The Current State of NYC Nightlife And Rules You Should Know

What's reopened? What time do restaurants close? When is the last call? This article will answer all of your questions about the recent changes to NYC Nightlife & rules you should know!
Manhattan Outdoor Seating The Current State of NYC Nightlife And Changes You Should Know Photo by C Nez Byrd

New York City nightlife is a shadow of what it once was. After the pandemic, finding a lively bar or party has been no easy task. So if you’re looking for one of those long nights with beer pong, drunken karaoke, and bar hopping to overcrowded piano bars with a big drag show finale then you may be disappointed.

If you’re out late, you’ll likely find limited options and many shuttered gates. The busiest intersections like herald Square are empty, and the best neighborhoods for party bars like Greenwich Village, and drinking holes like Hell’s Kitchen, are going quiet early. It’s like a scene straight from a post-apocalyptic movie!

Deserted Herald Square at 8 pm - The Current State of NYC Nightlife and Rules You Should Know - Always The VIP - Photo By C. Nez Byrd
Deserted Herald Square at 8 pm – Photo By C. Nez Byrd

With so many changes happening in NYC nightlife, it’s become difficult to find out simple things like what times bars close and even which restaurants are open. And the answers are buried among news articles and obscured in numerous executive orders and New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) guidelines that restrict the NYC nightlife scene.

So in this article, I’ll answer your most frequently asked questions around the current state of nightlife in NYC, the rules that you should be aware of, and the ongoing changes to bars, restaurants, and clubs. This will be your go-to resource for important information about NYC nightlife.

So bookmark this page, share it with friends who love the nightlife, and check back for the latest updates.

First, I’d like to make you aware of something very important, so you’re plans aren’t ruined out of the gate by misinformation.

Many Bars Haven’t Update Their Online Listings

Despite the many restrictions, we are still accustomed to looking to NYC when the urge for socializing and getting blackout drunk comes knocking. But if you’re checking online for information about businesses you’ll find that a lot of it is wrong, missing, or outdated!

Just take a look at this comparison of the current business listings for two of my favorite bars in NYC:

Comparison of business listings with missing information - The Current State of NYC Nightlife and Rules You Should Know - Always The VIP
Comparison of business listings with missing information

With this information, if you wanted to go to the bar on the left, you wouldn’t know what to expect!

Many businesses have not been diligent with updating their information on online business directories (e.g. Yelp and Google Business), updating their websites or business social media pages (if they even have ones), or keeping email lists to issue updates to customers.

This includes:

  • Updating their hours of operation online
  • Posting status updates on their reopening
  • Publicizing their new safety precautions
  • Accepting online reservations
  • Updating pricing lists and menu offerings

So if you are making big plans for the night, be sure to email, call, or message ahead through social media to confirm hours of operation and seating availability. Otherwise you may end up at a business that’s no longer there.

A neat trick that I like to do, is to find and sort the most recent online reviews by date. If you find a review from within the last 30 days, then you can be confident that it is open!

Are Bars and Restaurants Still Closed in NYC?

To date, over 10,539 bars and restaurants (Open Restaurant data) have reopened. On the other hand, over 1,000 bars have closed and the list continues to grow as they continue to go out of business. After months of zero revenue flow, some have simply run out of cash to operate and can’t reopen.

With foot traffic down, the drop in tourism, and the drought of young professionals who are willing to pay $15 for a vodka soda, the volume and profit just isn’t what it used to be. While the overhead for running the business remains relatively the same.

Also, smaller “licensed on-premises bars” (bars that have a liquor license that permits them to serve alcohol on-site) can’t adjust so easily to the the social distancing requirements.

Think of those small pubs that only have bar seating and aren’t able to offer social distancing and tables spread 6 feet apart. A bar that could once seat 20 people on bar stools can now only acommodate about 5!

Small establishments like these just can’t operate with the current regulations.

Are NYC Nightclubs and Dance clubs Open?

If you’re itching to find a good party, unfortunately, most nightclubs and dance clubs in NYC have yet to reopen. Night clubs closed early on in the pandemic since March 21st 2020 when indoor dining and social gatherings were banned. And with existing social distancing rules, capacity limitations, and restrictions on alcohol-only service they will likely stay closed indefinitely.

However, some rooftop dance clubs, like Moxy, have maintained social distancing requirements by catering only to bottle service clients and limiting attendance. So if you aren’t buying bottle service (which can easily run over $500 for a bottle), or have a connection, like a club promoter, then you probably can’t even get it in!

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If this is the model that nightclubs will follow when they reopen, then I predict that the NYC nightlife scene will become very exclusive and accessible only to big spenders.

But this hasn’t hindered partygoers, who have just shifted towards private house parties and secret underground parties. Many of which offer club-like atmospheres, live Dj’s, live dancers, and even strippers! And they are popping up everywhere, not just in Manhattan which was the epicenter of NYC nightlife. They’re going down in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, and even the Bronx!

So unless you are well connected in nightlife circles or know party promoters (like myself) to get private party invitations, then you can pretty much forget about clubbing and partying in NYC for now.

Is Outdoor Dining Still Available?

Yes, on September 25th, mayor De Blasio extended outdoor dining to be offered year-round. To date, over 10,537 restaurants registered in the “Open Restaurants Program” have built outdoor seating installation in the streets, on sidewalks, and on roadways. Some streets are also sectioned off by the city on weekends.

Outdoor seating Korea Town NYC - The Current State of NYC Nightlife and Rules You Should Know - Always The VIP  - Photo By C. Nez Byrd
Outdoor seating Korea Town NYC – Photo By C. Nez Byrd

And now restaurants will be able to put outdoor heaters and continue to expand their outdoor dining space where permitted. Outdoor dining has been a saving grace for most businesses and is now becoming a part of New York City’s DNA.

Is Indoor Dining Open in NYC?

Yes, indoor dining is open, but limited to 25% capacity. With this limited seating, you can anticipate some wait time even if you make advance reservations. After all, just because you arrive on time it doesn’t mean that other guests have rotated out.

To get around this, some restaurants have put seating time limits in place. But most businesses fear the backlash of bad reviews for rushing guests out. So don’t count on that!

Do I Have To Order Food With My Alcoholic Drinks? Or is it Optional?

Yes, according to that Executive order 202.52, every purchase of an alcoholic beverage must be accompanied by food. And it has to be either something for each person drinking or enough food for everyone to share. That’s not just an option that the bar has to offer or a rule that they are imposing on you to make more money.

“Purchase of a food item which is consistent with the food availability requirement of the license under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law” shall mean that for each patron in a seated party, an item of food must be purchased at the same time as the purchase of the initial alcoholic beverage(s). 

Executive order 202.52

City inspectors have been on top of this and if they spot a violation of this rule, or if one is reported, the bar or restaurant can get shut down!

In a nutshell, the city doesn’t want you hanging around getting drunk since it could lead to reckless socializing. If you can figure out how getting drunk while eating is different from getting drunk without eating, I’d love to hear it.

Are To-Go Alcoholic Beverages Still Available?

To Go takeout cocktails at an NYC bar - The Current State of NYC Nightlife - Always The VIP photo by C Nez Byrd
To Go takeout cocktails at a NYC bar – photo by C Nez Byrd

Yes, the executive order 202.52 extended the purchase of “To-Go Alcoholic Beverages,” so you can still get your takeout mimosas. However, it must still be accompanied with a food purchase.

Alcoholic beverages sold for off-premises consumption pursuant to this guidance may be sold in any closed or any sealed original container of any size. Provided that: The sale of each container shall be accompanied by the purchase of food;

New York State Liquor Authority
Guidance on Restrictions for Licensees and To-Go & Delivery Sales in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

Just do it to support your local bars and restaurants. We all know that it’s cheaper to make your own drinks unless it’s a fancy craft cocktail that you’re too lazy to prep yourself.

Are Rooftop Bars in NYC Open?

Yes, many rooftop bars in NYC are open since they are considered “outdoor dining” establishments, which have been allowed since June 2020 with Phase 2 of Reopening. However, many hotel rooftop bars remain closed to the public and limit access to hotel guests only. So be sure to call ahead to confirm the availability of any rooftop that is part of a hotel!

Rooftop bars have been generally easier to get into and offering better experiences when compared to normal bars. After all, they have had more time to adjust for social distancing and drill safety precautions into their policies, staff, and routines.

Here’s my list of great neighborhood rooftop bars in Manhattan!

What Time Do Bars Close in NYC Now? When is Last Call In NYC Now?

UPDATED 11/11/20 Normally, the “last call” time (cut-off for alcohol) in NYC is 4 am. During phase 4 of reopening, the last call was 12 am. However, as of November 13th, 2020 the curfew for bars, restaurants, and clubs will be rolled back to 10pm.

Read details about this latest change here: A 10 PM Curfew For NYC Bars and Restaurants and Private Gathering Limits

This move retracts the indoor dining curfew that was set at 12 am and the outdoor dining curfew set at 11 pm, and changes it to 10 pm. These curfews will continue to change as we proceed through reopening phases.

To clarify how the curfew works, if you are dining at a restaurant then both the alcohol service and food service must end by the set curfew time. This is the last call. Then there is a standard 30 minute grace period to allow guests to finish up and close out their tabs.

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The indoor dining service time limits are detailed as follows:

  • Monday-Sunday: 5 AM – 12 AM (changing to 10 PM as of November 13th)

Indoor bar service must remain closed at this time (i.e., no seating or
service at the bar, all alcoholic beverages must be served to the table), and indoor food and beverage service shall not
be permitted between 12 AM-5 AM, as detailed below. All service must cease at 12 AM and cannot resume until 5 AM.

New York City Indoor Food Services
Guidelines for Employees and Employers

If a restaurant is using the “Open Restaurants” program for outdoor dining, then the following time limits apply:

  • Monday-Saturday: 8am-11pm (changing to 10 PM as of November 13th)
  • Sunday: 10am-11pm (changing to 10 PM as of November 13th)

So don’t bother looking for open bars or restaurants after the curfew, even in the most popular drinking neighborhoods in NYC like Greenwich Village, Times Square, and Hell’s Kitchen!

Again, you’re only hope is to have a nightlife connect or friend like a bartender, waitress, or promoter (wink, wink) that can tell you where a private “after-party” is. Otherwise, everything is shut down due to those ongoing curfews.

The good old days aren’t back yet, but I’ll keep you posted when they are!

Do Bars Still Offer Happy Hour Specials?

Many bars have suspended most of their happy hour special offerings and have also increased their menu prices. While that doesn’t sound so great for us, the consumers, this is due to the long closures that they have suffered. So now they want to get revenue flowing quickly.

However, some bars have been going a bit over board by almost doubling their normal prices and jacking up food prices. So use your best judgement if you land at a spot that charges you $20 for a beer with a handful of peanuts.

If you see a great deal posted online, just be sure to call ahead to confirm that it is still offered.

Are Bars Still Getting Shut Down?

Yes, bars are still getting shut down. If it’s not because they just ran out of money, it’s for violating pandemic regulations. If a bar or restaurant violates any social distancing, face-covering orders, or alcohol with out food service order then they can have their liquor license suspended and be forced to close!

A 3 strike system has been created as follows:

As part of the ‘Three Strikes and You’re Closed’ initiative, any establishment that receives three violations will be closed for business. Egregious violations can result in immediate loss of liquor license or closure before a third strike.

NY Governor‘s Office

From all of this, you can see that bars have shouldered the brunt of the blame for the spread of the pandemic and have been given little quarter by restrictive regulations. And after months of being forced to close, many local establishments like our beloved “Bar Bacon,” won’t be coming back.

But if the restrictions were eased up, would the crowds even return to the levels they once were? That leads us to an even bigger question, “Will NYC ever be the same?”

I personally think not. Our social culture and norms will be permanently changed. There will be long-lasting phobias imprinted into our society, and the world that emerges from this pandemic won’t be the same. 2020 is going to be one of the most transformative years to go down in history.

Here’s what one of my fellow nightlife colleagues and NYC bartender for bars like Bar None and PHD, Adam McConnell, had to say during our conversation about the state of NYC nightlife:

Well I’d say the return of nightlife is inevitable but it’ll take time and def a covid vaccine. It’ll prob be years before nightlife gets back to what it once was and who knows what kind of transformation the country will see in the meanwhile. Idk what state nightlife was really in before covid but it seemed like it just wasn’t what it was a few years ago so maybe this pandemic can offer new opportunities for the format to advance and grow. The way it was worked great for certain people and def if you knew how to do it there was huge opportunity to be making money and doing well for yourself in nightlife but all things have to grow and change over time.

Adam McConnell – NYC Bartender

But focusing on the now, nightlife businesses are struggling and there’s not much hope on the horizon. NYC commercial rent is still high and supplies, bartenders, waitresses/waiters, barbacks, cooks, and managers all cost money. Money which has burned through for months.

So when you visit local bars or restaurants please be considerate and do the following:

  • Tip your servers well
  • Leave a review online for the local businesses you love
  • When you’re finished dining, be considerate and allow the next guests to be seated

The longer you sit at a table, the fewer customers can be served, and the less likely that business will survive!

Your neighborhood businesses need all the support and understanding they can get.

Sharing Is Caring!

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