I'm always excited to find a truly nerdy cocktail destination that manages to share esoteric drinks without any pretension. Amor Y Amargo, the latest addition to the Cienfuegos/El Cobre complex on the corner of 6th Street and Avenue A in the East Village, is a prime example.
This cozy spot focuses on bitters, and has an impressive selection from Italian amari to the vast range of Bittermens small batch concoctions, but I was drawn in by the offer of Mayur Subbarao's house-made sweet vermouth on tap. It's a rich and fruity version, made with Minervois wine, perhaps most comparable to Carpano Antica, though it's a little more viscous and a bit less mentholated. There are delicate hints of cherry cola and orange rind, and it's deliciously drinkable (and only $4 a cup.) Our jovial waiter brought us a little taste of the Antica for comparison, and it seemed that many folks in the bar were studiously trying flights of amari, guided by the recommendations of the staff (including Avery Glasser, the man behind Bittermans.)
The vermouth goes particularly well with crispy roasted chickpeas served with crumbles of earthy, funky morcilla. ($6) They're crunchy and salty, satisfyingly nutty, and easy to devour.
We were really impressed by the artichoke salad, topped with velvety artichoke hearts and toasted Marcona almonds. Though it lacked much in the greens department, the mixture was buttery and garlicky and substantial enough to stand up to the drinks.
You could keep tossing back vermouth, but the cocktails are worth exploring. The Mud Season ($12) is deep and complex, with hints of smoke and caramel. It starts with the housemade sweet vermouth and a dose of Zucca Amaro (don't be fooled by the name, it's made with rhubarb, cardamom, and other herbs—no squash is involved.) There's also Killepitsch (a German fruit-and-herb liquor), rhum agricole, and Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters. The flavors mingle beautifully: candied citrus, earthy rhum, and mint, with just enough bitter grapefruit flavor to bring down the sweetness. It's a luscious drink that walks the sweet/savory line quite well.
Amor y Amargo may be best on the weeknights, when it's quiet enough to chat with the bartender and make leisurely work of the menu. Or get really serious and sign up for one of their classes.