singapore Airlines.

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