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Nightlife & Entertainment: Best Manhattan Bars

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You just want a place to meet your date -- or sit and ponder the lack thereof -- over a sophisticated (and substantial) cocktail. In a city where the number of bars outnumbers even Gaps, it becomes that much more difficult to differentiate the enabling from the buzz-killing. A new addition, Joe's Pub, inside the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street; 539-8770), has the most compelling mix of modelizers and celebrities (Donald Trump, Jennifer Lopez, and, of course, Leo) ordering up the joint's signature Mojitos ($7), a mixture of white rum, fresh lime juice, bitters, and fresh mint leaves. Nightlife czar Serge Becker (Bowery Bar) has transformed a grungy office space into a swank boîte that achieves a denlike feel in spite of loft ceilings and an illuminated zebra-patterned bar. On Wednesdays, late-night salsa begins at 11:30; every other Friday features Future Proof, a performance of Indian-style drumming.

The dimly lit Temple Bar (332 Lafayette Street; 925-4242) is still perfect for a clandestine tête-à-tête. Cocktails are served in crystal martini glasses. The margaritas may be the best in city, but their Sidecar variation, called a Sidekick, with pear flavoring ($11.25), is a close second. The ideal "affair bar" has one drawback: The couple next to you is invariably getting it on.

If the transient drama of a hotel lobby is what you crave, King Cole bar, at the St. Regis (2 East 55th Street; 753-4500) remains true to form -- blue-blazered businessmen, prices as oversize as the wine glasses. For the cargo-pants-and-leather-jacket crowd, "the Horseshoe Bar," or 7B, as it's most often known, at the corner of 7th Street and Avenue B (473-8840), maintains a cult following. It remains Janeane Garofalo's saloon of choice. "The bartenders are always nice," she says. "And easy on the eyes."


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