We explore the cream of the crop in one of America’s original ‘cocktail cities’
Written by Virginia Miller
The pioneering cocktail bars of the 1800s – and again in the renaissance of the last 20 to 30 years – were in New York City and San Francisco, while New Orleans created some of the most important recipes, completing the trinity of the world’s original cocktail cities. NYC remains one of the most vibrant, if often overpriced, bar scenes in the world. Thankfully Brooklyn’s renewal the past decade has brought more affordable, high-quality bars, while Manhattan neighbourhoods like the East Village have become drink meccas, lined with notable bars. Hospitality and friendliness don’t exactly reign in NYC, but the bars that master drink and service are the ones worth returning to – and they’re not always the most hyped. While some of our once-favourite NYC bars like Mace have gone downhill a bit since moving to their new location, these 10 bars (a few of them newer, many around for years) are among the best the city has to offer.
The Up & Up
116 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012
These days, Greenwich Village bars run more towards the college party and pub crowd. But half-underground The Up & Up is the Village’s ultimate cocktail destination in a space that once housed a Beat Generation venue. Green-toned, vintage William Morris wallpaper and rust-coloured booths provide cosy alcoves to slip into for a tipple. Owner Matt Piacentini and manager Chaim Dauermann craft intriguing drinks in every spirit category and delight in cocktails like Cunning Familiar, a mix of St. George Terroir Gin, Boulard Calvados, Kleos Mastiha, grapefruit, lemon, cider and celery bitters. Or check out their “Insanely Good” section, offering “superlative versions of under-appreciated drinks” such as a fancified Midori Sour, enhanced by Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin, lime cordial, lemon and egg white.
245 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002
Kenta Goto has ensured that cosy Bar Goto has been one of NYC’s best bars since it opened in 2015. This “escape to Japan” gem might play 1980s hair metal music while killer miso black sesame chicken wings and a menu of different okonomiyaki (savoury Japanese “pancakes”) flow out of the kitchen, but cocktails seal the deal, whether it’s a simple Shiso Sparkler of gin, shiso, lemon and prosecco, or a silky-soft cucumber melon soda fizzy with gin, lemon, cucumber, Midori and Calpico (a tangy milk soda from Japan). The house Sakura Martini is a signature gin martini, unfolding in layers with sake, Maraschino and cherry blossoms.
531 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
Masahiro Urushido’s Katana Kitten is one of NYC’s great bars from a consummate barman whose bartending years in NYC and Tokyo inform his hospitality and precision. Katana is also about fun: lined with Japanese movie posters, communal seating in the basement and playful tunes, the laid-back vibe appeals to industry and non-industry alike with delicious bites like Masa’s grandmother’s fujimi crispy chicken. Drink offerings include a creative highball section with the likes of a shiso gin and tonic and a melon-lime soda with Absolut Lime, Midori, sudachi-lime, matcha and lime leaf. Gin gets the right treatment everywhere, from a martini stirred with gin, vodka, fino sherry, junmai-daiginjo sake and hinoki tree essence, to Old Duff genever in a Negroni-inspired combination of aged umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur)
Amor Y Amargo
443 E 6th Street
New York, NY 10009
It’s true that eight-seat, not-much-bigger-than-a-closet Amor y Amargo is an amari bar, but this long-time industry favourite has also been one of Manhattan’s overall best bars since 2011. Now with a larger sister bar in Brooklyn (opened in late 2019), restaurateur Ravi DeRossi and barman Sother Teague have immortalised the bar in both boroughs. With a focus on bitters and amaro, a classic Negroni is perfected here – but so are many bitter gin cocktails, like the spirituous Sharpie Mustache (Meletti amaro, gin, Bonal, rye and bitters) or crisp, alpine-esque Freya Regal (gin, Italicus Bergamot liqueur, Carpano Bianco Vermouth, aquavit and black lemon bitters).
The Hidden Pearl
621 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222
One of NYC’s best bar treasures, The Hidden Pearl is hidden in the back of Wanpaku Ramen in Brooklyn’s busy Greenpoint ‘hood. Skylights imbue gentle light over the white-walled space accented with touches of tan, navy blue and green plants. The intimate space benefits from skilled, friendly bartenders and snacks from the restaurant like uni shooters. Drinks are impeccably delicious, whether a JBS highball (gin, pear brandy, dry vermouth, ginger, shiso, lemon, seltzer) or Fireflies on the Water, an intriguing mix of gin, pommeau, orange bitters and genepy, given a vinegary-acidic kick from verjus.
61 Withers Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
The kind of neighbourhood treasure every neighbourhood wishes it had, Bar Beau is top-notch coffee shop by day, then by night (or weekend brunch) it opens its hidden back room, spacious and spare, for dinner and cocktails. A long wrap-around bar invites those who just want to drop in for a bite and drinks, with inspired bar food like scallop corn fritters in a coconut lime dip. Relaxed bartenders shake up house creations like Tonka Truck – with its base of two gins accented by aquavit, lemon and turmeric, creamy-frothy with a touch of yoghurt and egg white – and the Green Flamingo, a gin-based drink with shochu, matcha, barley, rosemary and citrussy yuzu.
79-81 Macdougal Street
New York, NY 10012
With a Dante West location on the way, the original Dante is housed in a historic Italian café in Greenwich Village that dates back to 1915, a go-to for celebrities from Al Pacino to Bob Dylan. Reborn in 2015, Australian restaurateur Linden Pride and fellow Aussie and bar vet Naren Young brought new life, quality cocktails and bites to the café and have won numerous awards since, including number one in the World’s 50 Best Bars. While the menu is about straightforward classics and Italian aperitivi, gin and tonics and Negronis on tap appeal to the gin lover. Daily “Negroni Sessions” from 3pm to 6pm offer $10 drinks (a steal in pricey Manhattan) from a menu of more than 10 variations.
225 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009
Opened in 2012 by NY bar greats Joaquín Simó, Will Cart and Jason Cott, Pouring Ribbons draws in drink geeks with its hidden upstairs location, vintage Chartreuse selection and helpful graph menu rating cocktails on a scale of “refreshing” to “spirituous”, “comforting” to “adventurous”. They also offer cocktail classes and have only got better over the years – strong on gin cocktails like the crushable Drag Race Thailand (curry and lime leaf-infused Bombay Sapphire East, Thai iced tea, lime and coconut) or the adventurous Body (Amass Gin, Kleos Mastiha, Lustau Palo Cortado sherry, M&R Ambrato Vermouth
and Edinburgh Elderflower).
Raines Law Room
48 W 17th Street
New York, NY 10011
The original Raines Law Room Chelsea opened in 2009 before the cocktail world had wearied of the speakeasy craze, and the romantic, relaxed space has long done it better than more pretentious spots. In 2014, a second Raines location opened in boutique Midtown hotel The William. Cocktail classes, cosy couches and wall buzzers pulled when you’re ready to order your drink keep the experience unique. Curated by bar director Meaghan Dorman, rotating menus feature classics and seasonal house creations like Pushing Daisies (gin, pear liqueur, lemon, lavender bitters and Perrier) at the Chelsea bar or a Catalan Cooler (gin, grapefruit, yellow Chartreuse and tonic) at The William.
Manhattan Cricket Club
226 W 79th Street, New York, NY 10024
Hidden upstairs in Aussie-themed restaurant Burke & Wills, Manhattan Cricket Club is an Upper West Side rarity for well-crafted cocktails. The narrow, book-lined space oozes Victoriana from wallpaper to chandeliers. Cosy up on a banquette under the pressed tin ceiling for elegant gin drinks, from a perfect 50/50 Martini to changing house creations. Expect creative drinks such as a refreshing Bend My Elbow (strawberry and hibiscus-infused No. 3 Gin, lime, grapefruit bitters and club soda) or the wintery-tropical Golden Pineangle (Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur, Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin, passion fruit, pineapple, lime, pandan syrup and rosemary bitters).