Many things were invented in NYC: In 1914, we invented the Reuben sandwich, forever changing your Jewish deli experience; in the early 1970s, we gave the world New York hip-hop, which, more than forty years later, gave musical misanthropes a reason to throw down for Hamilton tickets; and NYC is also home to a slew of the world's most famous cocktails. From the Martini to the Manhattan, the Penicillin to picklebacks, you can trace their origin stories right back here to the Big Apple. Read on to find out where in New York these famous classic cocktails were invented, who invented them, and most importantly, where you can drink them today.
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Famous cocktails invented in NYC bars
Although origin stories vary, a number of cocktail historians claim that the first Martini was served in the ornate barroom of the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1912. And that bartender’s name? Martini di Arma di Taggia, naturally. Today, the Knick serves as a towering oasis nestled in the eye of the neon hurricane that is Times Square. Four floors up you’ll find Charlie Palmer, the Knick’s modern cocktail lounge where you can experience the Knickerbocker Martini firsthand: a refreshing elixir of gin, dry and rouge vermouth, orange and citrus bitters.
As legend has it, the Manhattan originated at, you guessed it, the Manhattan Club in New York. But according to trusted sources this legendary story is just that—mere legend. According to William F. Mulhall, a late nineteenth century Hoffman House bartender, “The Manhattan was invented by a man named Black, who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the 1860s…” Sure, you can still find plenty of decent Manhattans mixed on Broadway in present-day Manhattan, but the absolute best is served at Little Branch — the West Village’s low-ceilinged rathskeller who serves their stirred rye and vermouth straight up with a kirsch soaked cherry.
Better known as the Bloody Mary, this iconic brunch cocktail can be traced back to the upscale St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole Bar, where in 1934, French bartender Fernand Petiot delivered on Serge Obolensky’s request for his famous vodka-tomato cocktail, only this time adding salt, pepper, lemon and Worcestershire. At the time, “Bloody Mary” was deemed too vulgar a name for the St. Regis’ upper crust clientele, and thus, the maritime moniker remained. King Cole Bar still pours the simple vodka- and tomato-based highball, now accented by a smoky kick of cayenne pepper.
Before Sex and the City skyrocketed the Cosmo to cocktail fame in the late ‘90s, bartenders across the country had been straining the vodka, cranberry, lime and Cointreau combo into Martini glasses for a solid decade. While there’s evidence of the pink drink’s existence in Miami and Provincetown, MA, it wasn’t formally recognized until 1987 when bartender Toby Cecchini coined the cocktail while working at Tribeca’s famous (and former SNL cast party locale of choice) Odeon. Although the Cosmo no longer stamps the menu, Cecchini still slings the drink at Cobble Hill’s Long Island Bar, while Odeon bartenders will happily indulge a request. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try a variation or two: Odeon’s Ginger Martini subs lemon for lime, and ginger for cran, while their Tabini Martini energizes vodka with muddled mint and fresh lime.
The Bronx cocktail—a citrusy twist on the perfect Martini—was created at the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel in the early 1900s. But sadly, the popular cocktail fell from grace due to 1920s Prohibition and the 1929 displacement of the original Waldorf-Astoria by the Empire State Building. Although the current hotel’s 301 Park Avenue location has been open since 1931, the Bronx never regained its pre-Prohibition prominence. While not a regular on its menu, Art Deco-minded tipplers can order a new age Bronx (Dutch gin, sweet and dry vermouth, orange bitters and splash of fresh OJ) at the Waldorf-Astoria’s elegant lobby bar, Peacock Alley.
Although rumblings of this whiskey-brine shot pairing echoed throughout California and Texas, the dive bar duo didn’t cement a name for itself until 2006, when Bushwick Country Club bartender Reggie Cunningham poured a shot of Old Crow bourbon, followed by a shot of McClure’s spicy dill brine. Now more than a decade later, the pickleback remains a frequent request at BCC and some even swear by its medicinal prowess, lionizing it as a cure for the common cold.
Former Milk and Honey bartender Sam Ross first created his signature tipple known for its perplexing layers of sweet, smoke, sour and peat in 2005 when Sasha Petraske’s infamous speakeasy was still taking reservations at 134 Eldridge Street. Ross has since moved on and up, taking the reigns from Petraske in 2012, opening Attaboy in the former M&H space. Not only does Ross’ signature Penicillin still don the menu, it’s arguably the number one reason to belly up to his brushed-steel bar.
While first served at the Beacon Restaurant & Bar in 2000, Audrey Saunders’ Gin-Gin Mule was popularized at Soho’s Pegu Club, where the energizing elixir still holds a place on the menu. A spicy riff on the mojito, Saunders’ Gin-Gin Mule inspired cocktail culture’s back-to-basics (read: non-processed) movement, calling for dry gin, homemade ginger beer, mint and fresh squeezed lime juice, with a candied ginger drop, lime round and fresh mint sprig to garnish.
This smoky riff on the time-honored classic was created in 2007 by Death & Co.’s opening bartender Philip Ward who combined not one, but two types of mescal, a spoonful of agave nectar and earthy Angostura bitters complemented by an orange twist. Although Ward moved on to open the mescal-centric cocktail bar Mayahuel just one block away, Death & Co. bartenders will happily serve the agave-based tipple if asked… nicely.