Another visit to my youthful stomping grounds of New York (partly growing up in Jersey suburbs) and another round of good to great bars, new and old (past NYC bar recommends and dining reviews here). While there were disappointments (like Garfunkel’s intimate, upstairs setting but mediocre, pricey drinks suffering from the exact same issue of the former bar in the same space, 2nd Floor on Clinton). From Brooklyn to Harlem, here are 11 bars worth drinking at.
The Best Newcomers
BlackTail, Battery Park
I’ve written much about, BlackTail, an exciting new opening from the Dead Rabbit crew a place I initially like even more than that modern-day legend with its Cuban, palm-lined spirit and Old World elegance. In my regular Liquor.com features, here is more on BlackTail and its cocktails.
Thai iced tea cocktails served in a delicate egg in a birds nest and others delivered in a lightbulb. Hearty bowls of ramen. White lights glowing in a rustic space WAY up in Harlem. I’ve written a few times about the delightful new ROKC here and on the Japanese-influenced bar’s cocktails here.
Agern, Midtown East
Agern is one of NYC’s most exciting new restaurant openings of the year, which I’ve written about at Table8. But the drink side also keeps up more on that and my favorite cocktail on the menu here at Liquor.com.
Wallflower, West Village
Since 2013, Wallflower has been a cozy, tiny, West Village gem with stellar cocktails ($15 each), thanks to co-owner Xavier Herit and head bartender James Lombardino. Here is more on the fantastic mezcal, corn and basil cocktail, Cornelia, which I wrote about Liquor.com. When the coconut milk, oolong tea, cachaca, lemongrass creaminess of the Mothers Milk cocktail is on the menu, order it: it’s about as good as it gets. The pictured Negroni Carbonato is served in Turkish-style raki glasses, mixing Campari, Byrrh Grand Quinquina aperitif, Cynar, verjus and lemon sorbet with a splash of Cava, to bitter-dry-vibrant effect.
Infirmary, Yorkville/Upper East Side
Open at the end of 2013, Infirmary is a rare New Orleans haven in NYC, despite noisy crowds and clubby music on weekend nights. During a quiet lunch hour or early dinner, it’s a welcome, laid back spot for Nola cocktails and house drinks from bar manager James Cottingham, who was displaced from New Orleans post-Katrina but thankfully brings absinthe frappes ($9) and a Nola welcome to NYC. There are also house drinks, like Unfortunate Truth, which I wrote about at Liquor.com, or Street Music ($13), combining Spring 44 gin, Aperitivo Select, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and lemon with a peach habanero shrub.
The Hamilton, Manhattan Valley
A short jaunt from the end of Central Park off 110th Street, The Hamilton (unrelated to the play) is a cozy, neighborhood bar that opened at the end of 2015. It’s not so much about the cocktails though they make solid, classic whiskey cocktails as it is about the American whiskey selection and intimate space with its colonial feel. Most of all, it’s the kind of bar you thought couldn’t exist anymore in Manhattan where, if you’re open, you can go solo and make friends with everyone from the bartenders to the people on either side of you. A great place to meet locals and get into stimulating conversations, as I did, covering food, drink, travel, theater and music.
Holiday Cocktail Lounge, East Village
Since early 2015, Holiday Cocktail Lounge has been an industry favorite and rightly so. It’s not so much about revolutionary cocktails as good ones in a retro, 1950’s spirited, dim, chill space, lined with vintage artwork and green banquettes around a central bar. Besides the classics, look for fun house cocktails like Para Uma Life on Mars ($14): Avua Prata cachaca, lime, Sangria syrup, Amaro Montenegro, egg whites, Kiuchi No Shizuku bitters.
Goodnight Sonny, East Village
Open since mid-2015 from The Wayland crew, Goodnight Sonny is a sunny, corner, neighborhood bar (albeit in a ‘hood packed with most of Manhattan’s best cocktail bars).
Akin to the Wayland’s long-popular kale margarita (named the Garden Variety Margarita), Sonny serves its signature Sunny Orchard Margarita ($12), mixing blanco tequila, fresh pressed green apple juice, roasted jalapeño marmalade and lime with a smoked cayenne salt rim. But there might be other gems, like a salty, vegetal celery cocktail during my fall visit.
Le Boudoir, Cobble Hill
Le Boudoir is one of the most magical bar settings in New York: a basement bar that oozes romance in marble, red velvet, gold and an arched, brick-walled back room. Unfortunately, the cocktails are a mixed bag and suffer when it comes to balance. It’s too bad as this could be a Brooklyn destination for cocktails and quiet conversation. The worst part is that the cocktails sound so ambitious and interesting, making the imbalance of flavors even more of a let down. I’m still holding out hope that drinks will improve, given the transporting nature of the special space. More on the bar here in my Liquor.com top cocktails of the month feature.
Long Island Bar, Cobble Hill
Though merely open since the end of 2013, Long Island Bar feels as if it’s been in Brooklyn for decades. Under neon signage, the inviting space feels like stepping into a lived-in, 1950’s diner but one with superb smoked trout roe dip scooped up with housemade rye crackers ($14) and simple but quality cocktails, like a tart Long Island Gimlet ($12) or Dolores del Rio ($12), mixing jalapeño-infused blanco tequila with Aperol, passionfruit and lime.
Leyenda, Cobble Hill
Expertly-executed Central and South American food and cocktails in a candlelit, laid back space have made Leyenda a Cobble Hill draw since it opened in May 2015. I wrote about a top drink on the menu here at Liquor.com, but I also loved the mix of Chilean pisco and aquavit in the Captain Ahab cocktail ($12), where aquavit’s caraway notes shine next to velvet falernum, macadamia nut orgeat, lemon, lime and Tiki bitters, all frothy with egg whites.