I associate the Upper East Side with Museum Mile and Gossip Girl. As many times as I’ve been thrift shopping, eaten street food, or relaxed by the East River, the image of tourists mixed among Manhattan’s privileged Birkin bag toting/school uniformed/Brooks Brothers suited/miniature dog walking townhouse occupants, fails to leave my preconception of the UES. Madison, Park, and Lexington all hold an elite status in my mind. I love the UES, but until I visited Swig Bar & Grill, I’d hesitate to recommend the neighborhood for anyone looking to relax. Swig is a laid-back, casual sports bar that defies Upper East Side stereotypes in the best way possible. Across the park from unfussy hangouts like Jake’s Dilemma and Gin Mill, Swig captures this relaxed atmosphere.
Walking in, you’ll be greeted by a golf videogame machine, flat screen TVs playing sports, and a rowdy group of Irish bartenders eagerly pouring customers their next shot. Head to the back to pick a song on the jukebox or crawl into a cozy booth and listen to a pre-selected soundtrack of Mumford & Sons, The White Stripes, The Strokes, Phoenix, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and (during my visit) one memorable round of the theme song from Ghostbusters. Though a bit loud, Swig’s back corner features an adorable reading nook, with classic books available to borrow.
I visited Swig with a friend early on a Friday evening, catching the $4 happy hour (4-8pm, daily). Scott, our bartender, recommended we try the Swig Ale, which was dark, crisp, and satisfying micro-brew—perfect to transition from a hot summer afternoon for what was sure to be an equally sticky night.
The crowd at Swig was eclectic: a woman sat reading her iPad while downing various cocktails, a man reading The Village Voice poured himself glasses from a $14 pitcher of beer, a couple split a bottle of Magner’s on ice, and a giggling group played Jenga at the bar. At Swig, anyone and everyone is welcome, an attitude rare on the UES that we definitely appreciated during the 3+ hours Swig treated us like the UES Royalty we are at heart.
After-work drinks became dinner (it’s hard to deny you’re hungry as the smells of fried food waft over pitchers of Bud Light). Scott recommended the burgers, the Shepherd’s Pie, chicken fingers, and hinted that the fish sandwich is the best thing on the menu. Also, we were instructed not to leave without trying the homemade pizza and fries. In short, the menu, with the exception of its salads, is a list of foods selected to pair perfectly with beer: the entrees are spicy, savory, crunchy, or all of the above, and the desserts are decadently sweet. (Spoiler: we shared a fried cheesecake….)
As the night continued, the drinks got stronger, the bar got more crowded, and the music definitely got louder. We shared an appetizer of homemade stuffed mushrooms, which were delicious, and I indulged in fish and chips while my friend enjoyed a spicy Cajun chicken wrap. As I dipped the last of the crispy homemade fries into vinegar and ketchup, the nighttime bartender, pushed a pink cocktail towards my now-empty plate. “The Swig Hurricane, try it!”
That, and an incredible house-created Chocolate Pretzel Shot consisting of Pinnacle whipped cream vodka, Frangelico, and a salted rim, built up the confidence we needed to order the infamous Deep-Fried Cheesecake. That plate was clean quicker than our subsequent shotglass…
If you’re looking for a low-key, undeniably friendly bar on the UES, Swig is your place. With nightly events like Trivia Tuesdays, 2 for 1 Wednesdays, or monthly parties like this Sunday’s Beach Party ($5 Margaritas and Sex on the Beach, $4 beer), you’ll never catch a dull night at Swig!
1629 2nd Ave
Photos by Claire Heyison