Manhattan is home to several top-notch cocktail lounges. Recent years, however, have seen a rise in the quality of beverages offered at restaurant bars.
The sale of alcoholic beverages has always been a lucrative business for restaurants. On the other hand, the development of cocktail programmes in restaurants is a relatively new trend. Newer places are expected to offer unique cocktails, when even five years ago they could get away with only beer and wine and maybe a G&T if you requested it. Bartenders may also draw on the kitchen’s supplies or get ideas from the seasonal produce at the farmers market as they create more elaborate cocktail programmes that use an abundance of fresh ingredients.
The chef at a bar I frequent recently created a new fresh corn milk-mezcal drink in an effort to go through his stockpile of summer corn, and he and the club’s cocktail designer afterwards had a lengthy discussion about the best citrus to match with sumac. The concepts of taste and technique are just as applicable at the bar as they are in the kitchen, and each may learn from each other’s expertise while having their own distinct spheres of influence.
The trend of eating and drinking in accordance with the seasons has already become the standard. Once bars stop using artificial fruit syrups, it’s not long before they start demanding the highest quality ingredients possible; gone are the days when you could order a strawberry margarita in the dead of winter.Some bars at restaurants try to make cocktails that go well with the food they provide, while other establishments don’t put as much emphasis on flavour compatibility between their drinks and their meals.
As more and more fine dining norms get relaxed—these days, it’s totally common to hang out at the bar and order small plates to split while sipping drinks instead of sitting down for a three-course meal—the bar as a physical site inside the restaurant becomes more essential. Small portions meant to be shared and vast cocktail menus are the standard in today’s restaurants, with the ubiquitous tagline “Eat and drink here.”
Here are 10 of the best restaurant bars in the city, serving beverages on par with those served at any cocktail lounge.
Leo Robitschek’s cocktail menu at NoMad is outstanding since it covers such a wide variety of styles and ingredients, from classics to house innovations to alcohol-free and alcoholic beverages. Start Me Up (seen above; all cocktails $15) is a bourbon, rum, and Strega concoction that is shaken with honey, lemon, and ginger, and it is delicious. For a non-alcoholic refreshment, it’s hard to beat the basil-fennel soda with lemon and sparkling water (all non-alcoholic beverages $8).
Some of the drinks at Wylie Dufresne’s East Village gastropub, Alder, are served straight from the tap, making it that much simpler to have another drink. (Or to request a “short,” a half-priced drink; and alright, another half, and another…)
The cocktails created by bar manager Kevin Denton feature bold flavour combinations without being overly complicated. Some examples include the Red Zeppelin ($14, short $7), which combines gin, sumac, and strawberry, and the Dr. Dave’s Scrip Pad ($12), which combines rye, yuzu, amaro, and smoked maple.
3. Betony Shandy of the Desert
Betony bartender Eamon Rockey uses a wide range of cocktail methods in his concoctions (he makes his own orgeat and oleo saccharum, for example), but he never goes overboard in his pursuit of cocktail perfection. All of the drinks are priced at $13 each, and they range from the amazing pisco sour (shown above) to the extremely palatable pilsner-based Desert Shandy (pictured above) with apricot liqueur, orgeat, and sherry vinegar.
I can’t decide whether I like Brian Bartels’ cocktail menu (Awesometown, Population: You; You’re Hired!) or the titles of the cocktails themselves better. Also, You’ve Been Raise! as an alternative to consuming the product. I like a good drink at any of the Little Wisco establishments (Jeffrey’s Grocery, Montemartre, Chez Sardine, Joseph Leonard, or Fedora), but I frequent Perla and Fedora the most. The Picasso Mojito (all drinks $13) has been my go-to as of late. It subverts the classic Mojito with Branca Menta for an intense mint rush and grapefruit and apricot to smooth out the flavour.
5. Minetta Tavern
The $15 cocktail menu at Minetta Tavern is as sophisticated and modern as the rest of the bar. Good bets include well-made staples (you can’t go wrong with a Vieux Carré or Last Word), but they also make fantastic originals. My two favourite mixed drinks are the White Lightning, which combines mezcal and tequila with Dolin Dry, Poire Williams, Luxardo, and Yellow Chartreuse, and the Murray Sour, which combines Yamazaki 12 Year Whisky with cardamom-infused agave, lemon, and orange.
Even though it borders on cutesy, I really like the concept behind Peels’ cocktail menu, which has beverages with names like “Red,” “Orange,” “Yellow,” and so on (all $13). Indigo is a tequila and St. Germain cocktail that is given life by a brightly tart currant shrub, while blue is a pisco and blueberry cocktail with an unexpected addition: coconut water, which gives it a smooth, almost creamy finish.
7. Salvation Taco
Instead of only serving margaritas, J. Kenji Lopez-Salvation Alt’s Taco has a well-thought-out drink menu that features a variety of agave spirits and other Mexican-inspired ingredients. The Sonora Old Fashioned (shown above; all cocktails $13) features blanco and bacanora from Pueblo Viejo, along with chile honey and grapefruit bitters.
8. Empellón Cocin
Previously, Empellón Cocina had a cocktail programme run by Mat Resler, who I adored. However, Naren Young’s current list is just as fantastic. Don’t miss the margarita area; it’s just as imaginative and the results are just as wonderful as the hallmark drinks, such as the dry-as-a-bone La Perla ($13) with Partida reposado, orchard pear, and dry Manzanilla sherry. The Five Spiced Aejo ($15) is a must-try; it combines honey, five spices, lime juice, Paco Chico Aejo tequila, and Dale DeGroff’s pimento bitters.
9. Saxon + Parole
Every cocktail at Eunice Choi Saxon + Parole seems exciting, on-trend without being too fashionable, yet I still find myself reaching for the Champagne Negroni ($14) much too frequently. I mean, who would say no to that? However, the celery gimlet or hibiscus pisco sour (both $14) are well worth the journey.
It’s hard to find a more refined bar than Eunice Choi Lafayette. Or something more substantial like a dinner or a bakery, but we’re focusing on drinks. The Astérix Elixir (left), made with gin, Herbs de Provence, yellow Chartreuse, lemon, and egg white, is sure to please gin lovers, while whisky drinkers can choose the Crochet Rouge (right), made with rye, Bonal, Marashino, and Angostura and orange bitters. Both drinks cost $14. Confidently erases the unpleasantness of any day from your mind.
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