New York is stirring with next-level drinkeries—our best bars are expert-approved, after all—and 2015 was, happily, more of the same. From a sultry tiki bar upgrade in the East Village to a serious Upper East Side cocktail contender, these are New York’s best bars of the year.
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True to her name, Ivy Mix stirs an incredible cocktail, especially in the company of Julie Reiner. The drink pros made quite the formidable pair at the Clover Club, Reiner’s Cobble Hill cocktail institution where Mix served as head bartender, but they’re testing if lightning strikes twice at this Pan-Latin follow-up. (Spoiler: It does.) In a mystic-cool space fitting for such bartender worship—rigged with Indio candles, cathedral-pew booths and a golden tin ceiling imprinted with crosses—Mix takes the reins on the cocktail menu and proves she’s worthy of the title leyenda (Spanish for legend), serving South of the Border cocktails that go well beyond tequila.
When a sake-and-spirits temple with a Pegu Club–pedigreed barkeep lands on the Lower East Side, there’s no avoiding the chorus of cocktail-geek fanfare to follow. Yet take a seat at Kenta Goto’s glimmering black-and-gold boîte, lodged away from the Houston Street bedlam, and you’ll find the noisy hype storm is curtailed by cool poise, from the hostess’s graceful reception to silent servers weaving through tables. In the absence of distractions, focus directs to the well-lit bar, where Goto effortlessly stirs his Far East–whispered creations, drawing on his Japanese heritage as much as his lauded tenure at Audrey Saunders’s cocktail trailblazer.
With 30 years and 13 restaurants under his belt, Danny Meyer has built one of the most recognizable gastro empires in New York. The latest project to join his ranks, a partnership with Blue Smoke lieutenants Mark Maynard-Parisi and Jean-Paul Bourgeois, is a Southern-twanged cocktail lounge that puts the restaurateur onto the drinks scene for the first time in his decades-long career. The sleek Chelsea drinkery is decked out with homey touches (the back game room is filled with retro boards including Life and Yahtzee) and a rustic, reclaimed-wood bar helmed by Nicholas Bennett (Booker and Dax), turning out first-rate down-home sips that don’t mimic the real deal but instead redefine ’em.
You’ll miss the entrance of this uptown lounge at least once, if not twice. Recheck the address all you want—this is the place. Inside a small leather-and-accessories shop with a pair of gold-leaf scissors emblazoned on the window, the shopkeeper-host leads you through velvet curtains and into a warm drinkery overseen by the Gilroy trio Steve Laycock, Josh Mazza and Francis Verrall, with former Dead Rabbit bar maven Pamela Wiznitzer behind the stick. With two bars turning out stellar cocktails and Ducks Eatery chef Will Horowitz whipping up food to match, this neighborhood haunt is a destination to look out for—literally.
Getting maced in the East Village might sound like a New York nightmare, but not at Greg Boehm and Nico de Soto’s pocket-size cocktail club (named after the nutmeglike spice, not the eye-burning pepper spray). The barmen (Boilermaker and Experimental Cocktail Club, respectively) center the booze menu on international flavors from their collective time abroad, with each cocktail titled for a spice used in it. Those imported seasonings are showcased in mason jars around the spice-market–inspired space, and also turn up in the bar snacks from Maharlika chef Miguel Trinidad. The goods here are bold, sure, but with just enough temperance to leave you wanting more.
The canon of cocktail bars hidden inside fast-food joints (PDT, the Garret) got another major player with AvroKO hospitality group’s latest bar, set beneath Little Italy patty flipper Genuine Superette. Through a plastic-strip door, the 34-seat room is bathed in the warming glow of a neon-red LIQUORETTE sign hanging above the counter, with price-marked bottles in backlit glass cabinets calling up an old liquor store. Bargoers drawn in by Eben Freeman’s bulldog-style cocktails (mini liquor bottles perched atop soda cans) snap ’grams of their photogenic pours at chrome-rimmed high tops. Kitsch abounds (even the bathroom is plastered with Farrah Fawcett memorabilia), but these antics come scot-free of pretentiousness, promoting a brand of behind-the-bar novelty that favors comfort and simplicity.
At first glance, this Boerum Hill cocktail bar doesn’t look particularly lofty—through shaggy red Chilean-print curtains, you’ll find a curved wood bar, whitewashed brick walls and unfinished wood floors, with blue-painted stools adding small pops of color—but the talent behind the joint damn sure is. The all-star owners include Mile End’s smoked-meat savant Noah Bernamoff, Rucola’s Julian Brizzi, Prime Meats barman Damon Boelte and notable food photographer Daniel Krieger. Despite such heavy-hitting clout, the watering hole operates with a low-key, neighborly ease, though with microgreen toasts and coupe-glass quaffs instead of burgers and beers.
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a minor character in a David Lynch film, then slink into a black dress, smack on a dark-red lip and hightail it to the Art Deco treasure trove that is Slowly Shirley, a sultry hideaway beneath Jon Neidich and Jim Kearns’s West Village bar, the Happiest Hour. Shirley takes her late-1940s aesthetic mighty seriously, with glossy oxblood banquettes and barbacks kitted out in newsboy caps and suspenders like dancers in a Broadway musical. Once you get past the standoffish bouncer out front, you’re transported to a Truman-era fever dream.
When a snappy newcomer replaces a neighborhood stalwart, it’s rarely warmed up to right off the bat. But this cocktail den from the Wayland’s Robert Ceraso—taking over the former home of red-curtained, 15-year-old Simone Martini Bar— manages to do just that, drawing in a packed house with experimental drinks, raw-bar offerings and warmly personal trimmings (exposed-brick walls speckled with family photos, a reclaimed-wood bar sourced from a partner’s ancestral home in Connecticut). Even the name invokes familial history, recalling the way Ceraso’s grandmother used to bid his grandpa Sonny goodnight as she headed up to bed during his late shifts at the family bar downstairs.
Catching a breeze through white-linen curtains while downing an umbrella-decked cocktail is as close to an island escape as you’ll get on a grungy, hookah-fumed stretch of Alphabet City. For this paradisiacal 50-seat revamp of his old Gin Palace space, Ravi DeRossi (Death & Co, Cienfuegos) recruited longtime cohorts Jane Danger (the NoMad) and chef Andrew D’Ambrosi (Bergen Hill) to rehash the throw-back pours and Orient-skewing grub shaped by 1940s tiki culture. Without a single standard-issue tiki offering on the menu—no mai tais or pupu platters here—Mother of Pearl is a postmodern Polynesian affair pioneering new waters.