Want to get into the city's hottest restaurants without making a reservation? Head to the bar, where most high-end eateries hold back spots for walk-ins. Bar seats usually have the same menu they're serving at the tables and often see faster service, a plus if you're in a rush. Often the best seat in the house, bar seating works only if you're solo or with just one guest. Still, if you can swing it, you'll see everything from a unique perspective: Bar seats are where the pros sit, because you're more in the thick of things. You may never want a table again.
Gymkhana: Getting a table at this unwaveringly popular restaurant can be a chore. Seats at the bar are easier to get and a better way to try the city's best Indian food.
Bocca di Lupo: Famous for its well-priced Italian fare, the crammed tables are coveted. Try the bar instead and watch chef Jacob Kenedy at work.
The Ivy: A legendary gathering spot for the rich and powerful. Sit at the newly redone bar for a front-row seat and still eat from the regular menu.
Sosharu: Jason Atherton's Japanese izakaya under Romanian chef Alex Craciun. Tables are discrete, but the main bar is better than any sushi bar in town. Look for the vintage ice shavers.
Pasquale Jones: The booths are for stars such as Jay Z, but the best seats are at the open kitchen. Try to get the two at the end to see the best show in town.
Keens Steakhouse: You want a table at this institution before a game at Madison Square Garden? Dream on. The bar room is faster, fun, and has a TV.
Upland: Trying to get a green leather booth can take weeks. Better to sit at the enormous bar to sample Justin Smillie's California-meets-Italy cuisine.
Eleven Madison Park: If you can get a table, you're in for a four-hour meal. The smart money knows that you can get the quicker, less elaborate experience at the bar. The sister restaurant, Nomad Bar, is equally sharp for a classy burger.
Nougatine at Jean-Georges: This lively bar area with a few low-slung tables serves the same meals as Jean-George for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but with a much more casual vibe. The stunning view of Central Park is the same, too.
Chin Chin: The line outside this Asian street-food restaurant shows just how popular it is. It's no reservations, but while the tables quickly fill, the bar seats are the best in the house.
Arcane: Chef Shane Osborn's modern European restaurant in Central is hard to find, but plenty of people do. The counter is open to walk-ins and is a great place to watch the kitchen team at work.
Zuma: While this award-winning restaurant is often packed and fully booked, the sushi counter is strictly no-reservations and a fine place to sit.
Dan Tana's: It may take you some time (years?) to befriend legendary bartender Michael Gotovac, who has been slinging drinks at this West Hollywood icon for half a century. But the bar is truly the best spot in the colorful Italian restaurant, where you'll meet regulars and overhear plenty of flirty dish.
Pizzeria Mozza: Mario Batali's pizza joint was was white hot when it opened and hasn't stopped—on most weeknights it is buzzy and loud. A group of friends can perch at the bar and share a pie or some of the creative and delicious antipasti and watch the festivities.
Mr. Wong: The Cantonese-style menu and dim sum have drawn crowds to this Central Business District hotspot since 2012. The restaurant seats 240 people, but it still fills up—and the bar is the center of the action.