It's easy to forget the singular satisfaction of enjoying a well-made cocktail when "bottle of vodka" just sounds so much more efficient. But the art of mixology is flourishing here in the city that never chugs, and those who remain steadfast on the path to a beer gut are missing out! Here are some of our favorite spots for a classy tipple; as always, blow up your own favorite spot in the comments.
THE DEAD RABBIT: When a bar earns awards like "World's Best Cocktail Menu," "World's Best Bar," or "Best North American Bar," it's natural to want to dismiss the hype. Luckily, the team behind The Dead Rabbit haven't let it get to their heads. Whether you just want a pint from the vibrant tap room, or some cocktail nirvana from the dense, graphic novel-style menu found in the second floor parlor, the Dead Rabbit can cater to your tastes. We're current obsessing over the "Slim Shady" (made with Powers Irish Whiskey and a peach-basil syrup) and can never leave the parlor without a downright incredible Irish Coffee. (Dan Dickinson)
Dead Rabbit is located at 30 Water Street between Broad Street and Coenties Slip in the Financial District (212-422-7906, deadrabbitnyc.com).
CLOVER CLUB: For those lucky enough to call Cobble Hill home, Clover Club functions as the high-end neighborhood drinking hole, the slightly richer, fancier aunt to beer joint Bar Great Harry. Drinks here are serious business, with the menu boasting everything from fizzes to juleps to craft cocktails—there's the signature Clover Club ($12), made with gin, dry vermouth, lemon juice, raspberry syrup and egg whites; the fierce Pyrenees ($12) made with aged apple brandy, Cognac, sherry, and coffee-infused dry vermouth; and my personal favorite, the Gin Blossom ($12), made with gin, apricot eau de vie, bianco vermouth, and orange bitters. And you'll be pleased to learn that Clover Club also has one of our favorite fireplaces in town. (Rebecca Fishbein)
Clover Club is located at 210 Smith Street between Butler and Baltic Streets in Cobble Hill (718-855-7939, cloverclubny.com).
RAINES LAW ROOM: It's a good idea to make a reservation before hitting up this intimate Chelsea lounge, where customers may have to wait several hours for one of their cozy backroom booths. Raines Law Room fully embraces the speakeasy aesthetic from its windowless, living room-style interior down to a functioning doorbell guests have to ring upon arrival. A charming courtyard with outdoor seating adds a little breathing room to the snug space, while antique furniture, exposed brick walls, and a gold tin ceiling contribute to the bar's subdued swankiness.
A visit to Raines Law Room is more about the atmosphere than the alcohol, but strong, well-made drinks certainly won't detract from the experience. Raines recently opened an equally sexy second location in Midtown East with a secret entrance in the William Hotel to shield it from Grand Central runoff.
Raines Law Room has two locations: 48 West 17th Street between 5th and 6th Aves in Flatiron, and 2 East 39th Street inside the William Hotel. (raineslawroom.com).
DEATH & COMPANY: Though it's hard to pick just one VERY BEST cocktail bar in this city, we're particularly partial to Death & Co, David Kaplan's seductive East Village spot that's so enchanting you'll swoon before even having a sip. The atmosphere is thick with mystery and the menu is almost too sprawling, but there's something for everyone—you can opt for whiskey-based cocktails, agave, brandy, juleps, gins, classics, punches and the like, with drinks running about $15.
You can't go wrong with anything here, but gin fans should consider starting with the Raspberry Diva, made with Dorothy Parker Gin, Dolin Blanc, Vermouth, Dolin Dry Vermouth, St-Germain, and Clear Creek Framboise Eau de Vie. Brown spirit aficionados should try the Hunt & Peck, comprised of Rittenhouse 100 Rye Whiskey, Sombra, Mezcal, Carpano Antica Formula, Amaro Averna, and Campari.
Death & Co is located at 433 East 6th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A in the East Village (212-388-0882, deathandcompany.com).
PDT: It's cool to be jaded about the eight-year-old PDT, just as it's cool to be jaded about most popular things. But it's more fun, if you can stomach it, to simply enjoy it. IT'S OKAY to visit the cocktail bar accessible through the phone booth in the East Village hot dog joint! Just because the "speakeasy" trope is played out doesn't mean you can't have a delightful time at PDT. Rest assured that the cocktail menu, launched by the widely respected Jim Meehan and now overseen by head bartender Jeff Bell, is worth the wait, and the vibe is sophisticated but not pretentious. PDT's womblike space with its low, wooden wainscoting ceiling is one of the most pleasurable places to tie one on in NYC, and an ideal date spot once you finally get seated.
PDT (which stands for "Please Don't Tell" but nobody bosses me around) takes same-day reservations by phone for parties of two or more, starting at 3 p.m. daily. It's a small place, and they typically run out of seats in a half hour or less, so be quick on the trigger. If you fail on the reservation, PDT does accept walk-ins for parties of three or fewer, and if you show up when nothing's available, they are kind enough to take your cell phone number and call you when something opens up. (John Del Signore)
PDT is located at 113 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A in the East Village (212-614-0386, pdtnyc.com).
EMPLOYEES ONLY: One meticulously prepared cocktail at this elegant, convivial West Village lounge will make you wonder how you ever survived a singe Fireball shot. Employees Only once earned the title of World's Best Cocktail Bar, and with offerings like the Lazy Lover ($16), made with Leblon Cachaça & jalapeño-infused green chartreuse, and shaken with benedictine, lime juice & agave nectar; and the transporting Mata Hari ($16), a straight-up martini made with Remy Martin 1738 Cognac and shaken with chai-infused Martini Rosso & pomegranate juice, it's easy to see why. Bonus points for the food menu which, while a tad overpriced, pairs all too well with the tasty drinks. (Rebecca Fishbein)
Employees Only is located at 510 Hudson Street between 10th and Christopher Streets in the West Village (212-242-3021, employeesonlynyc.com).
PEGU CLUB: The Pegu Club's bartending philosophy is all about the little things: fresh squeezed juice, handmade syrups, soda from bottles instead of a tap. Its owners pride themselves on their commitment to the cocktail craft, emphasizing quality over flashiness with drinks that are strong enough to merit the double-digit price points. Which isn't to say their menu is stale—legendary mixologist Audrey Saunders offers fresh twists on old favorites with creations like the champagne mojito and the punny Earl Gray MarTEAni livening up a selection of classics for the comfort zone drinker.
Servers are also happy to whip up custom drinks based on customers' preferred sweetness-to-bitterness ratios. If the multiverse of possibilities contained in this exercise of free will is in any way overwhelming, stick with their signature Pegu Club Cocktail to start: a simple, refreshing blend of bitters, lime juice, orange curaçao, and London dry gin.
Situated well into NYU territory, the Houston Street lounge gets its name and design from the 19th century British Officers' Club in Burma, because who doesn't love a shot of colonialism with their G&T? Lounge chairs and East Asian-style window grilles along a warmly lit hallway create an atmosphere that's elegant yet comfortable, perfect for sipping deceptively tasty drinks until all those little things start to add up.
Pegu Club is located at 77 West Houston Street between Greene Street and the Bowery in SoHo (212-473-7348, peguclub.com).
BEMELMANS BAR AT THE CARLYLE: Housed in the Upper East Side's luxurious Carlyle Hotel, Bemelmans Bar is as much a sightseeing attraction as it is a bar. The entire space has been decorated from walls to lampshades with murals by illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans, famous for the whimsical depictions of Paris that made his Madeline childrens' book series a classic. As the story goes, Bemelmans exchanged art for accommodation back in 1947, adding a fanciful touch to the bar's otherwise unremarkably refined décor. Beneath Bemelmans' imaginative scenes of Central Park, a sumptuous Art Deco interior harkens back to exactly the kind of Old New York glamour you'd expect from an establishment that serves $235-an-ounce caviar with its booze.
You will drink well at Bemelmans Bar, and for that you will pay. A variety of creative signature cocktails will each cost you a little over $20, while oysters, ceviches, and tartars are a far cry from the mixed nuts of lesser haunts. Try the Red Velvet, which combines whiskey with lemon juice, spiced plum syrup, bee pollen, and egg whites for fluff.
Beware ye the $15 per person cover charge, which may absorb half your drink money before you even enter the room. If you were hoping to make yourself comfortable, prepare to shell out $25-30 for a table.
The Carlyle is located at 35 East 76th Street between Madison and Park Avenues on the Upper East Side (212-744-1600, rosewoodhotels.com).
DUTCH KILLS: Any day now, Long Island City's throwback speakeasy Dutch Kills will emerge from its snackless cocoon a tastier butterfly with a full menu of what promises to be top notch bar food. Save for a few standard bar bites, food service at the old timey cocktail parlor has been on hiatus since late August as its owners plot their power collaboration with the M. Wells' team. Customers have plenty to be excited about until then, with a menu of cocktails (all $13) based on updated recipes from classic cocktail guides the likes of Henry Craddock's seminal Savoy Cocktail Book. The mixologists at Dutch Kills don't mess around, and those willing to spend a little extra for a great cocktail will get their money's worth down to the hand-cut ice. You can also opt for bartender's choice and let fate work its magic on the spirit of their choosing.
Happy hours held Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. offer a solid range of simple whiskey, rum, and vodka drinks for $8 and draw a diverse crowd. Dutch Kills owes its drink quality and unpretentious atmosphere in large part to the expertise of late co-owner Sasha Petraske, who passed away recently. He's left a fine legacy behind him.
Dutch Kills is located at 27-24 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, Queens (718-383-2724, dutchkillsbar.com)
THE SUMMIT BAR: Squeezing into this lovely East Village cocktail bar can be challenging on a busy Friday or Saturday night, as people with good taste and cash to burn tend to pick this spot to hide out from the throngs of inebriated frat brothers that terrorize the streets outside. But once you're in, there are masterful drinks to imbibe, indeed. I'm a fan of Summit's classic cocktails—an $11 Sazerac here is the stuff of dreams, as is the $10 Old Fashioned and the $10 whiskey sour. But if it's schmancy signature cocktails you're after, you can't go wrong with The Guv'nor, a $12 winner made with house blended whiskey, toasted cinnamon infused agave, Japanese Yuzu juice and orange juice. The very strong John Lee Hooker, also $12, is another deathly treat, made with Peat Monster Scotch Mist, Kentucky bourbon, lemon juice, Summit orange and Sarsaparilla bitters, and Hop Stoopid beer.
Note that if you can't swing a $12 drink, Old Fashioneds, The Guv'nor, and a handful of other delectable cocktails are available for $6-$7 during happy hour, which runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. (Rebecca Fishbein)
The Summit Bar is located at 133 Avenue C near East 9th Street in the East Village (347-465-7911, thesummitbar.net)
THE UP & UP: The mantra at Greenwich Village's The Up & Up is "high-end, low-key"; a welcome sentiment in a neighborhood where fratty establishments prevail. Its host building previously housed the historic Gaslight Cafe, where folk musicians of Dylan's ilk cursed the area with the artsy cred that would later prove its downfall. The unfussy interior pays homage to its former incarnation with floral William Morris wallpaper and framed Mad Men-era print ads; fortunately, a bubbly playlist of '80s tunes keeps any potential coffeehouse shtick at bay.
Aside from a few thoughtfully prepared snacks, cocktails are the main event; imaginative original potions have names reminiscent of grindhouse movies (Stone Crush, Powder Burn, God's Daisy Chain) and are equally as entertaining. If you're interested in sampling a wide variety of drinks, Up & Up serves half-sized cocktails preciously termed "halfies," which are perfectly legit so long as you don't call them shooters.
The Up & Up is located at 116 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village (212-260-3000, upandupnyc.com).
AMOR Y AMARGO: Finally, a safe space for people from all walks of life to embrace the deep-seated bitterness at the core of every human soul. Amor y Amargo is a "bitters tasting room" that specializes in bold, complex concoctions featuring the most polarizing players in the cocktail game. Customers choose from an extensive list of house specials, bespoke creations, and updated classics, all with the added heft of their more herbaceous cousins. Connoisseurs can cut to the chase with curated flights of three bitters varieties each, organized around a flavor profile; the Fernet flight promises "menthol, earth and spice" for $16. Inexperienced drinkers need not be intimidated by the overall atmosphere of expertise and can ask to take it slow with the bitters before getting serious.
Amor y Amargo is located at 443 East 6th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A in the East Village (212-614-6818, amoryamargonyc.com).