Ten game-changing cocktails

Tipples that transformed the way New Yorkers drink.

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  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Manhattan
    High-rolling Wall Street suits still finish their days with this strapping potion, just as J.P. Morgan did after trading closed every day (according to David Wondrich in his book Esquire Drinks). Though the Manhattan's origins are debatable---one story points to the Manhattan Club, while another pegs a Broadway saloon keeper as its creator---most historians agree that it was the first drink to combine spirits with the newly popular vermouth, sometime in the late 1800s. The original recipe called for equal parts rye whiskey and vermouth with a dash of orange bitters, which later gave way to a two-to-one ratio plus a maraschino cherry. Find a fine version made with Rittenhouse rye, Cinzano sweet vermouth, two dashes of Angostura bitters and a single Luxardo maraschino cherry at the Flatiron Lounge(37 W 19th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-727-7741, flatironlounge.com; $13).

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    The Bronx
    Though once popular, the Bronx cocktail was among the many victims of Prohibition. The original recipe, created at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in the early 1900s, was a twist on the perfect martini (gin with equal parts French and Italian vermouths), adding orange peel and two dashes of orange bitters. But when the ban on alcohol drove distilling underground and available spirits became nearly undrinkable, large doses of orange juice were added to cover up the offending bathtub gin. While the drinks industry eventually recovered, the Bronx never regained its prominence. The original Waldorf was displaced by the Empire State Building in 1929, but you can visit its successor. At the Waldorf-Astoria's Peacock Alley(301 Park Ave between 49th and 50th Sts; 212-872-4895), try an elegant latter-day Bronx ($18), made with Bols Genever, orange bitters, sweet and dry vermouth, and fresh OJ.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    The Red Snapper
    It's hard to imagine brunch without the hangover-soothing effects of a piquant Bloody Mary. The earlier formulas, according to drinks expert Greg Boehm, were simply vodka and tomato juice, mirroring the surge in popularity of both ingredients in the 1930s and '40s. The tricked-out version we know today---made with Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper---can potentially be traced back to what some pros consider a different drink called the Red Snapper, which may have been created by French barman M. Fernand "Pete" Petiot at the St. Regis Hotel's King Cole Bar. At some point the Bloody and the Snapper became interchangeable (cocktail historians are still sussing out the details). At the Clover Club (210 Smith St between Baltic and Butler Sts, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-855-7939, cloverclubny.com), you'll find four versions (vodka, gin, tequila, aquavit; $10 each).

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Cosmopolitan
    Carrie Bradshaw may have inspired legions to jump on the Cosmo bandwagon in the 1990s, but the vodka, cran and citrus combo was originally popularized by two serious New York bartending heavyweights. Toby Cecchini is credited with replacing Rose's lime juice with fresh juice at Passerby, and Dale DeGroff fashioned a refined version garnished with a flamed orange peel at the Rainbow Room. But as with many trendsetting drinks, this one's creation myth is a little hazy. Miami bartender Cheryl Cook has declared that she invented the pink libation, and some cocktail chroniclers attribute its beginnings to a 1960s Ocean Spray marketing campaign. Whatever the drink's past, Cecchini's recipe is considered the standard today: citrus vodka, triple sec, fresh lime and a dash of cranberry juice. You can sip the West Side, a properly dry version made with Charbay Meyer Lemon vodka, at Employees Only(510 Hudson St between Christopher and W 10th Sts; 212-242-3021, employeesonlynyc.com; $14).

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Gin-Gin Mule
    The far-reaching influence of New York's reigning queen of mixology, Audrey Saunders, is hard to measure (her storied cocktail lounge, the Pegu Club, begat many of today's standard-bearers, including Death & Company, PDT and Mayahuel). But the impact of her Gin-Gin Mule, first served at the Beacon Restaurant & Bar in 2000, is clear: The vivacious elixir was one of the first popular cocktails to reflect a culinary approach behind the bar. Instead of the commercial stuff, she mixed homemade ginger beer with Tanqueray gin, fresh mint and lime juice---a turn that inspired a movement toward from-scratch ingredients. (This was a continuation of the ideas sparked by Saunders's mentor Dale DeGroff, who used fresh juices to replace sour mixes.) The landmark concoction still has a place on the menu of Saunders's Pegu Club (77 W Houston St between West Broadway and Wooster St, second floor; 212-473-7348, peguclub.com; $13).

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Penicillin
    When Sasha Petraske's Milk and Honey opened in 2000, it established the current benchmarks of NYC's high-end cocktailing scene: the dry shake, the speakeasy concept, block ice...and, eventually, the Penicillin. Bartender Sam Ross's instant classic, created in 2005, shook up the standard flavor combinations of sweet, sour and bitter by introducing smoke (formerly reserved for sipping spirits). Ross gives fresh lemon juice and honey-sweetened ginger juice a double dose of blended Scotch and a float of peaty single-malt. Since then, the balanced libation has reached the menus of serious cocktail bars across the city and around the world. It's even inspired a new Brooklyn Brewery Reserve brew called the Tonic. But you should return to its birthplace at the reservations-only Milk and Honey (134 Eldridge St between Broome and Delancey Sts; mlkhny.com; $16) for a taste.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Vegetable-based cocktails
    Eben Freeman pushed the limits of modern mixology, first at wd~50 and later at Tailor, with creations like smoke-infused cola that are just starting to take hold in other bars. Similarly, his Butternut and Falernum launched vegetable-based cocktails beyond the Bloody Mary. The concoction of brown-sugar-sweetened butternut squash jus with rich aged rum, spiced Velvet Falernum and freshly grated nutmeg raised eyebrows when it debuted in 2005, and then quickly gained fans. These days, you can easily find drinks spiked with red pepper, celery or ramps, but we're suckers for the Eh, What's Up Doc? (pictured) at Vandaag (103 Second Ave at 6th St; 212-253-0470, vandaagnyc.com; $12). The earthy, frothy drink combines Velvet Falernum, lemon, celery bitters and egg white with a different kind of orange produce: carrots, which, along with chickweed, flavor a house-infused aquavit.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Benton's old-fashioned
    "Fat washing" was hardly a part of the bar lexicon in 2007 when IT-tech-turned-bartender Don Lee started at PDT. The sci-nerd technique of infusing the flavor of a fat-laden ingredient into a liquid wasn't new, though. Eben Freeman, who learned it from pastry chef Sam Mason, had toyed with it at wd~50. But the process wasn't generally known until the Benton's old-fashioned caught on. New York's pork obsession was just spiking when Lee combined Benton's bacon with Kentucky bourbon, and the pairing proved to be a hit. The whiskey, which became silkier with a touch of smoke, was sweetened with maple syrup, and brightened with an orange peel. Lee has moved on, but the modern classic is still at PDT (113 St. Marks Pl between First Ave and Ave A; 212-614-0386, pdtnyc.com; $15).

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Oaxaca old-fashioned
    Mescal had barely gained a foothold in New York when Death & Company's opening bartender Philip Ward (a Pegu Club alum) pushed his first Oaxaca old-fashioned across the bar, in 2007. Ward's riff on the time-honored American tipple replaced whiskey with a combination of spicy aged El Tesoro and Los Amantes Joven mescal, and the traditional sugar cube with a spoonful of agave nectar, keeping the Angostura bitters and orange twist to round it out. The smooth and smoky nip catapulted South of the Border spirits beyond shots and margaritas into the realm of modern cocktails. Ward moved on to open mescal-focused cocktail bar Mayahuel, a testament to the city's newfound taste for the earthy agave-based spirit. Try the groundbreaking slug at its native bar, Death & Company (433 E 6th St between First Ave and Ave A; 212-388-0882, deathandcompany.com; $13).

  • Barrel-aged cocktails
    In 2010, a new kind of cocktail popped up around town---a Negroni variation called Lions in London at the Summit Bar and a Martinez at Dram. Each batch was aged in a barrel for several weeks until the ingredients took on the wood's characteristics. The aging procedure was developed by British innovator Tony Conigliaro, who used glass bottles, and it blew up stateside when Jeffrey Morgenthaler---who had tasted Conigliaro's glass-bottle--aged Manhattan---made his own at Portland, Oregon's Clyde Common. Soon Matt Piacentini, one of Clyde Common's owners, will uncask two creations at his new restaurant, the Beagle (162 Ave A between 10th and 11th Sts; 212-228-6900, thebeaglenyc.com), including the Tuxedo No. 2 (gin, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters, absinthe; $14). Look for them in late June or early July.

Photograph: Krista Schlueter

Manhattan
High-rolling Wall Street suits still finish their days with this strapping potion, just as J.P. Morgan did after trading closed every day (according to David Wondrich in his book Esquire Drinks). Though the Manhattan's origins are debatable---one story points to the Manhattan Club, while another pegs a Broadway saloon keeper as its creator---most historians agree that it was the first drink to combine spirits with the newly popular vermouth, sometime in the late 1800s. The original recipe called for equal parts rye whiskey and vermouth with a dash of orange bitters, which later gave way to a two-to-one ratio plus a maraschino cherry. Find a fine version made with Rittenhouse rye, Cinzano sweet vermouth, two dashes of Angostura bitters and a single Luxardo maraschino cherry at the Flatiron Lounge(37 W 19th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves; 212-727-7741, flatironlounge.com; $13).


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