Holiday Cocktail Lounge

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Paul Wagtouicz

Holiday Cocktail Lounge

Paul Wagtouicz

The Holiday cocktail at Holiday Cocktail Lounge

Paul Wagtouicz

Mortally Afraid of Madams at Holiday Cocktail Lounge

Paul Wagtouicz

Holiday Cocktail Lounge

Paul Wagtouicz
East Village

Keeping a dive bar—and even a beloved one—alive in New York isn’t easy: Just look at the recent demises of Milady’s, Winnie’s and Mars Bar (RIP). Which makes the phoenixlike rebirth of Holiday Cocktail Lounge—a six-decade-old East Village mainstay whose barstools have seen the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Joey Ramone and Sinatra—such a head-scratching anomaly. Three years after the bar shuttered its dinted metal doors following the sale of the building, the saloon has been given a new lease on life, thanks to Pirate’s Booty founder Robert Ehrlich and La Palapa owner Barbara Sibley. And though the place has been spruced up—duct-taped booths traded for green banquettes, neon beer signs for gold sconces—the joint hasn’t been scrubbed clean of its charm.

ORDER THIS: While $5 Genesees survived the refurbishing, the cocktail list has been reworked courtesy of barman brothers Michael and Danny Neff (Ward III and Extra Fancy, respectively). The I Know You Are… ($13) is a standout, a smooth mescal swill with a slow burn of peppercorn-infused Cointreau.

For something lighter, opt for the Mortally Afraid of Madam ($13), a creamy whiskey concoction tinged with Avuá Amburana cachaça and frothed with egg white.

GOOD FOR: Holiday virgins and veterans alike. Frequenters of the original will breathe easy seeing that the battered red awning, wooden phone booth and signature horseshoe bar remain. Beneath a restored harem-girl mural, dating back to the 1920s when the bar was known as Ali Baba Burlesque, dressed-down groups in their twenties and thirties convene over drinks at the back tables, the din of laughter regularly overtaking the ’80s deep cuts spilling from the speakers.

THE CLINCHER: “Honestly, we’re a hybrid between a cocktail lounge and a dive bar,” says a smiling waiter somewhat sheepishly. And he’s right—the prices are a few bucks higher and the drinks given more thought, but there’s not a speck of pretense to be found in the place. And there’s still East Village zaniness in spades: A recent night hosted a cards-slinging magician wearing nothing but a shiny red Speedo. The gleam-over-grit revamp—while still keeping the bar’s DNA intact—allows for an even broader crowd, which is exactly what a dive is all about. Holiday, celebrate.

By Tyler Anderson

Venue name: Holiday Cocktail Lounge
Address: 75 St. Marks Pl
New York
Cross street: between First and Second Aves
Opening hours: Daily 4pm–4am
Transport: Subway: L to First Ave, 6 to Astor Pl
Price: Average drink: $13. AmEx, MC, V
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