It’s easy to find both extremely fancy and kinda divey places uptown. It’s harder to find spots that are cool and impressive, but not so expensive you’ll need to check the balance on your debit card before ordering dessert. In other words, restaurants and bars that wouldn’t feel out of place in 70 blocks south of their actual locations. This guide has 15 spots that fall into that category, and if you recently moved uptown or occasionally need to convince people to hang out with you north of 59th Street, you’ll find it very useful.
Walk by 110th and Amsterdam on a day when it’s nice out, and you’ll see a place with a bunch of little outdoor tables beneath a striped awning. That place is Marlow Bistro - and inside, there's an attractive space with exposed brick walls, an old-fashioned espresso machine, and lots of potted plants. More importantly, there's also some very good pizza. It’s worth a trip from the opposite end of the Upper West Side for the “super cute” atmosphere and interesting food.
This place feels like an out-of-town chef’s one-night pop-up in the East Village, where the unusual dishes don’t seem to fit the surroundings. Mountain Bird’s East Harlem location is fixed (although it is inside of a catering company), but the experimental French food feels a little bit surprising in a space that looks like the dining room of a bed and breakfast in Cape Cod. You’ll find a rotating menu of unusual dishes, like lamb with potato-corn flan, and a friendly staff that’s always happy to answer questions about the menu. If you live in Harlem or on the UES and are tired of your usual dinner rotation, this spot is a fairly radical changeup.
There are plenty of places to get high-quality seafood uptown, but some of them serve $82 Dover sole to people who have never turned down a truffle add-on. While Crave Fishbar has delicious seafood dishes (like yellowfin tuna over Mexican corn, and Thai-influenced lobster curry), it’s not stuffy at all. It’s a big, dimly-lit space with a bar area that’s ideal for a casual date night. Whatever else you get, make sure to order the chocolate chip cookie with housemade ice cream - it’s one of the best cookies in the city.
Clay feels a little like someone’s upscale living room, with the added benefit of extremely good food. The New American/farm-to-table menu here has things like duck confit, steak tartare, and various pastas (we especially like the one with kale and sausage). Try it for an impressive date night when you don’t want to go south of 59th, or stop by for a great solo meal at the bar.
If The East Pole were in Nolita, it would still be full most nights, but it’d be the kind of utility spot you’d suggest after agreeing to a last-minute dinner with your new friend from yoga class. It's on the UES, though, so not only is it a solid utility move, it’s also one of the most popular casual restaurants in the neighborhood. There’s a long bar area that’s great for early-in-the-game dates, as well a big dining room that works for groups, and the American menu has options for everyone.
Uva is a casual Italian spot serving housemade pastas in a space that looks like something between a trattoria in Parma and a New Yorker’s imitation of a trattoria in Parma. It's also one of the best spots on the UES for a date night when you don’t feel like putting on a shirt that could possibly be tucked in. There’s plenty of seating in the dining room and year-round backyard, and Uva is also a good move during Happy Hour, when you can share charcuterie and discounted wine flights at the bar.
This crowd-pleasing spot has big leather booths, exposed brick walls, and enough space for all the people you know (and a couple of strangers as well). It’s kind of like a large, modern tavern, and the menu has everything from steak and fried chicken to grilled avocado and a quinoa bowl. In other words, everyone will like this place, and, seeing as it gets pretty lively, you can pretend you’re eating on the Lower East Side.
On your first date with this person, you went to a French wine bar, ate some charcuterie, and talked about your childhood golden retriever and the importance of REM sleep. For your second (or any early-in-the-game) date, go to Flex Mussels. This UES seafood spot has a long bar and plenty of tables, and the food is all light, shareable, and more interesting than another charcuterie plate. Come during Happy Hour and get discounted wine and $1 oysters, or for a low-commitment dinner when you can share small plates and any of the over 20 dishes that include mussels.
Oso is the kind of place where you could bring a date you’re trying to impress, or just stop by on a weeknight for some tacos at the bar. If you go the former route, the two of you can have several rounds of margaritas, a few empanadas, and a whole fried fish. It’s a casual spot, and you could probably eat here in your pajamas, although your date might not be as impressed by that. If you live near Hamilton Heights or go to City College, this should be one of your go-to places in the neighborhood.
The Penrose feels like a downtown spot in a way that’s kind of like a double-edged sword. It’s fun and draws a big crowd, but on weekends the crowd can get a little too big, and you might feel like you’re in the East Village after every college student just got back from summer vacation. That said, it’s a good place to keep in mind for meet-ups on the Upper East Side. They serve plenty of food, the space is decorated like an upscale cabin in the woods, and you’ll probably see someone you’ve dated here.
No matter where you live, you should have a go-to neighborhood bar where you can eat a burger, have a low-key birthday, or hang out with some friends and pretend you’re characters in a sitcom. If you’re on the Upper West Side, that bar should be E’s. This place is fun and relaxed, but it’s nicer than a dive bar, and there are some big booths in a back area that you can book for a party. Once you have a couple of drinks, you’ll probably start thinking you’re somewhere near Alphabet City.
There are a lot of bars on the UWS where you can get a beer and watch some sports, but there aren’t many places where you can have a low-key cocktail with a date. So it’s good to know about The Owl’s Tail. It’s a little spot on 75th between Broadway and Amsterdam, and it looks like a living room or a hotel lobby that isn’t actually attached to a hotel. There are a few tables against one wall where you can hang out with a small group, plus a bar in the corner with comfortable velvet barstools. And if you get hungry, you can order some small plates like oysters and wings.
Walking around the Upper East Side at 2am, it can be tough to distinguish between veterinary clinics and florists and bars - they’ve all been closed for hours. One place that stands out is Jack & Fanny’s, which gets packed with people drinking excellent cocktails, eating bar food, and playing bocce until 2am during the week (and 4am on weekends).
Vanguard is a wine bar, but it isn’t quiet or boring. It’s just one big room with a very long bar and some vintage French decor, and even on weeknights it tends to get pretty packed. This place is perfect for an afterwork drink with a couple of friends - or for when you have a first date with someone, and neither of you has the energy to go downtown.
Think of The Rochard as an exceptional neighborhood bar that happens to have a giant leather booth, a big beer selection, and some food that’s less sad than what you typically find at a casual drinking establishment. If you recently moved to the UES and are still adjusting to life uptown, stop by for a burger and beer, and pretend that you’re within walking distance of Tompkins Square Park.