Anyone who’s peeked at our lists of the best bars in NYC knows that the boroughs are rife with excellent sipping spots. But one area in particular is undergoing a cocktail renaissance: Alphabet City—the blocks between Avenues A and C, from Houston Street to 14th Street—has sprouted a slew of intimate, low-key joints where East Village bartenders are slinging top-notch quaffs sans pretension. Sidle up to the bar and chat up the staff, or ensconce yourself in a quieter corner nook; either way, you’ll be sampling some of the city’s best cocktails.
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Stylish yet affordable, this nook draws in city swillers with 18 house drinks as elegant as the setting. Start your night with something crisp, perhaps the lightly effervescent S.M. Jenkins ($12), which melds gin, Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber, lime, velvet Falernum and ginger ale. If you’re in the mood for something a little bolder, ask for the Death of a Ladies’ Man ($12), a potent blend of rye, maple syrup, Laphroaig ten-year Scotch, lemon and tobacco bitters named for a Leonard Cohen album.
Greg Seider’s narrow cocktail den divvies up its menu into two parts: The classic section encompasses unimpeachable versions of traditional tipples, while the Alchemist portion features more daring creations. You can’t go wrong with an updated spicy margarita ($12), crafted with Corralejo blanco tequila, chipotle chili agave, fresh lime, hickory-smoked salt and orange bitters (in place of Cointreau); but we’d like to think this whole excursion is about expanding your horizons. In that case, request the Shu Jam Fizz (DH Krahn gin, apricot jam, fennel-infused agave, peach bitters, fresh lemon, soda; $10) or the Guv’nor (Yamazaki 12-year whiskey, toasted-cardamom-infused agave, Japanese yuzu, fresh orange juice; $12).
Owner and master barkeep Jason Mendenhall, who honed his chops at Madam Geneva, entices boozers by tweaking mostly familiar ingredients and combining them in creative quaffs. Our favorites include the herbaceous Evergreen (pine-smoked gin, lime, simple syrup, pear cider, sage; $12) and a dark and stormy riff dubbed the Bermuda Black (black and white rums, fresh lime juice, fresh ginger juice, Angostura bitters and milk stout; $12). At this point in the evening, it’s probably a good idea to pause for some edibles. Grilled slices of Pecoraro Bakery’s sausage-studded bread, paired with a bowl of fluffy fresh ricotta ($9), make for an addictive snack, while the tangy pernil romero sandwich ($10) sates your hunger if you’re craving a heartier dish.
This easygoing spot feels a bit like a boozy, adults-only soda fountain, especially when you cast an eye at the egg-creams section of the menu. Creamsicle fans might be tempted by the Crème de Julius (naranja de leche, Galliano, Cointreau Noir, house seltzer, orange-flower-water mist; $9), but we’re partial to the chocolaty NYC Cream (cacao milk, Santa Teresa 1796 rum, Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup, house seltzer; $9). The “spirited phosphates” might sound futuristic, but they’re essentially fancy, liquor-spiked sodas; try the slightly savory Skenny Betch (Belvedere vodka steeped in parsley, Strega liqueur, honey syrup, lime, phosphate; little $7, big $11).
Ah, your last stop! We hope you haven’t taxed your liver too much at this point—the all-stars running this spot (Alchemy Consulting, which counts Death & Company alum Joaquín Simó and the Violet Hour vet Troy Sidle among its ranks) are the brains behind some of the country’s most inventive potables, and you don’t want to miss out. Indecisive drinkers automatically get a bit of guidance via the two scales used to rate each of the house cocktails: one goes from refreshing to spirituous, the other comforting to adventurous. On the approachable end, you’ll find the Spirit of Diplomacy ($14), a vodka-based sipper accented with grapefruit and raspberries. The edgiest, most high-proof option, according to the spectrum? A drink dubbed In Spades ($14), which elevates an Old Fashioned recipe with charred Weller 107 bourbon, two gentiane liqueurs and Galiano L’Autentico.