To-do lists abound during the holiday season, especially when it comes to holiday gift shopping and grocery shopping but fret not — this list is all about savoring the special things that only happen during this time of year. It’s all about celebrating the season and making the very most of it, something you should definitely do here in New York.
From seasonal cocktails and fancy lunches to the best desserts and taking time out to be a tourist in your own town, here are a few of our favorite suggestions for how to best celebrate the season.
1. Get a seasonally minded cocktail.
Whether it’s a boozy hot number or simply a celebratory martini, drink specials abound this time of year, and you’d be wise to take advantage. Some of our favorite cocktail spots for the winter weeks include:
- For its first-ever Irish Christmas bar, running through Jan. 3, The Dead Rabbit is going all out with festive drinks, décor, snacks, and a holiday-themed soundtrack. Jingle Jangle cocktails include a Christmas Cake Irish Coffee, Stout & Whiskey Eggnog, and a Sticky Toffee Punch and, better yet, $1 from every cocktail sold goes to Another Round, Another Rally, a nonprofit that helps the hospitality industry.
- At Hillary Sterling’s standout Ci Siamo, seasonal cocktails are on the menu and they include a Greenwood Fizz (blended Scotch, cacao, cream, Amaro chiot, espresso, and soda) that’s a play on a classic New York egg cream soda, complete with chocolate sprinkles on top. There’s also a very festive Solid Negroni, featuring the restaurant’s excellent Negroni in Jell-O shot form, served in a coupe glass and made in collaboration with jelly experts, Solid Wiggles.
- On weeknights, from Tuesday to Friday, Kokomo in Williamsburg is hosting a Merry Kokomo pop-up complete with seasonal drinks like Mule Tide Greetings (a play on the classic Moscow Mule) and the Tinselrita margarita, plus the Tipsy Tree, which comes with nine signature Kokomo shots, all served around a tableside Christmas tree.
- Or, if you just want to stick to the perennially tried and true, we’ve got you covered here with the city’s best classic cocktails.
2. Find the most festive holiday décor.
Some restaurants go all out when it comes to the decorations, and we’ve handpicked a few of our favorites:
- Through mid-January, The Garret Coctelería on Broome Street is hosting its own holiday pop-up, too. Feliz Coctelería features festive décor celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah as well as a very fun lineup of holiday-themed cocktails. Think an Epazote Hot Toddy, Rocco’s Hot Cocoa, Spiced Coquito Eggnog, and Rose & Lenny, made with babka-infused Slivovitz and cream of coconut.
- At The Garden at The Standard, East Village, they’ve transformed the outdoor garden area into a “psychedelic retreat drawing inspiration from the Catskills of New York.” That translates to hanging L.L. Bean boots, lots of flannel, camping-inspired decor, outdoor yurts, and neon trees, and oversize mushroom sculptures. To go with all of that they’ve also for a $75 per person prix-fixe, family-style feast with dishes ranging from Wagyu sliders to Frito pies and smoked trout dip to s’mores.
- Grab a pint over at the historic Fraunces Tavern, which always decks itself out for the holidays.
3. Be a tourist in your own town.
While a dinner out is entertainment in itself, there are lots of festive happenings that pair beautifully with your Resy. Spring for dinner and a holiday show here:
- Go to Rockefeller Center to see THE tree, and then dine at one of the incredible new restaurants that have opened at Rockefeller Center in the past year. For starters, there’s NARO, the new Korean restaurant from the award-winning team behind Atoboy and Atomix. There’s also crowd-pleasing Italian fare at Jupiter, from the same team behind Soho’s King, and at Lodi, from chef Ignacio Mattos (Estela, Altro Paradiso). French classics and contemporaries shine at Le Rock, from the Frenchette team.
- Or if you happen to be ice skating at Rockefeller Center, head over to the Après Skate dining experience where you can sip on drinks and snack on bites from Smith & Mills inside cozy chalets located beneath the big tree, with a view of the rink.
- Visit the Hannukah menorah located at the entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, at Grand Army Plaza, and then dine nearby. A few suggestions: Fausto, for incredible wine and pastas; Oxalis, a Michelin-starred known for its seasonal tasting menus (do check out the $75 bar prix-fixe, too); Maison Yaki for French-inflected yakitori from chef Greg Baxtrom (Olmsted and Patti Ann’s); and Agi’s Counter for comforting Eastern European fare like spaetzle and duck borscht.
- A bit further up, in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, you can check out the Christmas tree there, too and then grab dinner at a number of spots like Miss Ada, Israeli-born chef-owner Tomer Blechman’s beloved neighborhood spot for thrilling Israeli cuisine; Colonia Verde, a favorite for Latin American inspired dishes (don’t sleep on the yucca puree); and Aita, a classic neighborhood hang for rustic Italian fare.
- Go shopping at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market and then dine nearby. Some suggestions include Iris, the contemporary Mediterranean stunner from chef John Fraser; La Bonne Soupe for one of the best bowls of French onion soup in the entire city; Yakitori Totto for exceptional Japanese skewers; or head up a few blocks to check out Tatiana, the new restaurant at Lincoln Center from Top Chef Kwame Onwuachi.
- Check out the holiday lights in Dyker Heights and then head west to Bay Ridge for a fantastic meal at the unbeatable Tanoreen.
4. Take advantage of all those holiday specials.
A few suggestions:
- Over at Miznon, North Miznon, and HaSalon, they’re selling latkes for Hannukah, from Dec. 16 to 27. Limited quantities are available each day but they include mini latkes from Miznon ($16 a bag); three handmade “Bellini” style latkes with sour cream and Osetra caviar for $18 from North Miznon; and a decadent latke trio from HaSalon (think crabmeat and caviar) for $63.
- Einat Admony’s lovely Balaboosta is also selling quinoa potato latkes and sfinge donuts from Dec. 18 to 26.
- Through Dec. 30, Aldo Sohm Wine Bar is hosting après fondue nights in its outdoor dining area with classic cheese fondue and an optional shot of kirsch, plus seasonal fruit, vegetables, cornichons, and charcuterie. Pair it with a glass of mulled wine while you’re at it, too.
- Ernesto’s is serving up holiday specials, too, like faison asado, a roasted whole pheasant flavored with brandy, white wine, and caramelized onions, and served with pomme purée and shaved truffles, that you can order in advance, plus an arroz meloso de conejo, a braised rabbit served with bomba rice. From Dec. 16 to 18, the Lower East Side Basque specialist is also hosting a holiday food market where you can pick up signature dishes and condiments to go, like housemade sausages, shrimp relish, cheesecake, and vintage glassware.
- Anthony Mangieri’s Una Pizza Napoletana, which transforms into Caffe Napoletana on Saturday mornings, will be hosting a weekly holiday market in December where you can pick up a very special loaf of panettone made by Verona, Italy-based Infermentum. Like Mangieri’s famous pies, this fruit cake is naturally leavened; this is the first time you can purchase the holiday sweet in the U.S., too. While you’re there, grab some espresso, juice, and other imported Italian sweets, plus vintage Italian espresso cups, perfect for gifting.
5. Slow down.
The holiday season is always a whirlwind. Whether solo or with a loved one or old friends, take time to slow down, and have a quiet dinner in a cozy, candlelit restaurant. Maybe even without cell phones. Have a nice cry while you’re there. It’s all about what’s best for you.
A few of our favorites:
- Essential cozy locales
- Splurge-worthy spots
- Everywhere you should be eating pizza in New York
- Your guide to a night out on the Lower East Side, by none other than New York’s Nightlife Mayor
- The ultimate guide to brunch in New York
- 25 incredible tasting menus for $100 and under
- Some of the best restaurants in the city for any celebration
6. Have a fancy and/or festive Friday lunch.
Because one of life’s great luxuries is a special lunch alone at a bar. Or that holiday lunch where you reconnect with loved ones. Let the excitement of the season rub off a little, and go somewhere you might not go, and order whatever you want (even if it’s a little basic). For instance:
- Gather a group of friends for some dim sum.
- Head to the bar at Gramercy Tavern for lunch and order yourself a burger and a martini as a break in between gift shopping.
- Walk into Via Carota and order yourself a Negroni (sbagliato if you wish) plus some cacio e pepe and maybe that unforgettable svizzerina chopped steak.
- Stop by Golden Diner and order yourself a Chinatown egg and cheese sando with some matzoh ball soup.
- Treat yourself to some oysters and a cocktail at Corner Bar on the Lower East Side.
- Warm yourself up with some French onion soup and croque madame at Le Crocodile in Williamsburg.
- Have a full feast at Birds of a Feather in Williamsburg. Don’t sleep on the dan dan noodles.
- Stop by Masalawala & Sons in Park Slope and get the rippon street majja (bone marrow with shaved egg served with pao) or the tiger prawns cooked in a young coconut shell.
- Savor a steamy bowl of pasta from chef Alberto Marcolongo of Benoit, who’s doing weekly lunch pasta specials inspired by his childhood in Northern Italy. Think paccheri with artichoke, lobster, and marjoram, or tagliolini with white truffle.
7. Let someone else do the cooking on Christmas Eve.
A few restaurants around town are pulling all the stops to offer special Feast of the Seven Fishes meals on Christmas Eve. Here are a few:
- Over in Brooklyn, sister restaurants Gus’s Chop House and Popina are joining forces to offer a collaborative, one-night-only Feast of the Seven Fishes prix-fixe menu. Dish highlights include a hash brown with caviar dip, lobster arancini with saffron aioli, cavatelli with clams, and a whole roasted fish set with crab and shrimp fried rice. You can book a reservation for seatings at 5 or 7:30 p.m. and the cost is $150 per person, with the option to add wine pairings.
- In Nolita, Michelin-starred The Musket Room is doing a very special Feast of the Seven Fishes tasting menu inspired by executive chef Mary Attea’s family tradition of eating seafood on Christmas eve. The tasting menu is an elaborate one, with crochetta di baccala with Kristal caviar, a razor clam oreganata, and a langousting tortolloni en brodo among the eight courses offered. Tickets are $250 per person and are offered for seatings throughout the evening, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Wine pairings from sommelier Ramon Manglano, available for an additional supplement, will focus on wines from Italy and France, with special attention paid to Champagne and Corsica.
- Should you find yourself near Times Square on Christmas Eve, AperiBar is celebrating with its own Feast of the Seven Fishes menu for $75 per person. Dishes to choose from include lobster bruschetta, shrimp scampi, grilled calamari, spicy steamed mussels, and a traditional bacala stew.
- At Bar Pasquale, they’re serving their regular menu on Christmas Eve but they’ve also got Feast of the Seven Fishes-inspired specials that include a diver scallop crudo with Marcona almonds; a clam pizza with Bang’s Island mussels and cippolini onions; and squid ink lumache with cuttlefish and Meyer lemons.
- And finally, over at Union Square Cafe, chef Lena Ciardullo is hosting the restaurant’s first-ever Feast of the Seven Fishes, which will include a $175 prix-fixe menu with lobster fra diavolo, monkfish al’acqua pazza, and fritto misto, plus duck fat tater tots (a USC favorite) topped with caviar, and beef tenderloin (for those, like Ciardullo’s father, who prefer beef as their main).
- BONUS: Don’t overlook a satisfying Christmas Eve meal over at Momofuku Noodle Bar East Village. (Is there anything more comforting than an order of their pork belly buns, mushroom ramen, and smoked chicken wings? We think not.) Better yet, they’re also offering a special Christmas meal that feeds four to six, for pick-up on Christmas Eve. The meal includes smoked brisket, roasted broccolini, potato mash gratin, potato rolls, soy pickled daikon and jalapeno white BBQ coleslaw, crunchy and chocolate peanut pie. Order here.
8. And whatever you do, don’t skip dessert.
Actually, maybe go out of your way to get some holiday desserts.
- Make a Resy for Lysée, where chef Eunji Lee creates edible masterpieces.
- Take a Christmas cookie decorating class over at Malibu Farm with pastry chef Ashley Drum (cocktail included!) on Dec. 15, or bring the kids on Saturday, Dec. 17, for a gingerbread house decorating class, complete with a breakfast buffet for the little ones.
- Stop by The Noortwyck and pick up a holiday cookie box ($85) from pastry chef Ileene Cho (formerly of One White Street). The cookie box has 36 cookies (six of each type) and includes holiday favorites like chocolate crinkle cookies, dirty chai spiced cookies, and thin mints.
- Don’t sleep on the incredible pastries that chef Camari Mick creates over at The Musket Room.
- Same goes for the desserts by Caroline Schiff over at Gage & Tollner in Downtown Brooklyn.