There’s no shortage of innovation behind the best cocktails in NYC, from premixed quaffs tapped through draft lines to crazy drink garnishes adorning kitschy vessels. But we've all rolled our eyes at the bland and uninspired menus—see this Brooklyn bar menu random generator—from which those innovative drinks are ordered. Now, say hello to the six most creative booze bill alternatives, from nostalgia-inducing baseball cards to an illustrated Route 66 road map.
Creative cocktail menus in NYC
Bar titans Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry have earned endless praise, and a swanky World's Best Cocktail Menu award from Tales of the Cocktail, for their brand of comic-bookesque drinks lists. Their most recent edition incorporates excerpts from the recently-discovered journal of Lewis Morris Pease, a 19th-century Methodist preacher, social reformer and champion of the poor of the Five Points. Drink a whiskey-and-tea John the Baptist from winter of 1850, or a tropical Fallen Angel (rum, rhum agricole) from the summer of 1851. The best part about this badass opus? You can buy one for yourself on the bar's website.
The folks at the East Village watering hole have a way with words, and we're not just talking about their cleverly named drinks, like the James and the Giant Mule (vodka, créme de pêche, clove-anise syrup and ginger beer). In an effort to improve your boozy behavior, their menu includes a Drinking Language guide, informing you that ordering an "easy on the ice" drink won't get you more alcohol but will make you look cheap. Another golden rule: "The word skinny shall never be used in a drink order." Amen to that!
The new keepsake menus at this East Village favorite are fashioned after midcentury magazines and literary journals. Barkeep brothers Danny and Michael Neff reimagined the pages with vintage spirits ads, an interview with St. Marks Is Dead author Ada Calhoun and lyrics from Madonna’s “Holiday,” which was named after the iconic dive. The drinks also bridge the past to the present: There’s a classic Old Tom Collins alongside the Gone Cho, soothing unaged mescal with green chartreuse, black-pepper–basil syrup and a cheeky action figure on top.
At this Lower East Side haunt by team Death & Co., the menu is a childhood-evoking book of brainteasers and games. Choose from a variety of drinks categorized by type, like a Selfie Spritz (rosé, Bonal Gentian-Quina) or a Veemon Nightcap (coconut-infused Scotch, pineapple gum), before attempting to connect the dots or solve the word search. Who knows? Guzzling some more booze might just make it easier.
For a fall menu reboot, owner-bartender Joaquín Simó and partners Jason Cott and Shannon Tebay challenged their team to create drinks inspired by Route 66, that Chicago-to-L.A. highway immortalized in American folklore. Weeks of tinkering resulted in a cutely illustrated road map, complete with wigwams, wildlife and landmarks representing each sip. Start your journey in the Windy City with a peanut-bourbon-charged Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, breeze through a large-format Fork in the Road sherry punch and end on the West Coast with a Caña Brava–based Martiki.
This summer, beverage director Tim Cooper, with graphic designer Shedrick Pelt, swapped out the subway-map kitsch of the Greenwich Village bar’s opening menu for a drinks lineup printed on nostalgic baseball cards (Cooper was a childhood collector). Cocktail photos reside on one side, while ingredients “stats” are listed on the other. Knock yourself out of the park with the Rocky IV–nodding Ivan Drago ($14)—rounding vodka with Russian ginger, lime and soda—and the rum-and-gin Sweet Bastard, splashed with pineapple juice ($14).