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Opening Hours
Today: 1pm–4am
Sun:
1pm–4am
Mon:
3pm–4am
Tues:
3pm–4am
Wed:
3pm–4am
Thurs:
3pm–4am
Fri:
3pm–4am
Location
531 East 5th Street
Categories
Ace Bar 1 Bars Alphabet City East Village Loisaida

When Ace Bar originally opened in 1993, New York City was “pretty lawless,” according to its owner, Michael Hilf. As he and his business partner, Jim Abraham, built the bar over the course of a year, they would sell beers off of a makeshift scaffold and plywood counter at night and use the money to buy nails and paint to resume working on the space in the morning. Michael joked that this arrangement would not be possible in today’s era of strict inspections and safety codes.

To build his customer base, Michael would do what he called his “Pied Piper routine,” which involved approaching strangers on the street, offering to buy them a beer, and luring them back to Ace where his bartender was more than happy to fulfill the promise. “It was actually really effective marketing. Word spread pretty fast, and I didn’t have to do that after about the first three months.”

From the beginning, Ace Bar attracted “an incredible community of creative people. Black, white, Latino, gay, straight, punk, goth — everyone was accepted, as long as they weren’t corporate.” Comedians commingled with war veterans and artists. Many customers were drawn to Ace for its music selection, which was carefully curated by Michael himself. He recalled that the likes of Joey Ramone, dressed in all leather even in the high heat of August, would visit the bar to enjoy his playlist and nurse a drink.

Throughout the decades, Ace Bar has remained a neighborhood staple and a great place to spend the night with a group of friends. One of the bar's highlights is its vintage games and décor. When entering the bar’s two spacious rooms, you cannot miss the notable collection of old-school lunch boxes and thermoses that are displayed in a glass case. Further inside, there are plenty of activities to choose from, including darts, pool tables, pinball machines, Big Buck Hunter, arcade games and, of course, the skee ball machine.

Occasionally, Michael misses the early, lawless days, when pets were welcome in bars, smoking indoors was common, and business was sustained by word of mouth rather than online reviews. “I could keep going on and on like this. Maybe I should write a book.”

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