A typical night on the town for a Columbia student usually involves a pit stop at a favorite bar, be it near Columbia or somewhere on the Lower East Side. Yet many of these places tend to be visually uninventive and unstimulating, à la O’Connells, for example. Is there a place where I can actually enjoy a beer, while being surrounded by beautiful décor and artwork? Are there bars out there that double as art galleries? Here’s a list of the top options New York has to offer art enthusiasts in want of a cold mojito.
Max Fish (178 Ludlow St., between East Houston and Stanton streets)
Willy Wonka meets Chelsea gallery—this Lower East Side staple has been around for 20 years. The whimsical walls, painted with multicolored clouds and checkerboards by the bar’s staff, match the quirky light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Opposite the bar, one can find the current exhibit—photo-realist black and white drawings of people (by artists including Logan Hill, Ted Barrow, and skateboarder Kevin “Spanky” Long)—curated by the bar’s owner, Ulli. The drawings contrast with the bar’s décor, and consequently stand out to viewers. The exhibits at Max Fish change every month, which adds to the gallery feel of the bar. Best of all, the beer selection mixed with the local Lower East Side crowd makes Max Fish an even better place to enjoy a casual drink and an art show.
Gallery Bar (120 Orchard St., between Delancey and Rivington streets)
The name says it all. Unlike Max Fish, this bar resembles more of a Meatpacking District lounge than a local bar. Here, the space is dimly lit, and the walls are painted black. Crowds of hip New Yorkers and fashionable Europeans flock to this bar, where loud mash-ups encourage dancing and mingling. Instead of the main art exhibit being relegated to a specific place in the venue, Gallery Bar likes to fully surround its cocktail-sipping visitors with art. The most recent show, “Multiple Personalities,” featured large oil paintings of people, including Michelle and Barack Obama and Oscar Wilde, on every wall space available. As a nice addition, the artist, Antony Zito, also managed to paint portraits of various visitors to the bar. At times, however, the club-like atmosphere tends to overshadow the art in the bar, so getting there early on in the night may be your best bet.
The Half King Bar and Restaurant (505 W. 23rd St., between 10th and 11th avenues)
Chelsea is home to hundreds of galleries. It is not surprising, then, to learn that The Half King Bar and Restaurant, conveniently placed at the heart of this art center, also features an art exhibit roughly every three months. There are two parts to the Half King—a bar and a restaurant—but the art can only be found in the main dining area. Currently on display are Hunter Barnes’ black and white photographs of the Ni Mii Puu Native Americans. After a refreshing drink at the bar, gallery-hoppers can grab a bite to eat next door (simple pub foods) and simultaneously view an assortment of art.