It’s a Friday night, you’re a student on a budget, and all you want is a good drink that’s close to home and won’t break the bank. We may not be as lucky as the students down at NYU, but we’ve got our share of bars close to campus that are perfect for those nights you feel like going out. All of the bars around campus have a wide variety of cocktails, but let’s be real: We all just want to know what’s cheap and good, so we talked to the bartenders themselves.
Address: 2867 Broadway, New York, NY 10025 (Broadway & 111th Street)
Bartender: Jonathan Owens
The Heights is just blocks away from campus and has an upbeat energy, great music, and a lively and diverse crowd. We spoke to the bartender on duty, Jonathan Owens, who was more than happy to chat with us about his drink recommendations, as well as his love for The Heights and the people who come there. Owens claims that the best cheap drink The Heights has to offer is undoubtedly its frozen margaritas. During happy hour, which is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., they’re just $6, and from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., they’re only $5.
“They come in strawberry, raspberry, passion fruit, mango, and peach, as well,” Owens said.
Every night, a specialty drink is offered, but do be warned: they are typically a bit pricier. The Heights typically changes its drink menu season-to-season, so be on the lookout for the upcoming fall and winter menus. For his favorite drink at The Heights, Owens went with Fake Love.
“Fresh lime juice, a little bit of passion fruit in there, rum—it’s really good. Nice and strong, nice and clean, and a little sweet, too,” he said.
As for what makes The Heights unique, Owens said it boils down to how much alc you get for your buck.
“What sets us apart from everywhere else is that we have two-ounce pours—usually, it’s just one-ounce pours,” he said. “Our drinks come out as double, so that’s pretty awesome, especially if you’re trying to save money.”
So, next time you’re looking to go out, it might be a good idea to go get yourself one (or two… or three) of Owens’ frozen margaritas.
Address: 1020 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025 (Amsterdam Avenue & 110th street)
Bartender: Tim Monaghan
A classic choice for all Columbia students, 1020 will always be there for you when you’re looking for a decently priced drink and a fun night. Monaghan, one of the bar’s most interesting and enthusiastic bartenders, spoke with us about the bar and all it has to offer. For a good, cheap drink, Monaghan suggests any of the bar’s well drinks—old fashioneds, cosmopolitans, and mojitos, for instance—which are only $4 during happy hour 4-7 p.m..
The gin and tonic or the Jack and Coke are also great choices, costing just $6 each. If you’re feeling a bit more daring, you may want to go with a Long Island Iced Tea for $12.
If you’re there and Monaghan’s on duty, try one of his famous martinis.
“I’ve made thousands of them and have never had one turned back,” he said. “Not to pat myself on the back, but I’m known for making the best martinis.”
Monaghan has worked at 1020 for 20 years, so he’s seen quite a bit in his time. He said that the crowd has changed a lot over the years, though he still has his set of regulars whose orders he knows by heart.
“Kids are being cooler,” Monaghan said.
That being said, he’s seen the bar quickly turn from low-key to all-out party bar.
“It’s a very eclectic crowd… just a mixture,” he said. “[At night], it becomes Animal House. Trevor and Amber are puking in the bathroom.”
Still, he expressed his love for the bar, saying plainly, “It’s not a pretentious bar.”
Lion's Head Tavern
Address: 995 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025
Bartender: Natalie Ramos
A small, low-key, and often overlooked spot, Lion’s Head Tavern has a lot to offer.
Natalie Ramos, one of the tavern’s bartenders, spoke to us about her favorite drinks and her experience working at the tavern. When we asked her for a recommendation for a drink, the choice was clear.
“A good, cheap drink for college students: a rum and coke,” Ramos said.“It’s cheap, and you probably won’t have to pay for it the next day either.”
The vodka sodas are also an excellent pick, costing just $5 before 8 p.m. and only $7 afterward.
On working at Lion’s Head Tavern, Ramos said she absolutely loves it.
“It’s kind of like my potluck—it’s a little bit of everything. You never know what you’re going to get,” she said.“We do get a nice Columbia crowd in here … but we also get a lot of people from the neighborhood.”
Mel’s Burger Bar
Address: 2850 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
Bartender: Addison Casey
Mel’s is always a solid choice for any night out. We spoke to Addison Casey, one of the bartenders there, who explained to us all of the best drink options and some of the things that make Mel’s stand out.
For his pick for best drink, he went with a classic: beer. Mel’s is known for its vast selection of beers, and Casey clearly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to beer.
Casey strongly suggests the Greenpoint brew, his personal favorite. But don’t worry if you’re not a beer person; Mel’s also has delicious $6 vodka cranberries and $7 margaritas. What’s more, during happy hour 4-7 p.m., all well drinks are just $4 each.
Casey explained to us what is easily the most unique thing about Mel’s: the Brew Crew. But do be warned, becoming a part of the famed Brew Crew is no small feat. To get initiated, you have to finish 50 (yes, 50) beers.
“Once you finish 50 of our beers, you get to drink out of a bigger glass … so you get a 20-ounce instead of a 16-ounce, and you can eventually get a mug here,” Casey said.
If you’re a big beer person, you may be up for the even bigger challenge of becoming a Brewmaster, a title sure to add a lot of glamor to your résumé.
“Finish 250 of our beers and you become a Brewmaster,” he said. “You get baptized with beer—we actually take you behind the bar and we pour beer all over you.”
Next time you find yourself in Mel’s (which, let’s be honest, will probably be this weekend), order yourself a cheap beer and begin your journey to becoming a Brewmaster. And be sure to get a photo in front of the Mel’s sign before you leave, or else no one will know you were there.