Opening a new restaurant in New York City is no easy feat, particularly if you’re looking to carve out your own special niche. To compete in the City That Never Sleeps, restaurateurs are facing more pressure than ever to come up with some pretty crazy themed restaurant ideas.
If you’re looking to create a fun restaurant experience in NYC yourself, it’s important to first know what your competition looks like–and maybe get inspired along the way. To help you get started, here are the top 25 most unique restaurants in NYC.
If you’ve ever fantasized about becoming a ninja, here’s your chance. In this underground restaurant, you’ll enter a ninja village and sample a selection of Japanese dishes … but watch out for flying nunchucks and surprise attacks! With a philosophy to make diners feel like they’ve been “pulled into a world beyond their imagination”, you’re sure to leave this themed experience satisfied (and maybe a little startled).
2. Trailer Park Lounge
This restaurant might not be the most classy… but if you’re looking for tacky decor and tasteless charm, this is the place to go. Sip a Bud Light or enjoy a traditional diner meal under the year-round Christmas lights at this over-the-top dive where kitsch reigns supreme and plastic flowers line the walls.
3. Max Brenner
This restaurant is a chocolate lover’s dream. With more desserts than “real food” offered – and all of them featuring elaborate chocolate creations – you’ll be able to savor sweet treats galore. With “chocolate everything” as their motto, you won’t just be eating chocolate – you’ll be seeing it, hearing it, and tasting it.
4. Brooklyn Surf Bar
You may have been to a tiki bar before, but you probably haven’t been to one that commits this much to the theme. Boasting an indoor sand bar and a straw-thatched roof, you’ll be immersed in a beachy vibe without having to leave Williamsburg.
Meat-lovers, rejoice: at this restaurant, you’ll get to sample every part of the cow. Takashi offers traditional beef cuts and more eclectic options, like a variety of stomach, tongue, and heart dishes. Their unique dish of calf’s brain cream in a tube shows that nothing goes to waste.
6. Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Take a blast into the past at this star-studded diner. Enjoy a variety of diner classics (many of them rainbow-tinted) as you’re serenaded by singing waitstaff – some of whom might be the next big Broadway stars. (You saw them there first!)
Styled like an underground cave, this restaurant comes complete with cave art on the walls and stalactites hanging from the ceiling. If you want to party like it’s prehistoric times, the place also turns into a club at night.
9. The Beauty Bar
Want to be pampered? Get a manicure while sipping a martini at this one-of-a-kind Brooklyn beauty saloon. Whether you want a girls’ night out or a bachelorette party experience, Beauty Bar’s old-time salon/saloon feel is sure to appeal to everyone in your squad. Fun fact: Beauty Bar kept the original hair dryers from when the place was still a humble hairdressing parlor!
10. Please Don’t Tell
Wishing you lived during the Roaring Twenties? Get the real experience at this speakeasy, which is so secret that you can’t even knock on the door to get in. Give them a call – but don’t be surprised if they hang up the first few times…
11. Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain
Fun fact: In the early 20th century to the 1960s, people used to gather at the local apothecary (pharmacy) to sip on a carbonated beverage or devour a banana split. So when you’re enjoying a drink at this former apothecary shop, you’re also taking in a little piece of history.
12. The Heath
Enjoy a hearty British dinner accompanied by the soft sounds of 1930s jazz at this cabaret-style restaurant. All of the waitstaff are dressed in cocktail clothes to match the atmosphere, so take the opportunity to dress up yourself. For your after-dinner entertainment, you may want to catch Sleep No More, a film-noir retelling of Macbeth, at the adjoining theatre.
13. Famous Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse
Going to Famous Sammy’s will make you feel part of a big Jewish family. Immersed in a bar-mitzvah-like atmosphere, you’ll enjoy huge portions of traditional Jewish meals accompanied by singing and dancing from patrons and staff alike.
14. Sik Gaek
This Flushing restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart – their seafood is so fresh that it’s actually still alive! While they’re famous for their live octopus, they also have a few other live seafood dishes … and sushi for your less courageous friends.
15. Jekyll and Hyde Club
Enter if you dare… If you’re looking for one of the most unique themed restaurants in NYC, you can’t get much stranger than this spooky recreation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Live entertainment driven by eerie animatronics and a creepy cast of characters will be sure to liven up your meal. Hot tip: they have private rooms for up to 300 people, so you can throw a seriously spooky party there!
16. Lucky Cheng’s
Fans of Rupaul’s Drag Race, this is the place to go. Get served by glamorous drag queens as you enjoy a three-course Asian-American dish and a show. Lucky Cheng’s serves up your meal with a side of cabaret, comedy and dance performances by other drag queens. This unique restaurant in NYC is a full dining–entertainment package that gets diners talking well after they’ve left the place.
17. Burp Castle
While this restaurant’s name may sound unappetizing, their vast beer selection certainly isn’t. Go back in time to the Middle Ages at this monastery-themed bar, perfect for quiet drinkers: the cowl-clothed staff will shush you if you get too loud. They also offer free (yes, you read that correctly!) pommes frites from a nearby shop on Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays… so make sure to time your visit appropriately.
18. The VNYL
Take a classy trip into the past at this 1970s-chic resto-bar. You’ll feel like you’re stepping into a chic family home as you enjoy their Californian-influenced menu and flip through their extensive record collection. (Bell bottoms and paisley patterns not required!)
19. Beetle House
Tim Burton fans can’t miss this eclectic restaurant, which features drinks and dishes named after his works. The decor showcases visual elements from his films for an immersive experience. The actors dressed in full Willy Wonka or Corpse Bride regalia are also sure to add an extra note of creepy (or give you the perfect Instagram opportunity) – so expect to be pleasantly spooked!
20. River Café
This unique restaurant doesn’t need to rely on a kooky theme for originality – instead, its location is the real selling point. Positioned under the Brooklyn Bridge, this restaurant is actually on a boat. Your meal will be accompanied by a beautiful view of the New York skyline as well as the soothing sound of waves lapping against the bow.
Sometimes you just want a little quiet time to enjoy your meal in peace. At this ramen joint, diners can enjoy their meals in quiet booths, where they can be “a little more intimate with their ramen” and focus exclusively on the delicious flavors without any distractions.
Step into the chemistry labs of yore at this self-styled “cocktail apothecary”, where drinks are prepared in beakers and flasks. Pick your poison from their prescription list, or sample one of their many flavors of absinthe for a night you may not remember…
23. The Black Ant
Eating insects isn’t just a novelty for Fear Factor contestants anymore. Sample grasshopper croquettes or a drink garnished with salted ants at the aptly named Black Ant, where traditional Mexican fare is given a modern twist and ingredients are sourced directly from Oaxaca (including the insects).
24. The House of Wax
If your aesthetic leans towards the macabre, you’ll love this bar. Filled with waxen death masks and anatomical models of dead celebrities of the past, this bar serves up thematic cocktails like the “Butcher of Hanover” and the “Prince Regent of Bavaria”.
Take part in the wildest Russian party imaginable at this restaurant. With a whirlwind of cabaret dancers accompanied by a traditional Russian repast and fueled by lots of vodka, it’s sure to be a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
While there are a variety of themed restaurants in NYC, there are a few that really stand out from the crowd. If you’re looking to create your own unique restaurant experience, these New York City gems are sure to provide some great ideas.
Tiffany was the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she shared knowledge with restaurateurs on how to run their business. She’s passionate about traveling the world and getting to know communities through great food.