New Year’s Eve is sometimes derided as amateur night, an occasion for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd to dress up and indulge in overpriced caviar and bubbly. Savvy diners may shun New Year’s restaurant dinners, but they, too, deserve something festive, a low-key alternative for those who want to go out without going all out, or who want a small bite and a drink before heading to a more ambitious celebration.
Turns out, there are plenty of places to do this, most no farther away than your favorite neighborhood hangout. Lots of area restaurants — even ones that are offering that whole-nine-yards, four-course, prix fixe menu — are perfectly happy to welcome customers at the bar for a cocktail and a nibble. No reservations, no cover, and, perhaps, a quieter-than-typical evening at places where the bar might normally be jampacked with scenesters.