Best Bars in… New York

24th April, 2013 by SB Staff Writer

New York’s classic cocktail scene reaches ever greater heights as it continues to shape the nation’s drinking trends, discovers Paul Clarke.

New-York's best bars

New York’s bars continue to shape the nation’s drinking trends

As the craft cocktail renaissance enters its second decade, bartenders across North America are embracing long-ignored drinks, from the Boulevardier to the Bramble, with a vigour known only to the recent convert and the true believer.

But the metropolis from which America’s fascination with craft bars originally emerged continues to define the nation’s direction for drink.

New York’s infatuation with classic cocktails and perfectly honed originals endures. But while many of the city’s cocktail dens of the past decade followed a similar template – small rooms with programmes serious in both studiousness and demeanor – today’s New York watering holes are splintering in a multitude of directions.

Many of the early trendsetters remain: Pegu Club, Flatiron Lounge and Employees Only are still bright stars in Manhattan’s cocktail firmament, with second generation bars such as PDT, Death & Co and Mayahuel continuing in close orbit. But there are discernible shifts in the city’s drinks scene.

Milk & Honey, which defined the era of the modern speakeasy with its unmarked location and reservations only policy, has left its former Lower East Side digs for a larger, more public space further uptown.

Sasha Petraske’s DNA is still detectible in newer, celebrated bars such as Pouring Ribbons, opened by alumni of M&H and Death & Co, but relative newcomers to New York are also leaving an indelible stamp on the city’s drinks scene, as can be seen in the enthusiasm that greeted Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog – owned by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, veterans of the Merchant Hotel in Belfast – upon its January debut.

Food + Drink = Good times

New York is also embracing the rise of bold and sometimes groundbreaking restaurant bars – witness the popularity of Prime Meats and Maison Premiere, both in Brooklyn, and of Saxon & Parole in Manhattan – and the return of the calm, meditative hotel bar, as seen in the NoMad Hotel. Speciality bars have taken hold, such as the bitters-centric Amor y Amargo and the aptly named Gin Palace.

And as might be expected from such a paradigm-pushing city, New York drinkers are also supporting such ambitious establishments as the technology-tinged Booker and Dax. But perhaps the most notable addition to New York’s bar scene is a characteristic that was in short supply for quite some time.

New York’s craft cocktail bars seem to be rediscovering the notion of fun and with it a realisation that the quality of a city’s drinks scene need not be defined solely by the quantity of arm garters on its bartenders and Jerry Thomas references on its menus.

From nouveau soda fountains in the East Village to bar-distilleries in Brooklyn, craft bartenders are now daring to crack a smile and lighten up the formerly ponderous realm of mixology. Between the flashes of creative brilliance that continue to crackle through the city’s bars, and the almost giddy exuberance of guests and bartenders allowed to venture from under the shadow of serious cocktails, New York continues to show the rest of the country the path forward.

Which are New York’s best bars? Find out on the next page…

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