Cocktails in New York NY
Grab your passport. We’re heading to New York City for cocktails.
Many agitate that New York is the World’s cocktail acme, and few would argue against it. That’s not to discount the excellence of the cocktail bar scene in other cities including Melbourne, Paris, London, Tokyo, and the like. But “the city that never sleeps” certainly bears an enviable reputation as the cocktail mecca of the World.
A profound fascination with mixology and the thriving cocktail culture inspired this cocktail blog. So of course New York would be at the top of the list of travel destinations beckoning me. I had to venture there to find out what makes this bar world tick.
We can argue that New York is the heart and soul of cocktails, but it wasn’t the birthplace. New Orleans is the origin of mixed drinks. In fairness however, a decent chunk of history comes from New York City. The place where the prototypical Manhattan cocktail was invented circa 1870 is also responsible for the cocktail renaissance we are in today.
I think it’s ironic that the cocktail culture revival of the early 2000s is reminiscent of the 1800s, the era when the cocktail was invented; that the rebirth reflects the birth. Imagine what Jerry Thomas would say if we could travel back in time to 1862 and tell him that in 150 years his inaugurating cocktail book, ‘Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks’, would be the bible for hipster bartenders.
There is also the curious influence of Prohibition, the era from 1919-1933 when bars were pushed underground by the ban on booze. In secret bars, mixed drinks were concocted to disguise the bad taste of contraband bootleg. Bartenders’ fascination with Prohibition over the past 10 years has of course induced a burgeoning bar scene hidden behind secret entrances.
After a long hiatus, mixed drinks became fashionable again in the 1960s thanks to alcohol marketing. We saw this narrated in the popular TV series Mad Men, which is set in Manhattan, but it wasn’t all whisky old-fashioned and martinis as portrayed. In reality, the spirit-forward drinks of pre-prohibition were replaced with long sweet drinks laden with fruit juices and liqueurs.
Ask a scrupulous bartender the history of cocktails, as I have done on many occasions, and they will skip from the 1930s to the 1990s like they never happened. Do you blame them?
The fluoro-tinted 1980s had Tom Cruise bartendertaining in New York City. His character in the movie Cocktail concocted crass drinks with ten parts ego to one part cheap spirit using showy flair-tending tricks that had liquid splashing over heads and shoulders. It really didn’t do the industry much good in its effort to be taken seriously. Even the Cosmopolitan, proliferated by the Manhattan based TV show Sex in the City was a hangover of the cringe-worthy 80s.
To find the point where the bona fide cocktail began to make its comeback we have to fast forward to the 1990s. Dale DeGroff is the man credited with rejuvenating the old. While working at the Rainbow Room the New Yorker discovered Jerry Thomas’s cocktail book and began reviving the great classics.
Donned “King Cocktail”, DeGroff worked on reinventing the bartending profession with a focus on mixology. By the early naughties, the cocktail resurgence had begun with a new wave of speakeasy bars inspiring New York City. The rest of the World followed suit.
It takes more than good drinks to impress me. When I evaluate a bar I consider a complete criteria – the quality of its service, atmosphere and hospitality, staff professionalism and attitude, concept, my overall enjoyment of the experience, and of course the cocktails.
Here are my top 5 recommendations for Manhattan New York City.
The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog
30 Water St, New York, NY | www.deadrabbitnyc.com
Nestled in amongst the skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District, The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog is an Irish-American saloon with an authentic 19th Century feel and a fantastic cocktail program focused on Irish whiskey.
The bars award winning cocktail book is renewed annually and is organised by season. It brings to life vintage classics alongside cocktails crafted by the bar team.
This year’s 66 page cocktail bible is a narration of the true story of Reverend Lewis Morris Pease, a religious reformer who worked with New York’s working class Irish Catholics in the 1800s.
Named after a notorious Irish street gang from the 1800s, Dead Rabbit has acquired an impressive list of “Best of …” awards since it’s opening in 2013. Making Top 4 in ‘Tale of the Cocktail Spirited Awards’ again this year, for ‘World’s Best Cocktail Menu’ and ‘Best American Bar Team’, may see them add two more of those trophies to the cabinet.
The drinks were beautifully crafted and presented, and the team was unfalteringly professional. A fascinating wall of fame, low warm lights, a soulful soundtrack and vintage paraphernalia create a wonderful atmosphere.
The $1 oyster happy hour was a massive bonus.
From the Seasonal Menu
Old Forester Bourbon | Red Breast 12 y.o. Irish Whisky | Absinthe | blackberries | pecan | chicory | coffee | lime
From the Winter Menu: “Winter is the end of nature’s cycle, but it turns again into its beginning. While we wait out the weather, we are comforted by the warming, spicy drinks of the hearth, and all the preserves we put away after the harvest.”
Power’s John Lane Irish Whiskey | Reposado Tequila | Amaro CioCiaro | Sweet Vermouth | Dry Vermouth | Absinthe | cocoa
510 Hudson St, New York, NY | www.employeesonlynyc.com
At the turn of the millennium when New York City was preparing for a cocktail revolution, Employees Only raised the flag. The art deco style speakeasy is credited as one of the three pioneers to revive the prohibition bar scene.
A tarot reader sits quietly in a tiny shop front guarding the entrance, making the bar almost hidden within Manhattan’s dining precinct, West Village.
Once passed the eerie psychic you’ll find a bustling bar wall to wall with people, but a wonderfully fun atmosphere where genuinely approachable staff will go out of their way to please.
The bar team is lead by veteran Steve Schneider and runs with military precision. It’s easy to see how they made Top 4 in this year’s ‘Tale of the Cocktail Spirited Awards’ for ‘Best American Bar Team’ and ‘Best High Volume Cocktail Bar’.
Employees Only provides impeccable service and stunning cocktails in a fast paced atmosphere. It is a place where gastronomy meets mixology, craft cocktails complimented with delicious bar food and an all round excellent experience.
When in New York…!
Rittenhouse Rye | Italian Vermouth | Grand Marnier | Angostura Bitters
Perfection garnished with a rose bud. Inspired by The Sidecar, one of the classics, this is a drink as exotic as its name.
Remy Martin 1738 Cognac | Chai-infused Martini Rosso | Pomegranate Juice
Amor Y Amargo
443 E 6th St, New York, NY | www.amoryamargony.com
Located in Alphabet City in Manhattan’s East Village, the Amor Y Amargo bitters tasting room has the feel of a Mediterranean apothecary from centuries ago. Rows of bitters and bartender paraphernalia are displayed in the small shop, creating the impression of an old world dispensary or chemist’s lab.
It’s a fabulously fun space with vibrant primary colours, contrasting shapes & textures, Mediterranean tiles, soft & rough edges.
With a Spanish name that translates to ‘Love & Bitters’, the digestif bar serves amari-focused cocktails. Amari are bitter spirits that aid post meal digestion, as in the Italian tradition of drinking digestivos for remedial purposes.
Warm and friendly bartenders chat to customers across the bar. Passionate and professional, the bar team is highly engaged in the craft of mixing innovative drinks and service.
Each of the cocktails I tasted at Amor Y Amargo was expertly balanced. Just enough sweetness & just enough bitters cleverly make digestif cocktails accessible and suitable for almost any palate.
8 Amaro Sazerac
A delicious twist on the classic.
House Amari Blend | Green Chartreuse | Peychaud’s Bitters
Black Rock Chiller
This cocktail was created for a bunch of friends going to Burning Man, an annual festival in the Nevada Desert. They needed a cocktail that was refreshing, but served without ice & mixers. They also needed to be able to pre-make the cocktail & store it in flasks for the one-week event.
Cooling, minty and sharply bitter.
Branca Menta | Suze | Reposado Tequila
These adorable bottled cocktails are an Amor Y Amargo signature.
Like a cola scented Negroni, island spice & a hint of leather with cola & coriander punching through.
Bonal | Meletti | Beefeater Gin| 10 Yr. Rye | Tiki Bitters
10 W 28th St, New York NY | www.thenomadhotel.com
While the NoMad Bar describes itself as a “classic American tavern”, this could easily give the false impression that it’s casual. Far from casual, the upscale gastro pub is grand and stately, spectacularly transforming the concept of the traditional New York tavern.
NoMad Bar opened in June 2014 and quickly gained its status as one of New York’s most illustrious cocktail bars, even making this years ‘Tale of the Cocktail Spirited Awards’ for ‘Best New American Cocktail Bar’.
Breathtakingly opulent with a busy, ground floor bar and a dining mezzanine overhead, the NoMad Bar is an architectural masterpiece detailed in wrought iron, leather, soft golden lighting and rich mahogany. The most dazzling feature of all is the back bar, backlit and under a magnificent arched timber architrave that forms the room’s centerpiece.
The cocktail menu is organised into light and dark spirits and aperitifs with delightfully creative recipes incorporating lots of fresh ingredients and on-trend spirits, such as mezcal, suze, genever and rye.
I only had a short visit to NoMad Bar, popping in for one cocktail. My biggest mistake was to not spend more time and experience more of their incredible food and beverage program.
Dr Feel Good
From the ‘Light Spirited’ menu
Mezcal | Fino Sherry | Suze | Génépy | Avocado | Cucumber | Lemon | Lime | Jalapeño | Pepper Rim
134 Eldridge St, New York, NY
When bartenders Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy opened Attaboy they bravely stepped into the shoes of legendary bar Milk & Honey and casually succeeded.
Shortly after Milk & Honey upgraded its space after 13 years in the discreet Lower East digs, Attaboy opened with a fresh look and feel. What it did retain was the A from the old Alterations shop, a focus on craft cocktails and the lack of menu or website or signage.
The intimate cocktail den is tucked behind a steel door, true to the speakeasy abstraction. It’s a slim space just enough for a handful of people, adding to the feeling of exclusiveness.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the curious facts about Attaboy that it has no menu. Just as the tailor that originally occupied the industrial space customised clothing, Attaboy bespeaks the cocktail. Truly, if you want to test a bartender’s ability to mix a drink, throw them the challenge of making it based on a vague description of how you feel or what you feel like.
Before I even left for New York, I was told Attaboy was a must. The bar is dearly loved by Melbourne bartenders, and rightly so.
Touted “The New Cosmopolitan” and found on cocktail menus worldwide.
Islay Scotch Whisky | lemon juice | honey syrup | sweetened ginger juice | candied ginger garnish
Rum | Campari | lime juice | pineapple juice | simple syrup
A man’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.
– W. C. Fields