New York Cocktail Bars:

10 Spots Reinventing the Nightcap

There's no question Prohibition forced bartenders to get creative. The dubious quality of bootleg whiskey made mixers like ginger ale commonplace, and muddled fruit found its way into the formerly stodgy old-fashioned. When repeal arrived, the changes stuck, but not everyone was pleased. In 1936 the New York Times printed a letter signed by "Old Timer," who labeled the new-fangled old-fashioned "profanation and extortion." New Yorkers still take their spirits seriously; you just need to survey the current landscape of cocktail bars.
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After buzzing the doorbell to gain access to this speakeasy, patrons angle to snag a spot with crushed velvet sofas, privacy curtains, and another buzzer, which this time beckons a server. Herbs plucked from the outdoor garden flavor craft cocktails such as a South Side Rickey with gin, simple syrup, fresh mint, lime, and club soda.

It would take years to work through Downing Street Bar’s drink list. The 16-page menu is packed with hundreds of international wines, local beers, hard ciders, ports, and sherries. Color the cocktails complex: the Hummingbird comes with St. Germain, cava, and soda, and the Country Lawyer with bourbon, amaro, vermouth, Benedictine, and chocolate bitters.

#3

Clover Club 210 Smith Street

Cobble Hill: Seasonal and Brunch Cocktails

Updated classics and seasonal cocktails intermingle on the Clover Club's main drink list. In the fall, for instance, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail (rye, absinthe, and bitters) might be listed beneath the Great Pumpkin (apple brandy and pumpkin puree). A supplementary selection of brunch cocktails promises champagne cobblers with rosé and berries as well as bloody marys with house-made mix.

#4

Verlaine 110 Rivington Street

Lower East Side: Asian Translations of Classic Cocktails

In the dim amber glow of tabletop candles, patrons sip classic cocktails with Asian inflections. The Vietnamese bloody mary mixes fresh ginger and lemongrass vodka, and the Saigon bellini blends champagne with black-raspberry sake and passion fruit puree. Drink them with portabella mushroom fried dumplings and other Southeast Asian tapas.

#5

Angel’s Share 8 Stuyvesant Street

East Village: Secret Door to a Speakeasy

If patrons manage to find Angel’s Share (the speakeasy sits behind an unmarked door inside Japanese restaurant Village Yokocho), they might still get lost in the colorful painted mural above the bar, the scene outside the large picture window, or the eclectic list of sakes, plum wines, and whiskeys.

Name your favorite liquor and the bartender will start mixing something up, plucking fresh ingredients from a display in the corner of the bar. But for a sure thing, go with the slushie of the week, a ready-mixed frozen cocktail that comes pouring out of the slushie machine with the flick of a lever.

#7

Amor y Amargo 444 E. 6th Street

East Village: Sweet on Bitters

It’s a good thing the staff at Amor y Amargo is friendly—to a casual drinker, the cocktail list might read like it’s in another language. The menu revolves around bitters, boasting drinks such as gin with Averna, Aperol, Benedectine, and Bittermens Burlesque, or the uber-heady Second Sip with scotch, vermouth, port, and mole bitters.

#8

Milk and Honey 134 Eldridge Street

Lower East Side: Secretive Lounge

Getting into this clandestine cocktail lounge can seem intimidating, but in fact it only takes an email to the booking address to score the requisite reservation. Why the extra step? Because a line out the door would spoil the private-club vibe. Behind the hard-to-spot entrance, chilled glassware cradles wholly fresh creations—only hand-squeezed juices here—such as a Chicago Flip with rum, port, egg, and sugar.

#9

Bemelmans Bar 35 E. 76th Street

Upper East Side: Murals by a Famous Illustrator

Beneath a 24-karat gold-leafed ceiling, patrons admire murals hand-painted by famed Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans. Bartender’s choices and seasonal selections rotate into a regular menu that includes rare scotches, small-batch whiskeys, and cocktails such as a passion royale with passion-fruit vodka, champagne, and fresh limejuice.

The scene at Silver Lining is a collaborative effort—musicians such as the Jon Burr Trio explore jazzy riffs as servers present small plates borrowed from Little Branch’s menu. Bartenders might stir up a Mamie Taylor (scotch with their own fresh ginger beer) or an Improved Genever with splashes of sugar, maraschino, bitters, and absinthe.

Deal or no deal, our editors strongly recommend these businesses based on their reputation, popularity, and quality of service.

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