New York does many things better than any other city on the planet—pizza, bagels and, yes, cocktails. Martinis to Manhattans to tiki-style mai tais—in New York, you don’t just get to pick your poison, you get that poison shaken and stirred by some of the world’s most notable and acclaimed bar talent. Pull up a barstool to the best cocktail bars NYC has to offer.
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Best cocktail bars in NYC
Not all spin-offs are created equal: The best retain what you loved most about the original, with enough new material to keep things fresh—Frasier from Cheers, The Jeffersons from All in the Family—while others simply crash and burn. Luckily for Gotham’s cocktail-swigging masses, this Milk and Honey offshoot—sweeping into the old space like a series takes over a stock time slot— falls into the former school, boasting characters as familiar as Frasier Crane to the Cheers crew, but with a livelier, lighter air than Sasha Petraske’s dim big-league cocktail den. From the up-tempo retro tunes (a little more Etta, a little less Ella) to the brightly lit, lived-in digs (whitewashed brick, tarnished a sign hanging on the wall), Attaboy proves a breezy evolution of the form.
The trademark horseshoe bar—anchoring a dreamily appointed stage set with multitier oyster towers, tableside martini service and a bronzed Napoleon statue perched atop the green-marble absinthe drip—has not only been a veritable breeding ground for talent (Nitecap’s Natasha David, the Dead Rabbit’s Jillian Vose), but it’s also become the platonic ideal of what a Brooklyn drinks joint should be: a place where off-duty bar-industry types clink gorgeous sherry cobblers next to regulars downing Ram Island slurpers, where the folks behind the stick are as thoughtful and dapper as the drinks they’re serving.
This standard-bearing cocktail parlor from mixology matriarch Julie Reiner (Lani Kai) expresses its Victorian bent in intricate tile work, curved leather booths, marble tables, vintage sofas and a functioning fireplace. The centerpiece is the 19th-century mahogany bar, where vest-clad barkeeps stir and shake throwback potions, handily defined in the novel-like menu. Choose among regal crystal bowls of punch or finely wrought drinks, both classic and new. The Improved Whiskey Cocktail lives up to its name with an oversize ice cube mellowing a brawny blend of rye, maraschino liqueur, bitters and absinthe.
At this time-capsule FiDi nook, you can drink like a boss—Boss Tweed, that is. In a redbrick landmark, Belfast bar vets Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry (of Northern Ireland’s acclaimed Merchant Hotel) have conjured up a rough-and-tumble 19th-century tavern. And it’s just the kind of saloon that the bare-knuckle Five Points gang the joint’s named after (its emblem was a dead rabbit impaled on a spike) would have frequented. Resurrecting long-forgotten quaffs is nothing new in Gotham, but the Dead Rabbit’s sheer breadth of throwback libations eclipses the competition. Spanning 100-some-odd bishops, fixes, nogs and smashes, the bar squarely hits many of these mid-1800s hallmarks.
The nattily attired bartenders are deadly serious about drinks at this Gothic saloon, a pioneer in the current mania for craft cocktails. Behind the imposing wooden door, black walls and cushy booths combine with chandeliers to set the luxuriously somber mood. The barkeeps here are consistently among the city's best, turning out inventive and classic drinks such as the Sweet Hereafter, a Latin American martini riff made with floral pisco, St.-Germain, Dolin Blanc vermouth and Cocchi Americano.
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. Pay a visit to the urbane barroom, a second floor sanctum on bustling Houston Street, and explore Saunders’ eminent opus, which includes new classics such as the Gin-Gin Mule. She first served the drink—a vivacious elixir of homemade ginger beer with Tanqueray gin, fresh mint and lime juice—at the Beacon Restaurant & Bar in 2000.
For the white-collared wayfarers wandering the streets north of Madison Square Park, NoMad is a depressingly apt name. Sure, the neighborhood has seen a much-welcome rise in upstanding restaurants, but finding an any-day gastropub that doesn’t reek of postgrad brewskies is harder to come by. Who better to fill the void than Daniel Humm, Will Guidara and Leo Robitschek, the James Beard Award–winning trio behind neighborhood stunners Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad, who expanded the latter to include this elegant saloon inside the NoMad hotel, teeming with lofty pub grub, digs worthy of 007… oh, and $198 cocktails.
At this a colorful nook conceived by Ravi DeRossi (Death & Company, Cienfuegos), curious drinkers can find plenty of ways to mix edification and inebriation. The focus here is on amari and other bitters, which can be explored via tasting flights or excellent stirred cocktails created by Mayur Subbarao (Dram). Sip your way through a range of trendy fernet or herbal liqueurs made by Carthusian monks, then temper the booze with appealing tapas like salty fried garbanzo beans (the haute beer nut?) sprinkled with blood sausage.
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.
As forward thinking as New Yorkers are, we’re also a deeply wistful bunch, quick to rouse the past before it recedes into history. The same could be said for the food-and-drink scene—left and right, erstwhile haunts are dusted off and made anew, from fabled Hemingway hangout Minetta Tavern to the horn-blaring Minton’s Playhouse. A revivalist spirit is at the core of this retro-fitted bar from Toby Cecchini, which takes over midcentury greasy spoon the Long Island Restaurant. But the cocktail vet does more than simply dig up old bones—he fleshes out the joint into a new being entirely.