As drinkers tire of the (sometimes faux) gravitas that weighs down haute cocktailing, places like Golden Cadillac make more and more sense. Whether or not the cocktail program is successful is a more complicated question.
'East Village' on Serious Eats
Alder bar director Kevin Denton's dinnertime drink menu includes what I contend is a mighty nifty feature: the option to order several of the cocktails as "shorts." You get less than a full drink and pay half of the full price. For instance, you can have yourself a Bloody Mary tasting by ordering a trio of shorts. Our favorite: the Yellow Light, a bright, savory-sweet combination of pineapple, yellow pepper, and jalapeño tequila.
Now that summer's almost here, we thought we'd compile the best of the best in Manhattan as a quick-caffeination reference guide for tourists and locals alike.
"Each of our cocktails, whether they are for brunch or dinner," Hearth's Spirits and Service Director Christine Wright says, "has a New York spirit. We get as much of our food from the Greenmarket and local farms as possible, so we figured we should do the same with cocktails." Hearth opened their doors to a brunch crowd last weekend for the first time in ten years.
"We're definitely not doing anything Modernist or molecular like we might do at WD[-50]," says bar manager Kevin Denton. "This is supposed to be the kind of bar you could just drop by and order a couple quick drinks and a bite to eat, so we want to keep that quick, simple aesthetic." Despite their unique flavors, these drinks that are meant to be drunk, not pondered.
I've lived on the outskirts of the East Village for my entire life, and I'd defy you to name a better neighborhood in the city for neighborhood bars. I'm not talking about places with tasting notes on the beer list, or encyclopedic wine lists, or $14 cocktails. There's room in my heart for all that, but most nights I just want a cheap drink in a low-key setting. Some of these great neighborhood bars are cozy and quiet, and some are dark and loud. Some are true dive bars, and all are great places to unwind with a drink for not too much cash.
For spirits geeks, New York's East Village is a fabulously dense playground of trailblazers, tastemakers, and ambitious upstarts. Picking your poison presents a choice between a myriad of passions: mezcal, gin, sherry, bitters. It's where many of the talented folks making drinks in other parts of the city received their training, and it's a truly exciting place for a cocktail crawl. But where should you go? What should you order? Don't worry, we've been drinking our way through the neighborhood in order to present you with this guide to 10 of the East Village's greatest drinks right now.
You won't find 'bar chefs' at the recently-opened Alphabet City spot, The Third Man, but rather a bar run by chefs. The project is the latest from partners Eduard Frauneder and Wolfgang Ban of the neighboring restaurant Edi & the Wolf and midtown's Seasonal.
At Joe Campanale's just-opened East Village spot, the spirited selections are an exploration of both the Old and New World, just like the wine list. You'll find new twists on classic cocktails and a playful integration of Italian ingredients.
The spirit of Alex Stupak's Empellón Taqueria and Empellón Cocina is one of invention, but heavily steeped in the traditions of Mexican cuisine. It's little surprise, then, that the bar program, run by Mat Resler, is the same way—with creative agave-based cocktails that express the full range of mezcal and tequila, be they fruity or peppery, grassy or smoky. Come check out six of Resler's new drinks.
Pouring Ribbons, from the men of Alchemy Consulting, may be a formidable cocktail bar. But that's not all its proprietors wanted it to be. Joaquín Simó told us that he wanted any kind of drinker to feel comfortable at the bar, not to feel like they're at a temple of mixology where they're obligated to order a cocktail. "You're not doing us a disservice by ordering a beer. I have awesome beers!" But the cocktails are what drew us there, of course; here's a look at six drinks off their menu.
"This is very much a personal project for us - it tells a story of where we're from," explains Will Horowitz, head chef of East Village newcomer, Ducks Eatery. You might think it a pretty likely sounding story for a restaurant until you learn that the "where" in this case is a decidedly unlikely collection of influences spanning from New Orleans and Southeast Asia to New England and the West coast.
We've been big fans of The Beagle in the past, so when we heard that the East Village bar-restaurant was reopening with a new chef, new menu, and new cocktail program, we were eager to see what they'd come up with. Bar manager Dan Greenbaum has designed an entire list of new drinks, quite a few more than before, and of a greater variety—making use of late summer fruit; some boozier and some lighter; having fun with sherry, Greenbaum's biggest passion. Come take a look at six of the new drinks.
"I was in Newport, maybe 15 or 16 years old, working as a busboy when the movie Cocktail came out," says Greg Seider, partner and head bartender at The Summit Bar in New York's Alphabet City. "I was just obsessed with it. I memorized it. The bartenders would ask me how to make certain drinks, and after I got off my shift, they'd let me go behind the bar and do...you know." He mimes flipping a bottle, and laughs. "They probably just thought it was cute."
At Mayahuel and Cienfuegos, Ravi DeRossi enshrined tequila and rum, respectively, building bar programs to showcase the best of each spirit. Now it's gin's turn, and together with bar managers Tom Chadwick and Frank Cisneros, he's gone and tossed in a twist: this isn't just a juniper joint, it's a full-on challenge to a culture he helped create.
When he opened The Beagle in New York's East Village last May, owner Matt Piacentini was definitely not interested in serving brunch. "At first, I was adamant that I didn't want to do daytime stuff—I really wanted to focus on the cocktails," he said. "But seeing the clientele, I started to think, 'I bet these people would drink just as many cocktails at brunch.'"
When I hear that a bar or restaurant is using things like liquid nitrogen and centrifuges, my immediate reaction is to roll my eyes and think "gimmick." But to think that of Booker & Dax would be judging too soon. Despite their use of high-tech equipment, they remain a bar completely grounded in quality ingredients, balanced flavors, and a healthy respect for the classics. As Dave says, he's not into the "shotgun" style of bartending—that is, mixing a dozen different ingredients together—you're far more likely to find two to four ingredients cocktails at Booker & Dax. For him, technology is much more about purifying flavors and speeding up work flow than fancy special effects (of course, you get a bit of that too).
It's not often you see a cocktail that uses fresh kale juice—in fact, I'm not sure I've seen it ever, but a bright and gingery kale cocktail is right at home on Jason Mendenhall's constantly-changing cocktail menu at The Wayland, which opened one month ago on Avenue C in New York's East Village.
One drink that sets T-Kettle apart from other neighborhood bubble tea shops is the Black Sugar Milk Tea. It's not the regular menu, but sometimes they have a sign up promoting the drink. Either way, ask for it at the register and they'll know exactly what you mean.
Boba (or tapioca balls) are the default mix-in for milk tea drinks at Saint's Alp Teahouse, but I love to swap in something slightly lighter: nata de coco.