Words and photographs by Virginia Miller
New York City, as one of the three key pioneering bar cities both in the 1800s (the others being San Francisco and New Orleans) and one of two (alongside SF) leading the global cocktail renaissance of the last 30-ish years, has no end to destination-worthy bars. Given the over-focus of bar lists and awards here, NYC is also lined with over-hyped bars or bars with attitude. Since the pandemic, there is a refreshed spirit and humility in some NYC bars, which leads to better hospitality, a factor a lot of other U.S. cities do better. There are key newcomers worth seeking out, including spots like Lullaby, an example of a “hospitality first” bar. Here, we explore nine of the best.
Double Chicken Please
115 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002
Arguably, Double Chicken Please (DCP) is the most exciting new NYC cocktail bar, shooting straight to #17 in the inaugural North America’s 50 Best Bars this summer. This is thanks to gracious service and imaginative drinks from GN Chan, who, with Faye Chen, began DCP as a pop-up in a vintage VW minibus in 2017. In 2020, they opened DCP as a brick-and-mortar in the Lower East Side, offering two totally different bar experiences. First, the casual front bar served cocktails on tap and fried chicken sandwiches. Cocktails are numbered, with a recent Gin #7 being gin, amontillado sherry, Cherry Heering, white cranberry, lemon verbena, and even a vegetarian fried tofu, sesame, peanut butter, fried shallots sandwich keeping step with fried chicken. In the wood-lined backroom, a mid-century, retro vibe is seductive and soothing, with an entirely different food menu and cocktails inspired by food, like French toast, Japanese noodles, Waldorf salad, mango sticky rice or cold pizza. Gin joys have included a Key Lime Pie cocktail of gin, Empirical’s marzipan-rich The Plum, I Suppose spirit, winter melon, sweet cream, egg white, lime and soda.
151 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002
Opening in Lower East Side’s former Nitecap in April 2022, Lullaby refreshingly lacks the attitude Nitecap had. In fact, a blessedly wide age range of experts bring decades of cocktail expertise to Lullaby: Boston’s pioneering barman and musician Brother Cleve (who tragically just passed away in September), with relaxed yet on-point hospitality from Harrison Snow and Jake Hodas. These three have made this half basement bar a welcome spot for good vibes and impeccable yet unfussy cocktails. At times it can have a house-party vibe but is relaxed, veering from 80s tunes to obscure albums and genres Cleve hand-selected. Cocktail names go a la Friends’ episodes: The Gin Drink, The Whiskey Drink, etc. They rotate, remaining refreshingly $12-15 per cocktail, rare for quality bars in Manhattan. Snow and his father built out much of the space, while the team created cocktails with bartender Brian Miller. A rum-soaked frozen Dole Whip is hard to resist, while The Gin Drink #3 (twist on a classic Razor Blade) during my recent visit was a savory, layered beauty of kashmiri pepper-infused Old Duff Genever, lime, simple syrup and saline solution.
105 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009
Opening in February 2019, Mister Paradise is a win for cocktail lovers with food-inspired, layered, playful drinks from talented (and fun) head bartender, Nathalie Durrieu, who came from none other than Katana Kitten. It’s also the kind of place with large format and cocktails on draft, indoor booths and a big green parklet. Co-founders Will Wyatt came from NYC’s NoMad bar and Eric Kruvant from the more casual Drexler’s, while chef and partner Jeremy Spector was at Employees Only and created Mister Paradise’s food menu offering the likes of crab toast or pork belly arancini. Durrieu’s drinks delight, whether a savory Prime Martini of Roku gin, blanc vermouth, yuzu and black pepper pickled onion, or Tornado Fists, an herbaceous, slightly funky joy of Botanist Gin, Krogstad aquavit, strawberry, lemon, honey and a whisper of chevre goat cheese. On the menu since day one is Cougar Magnum, a gin, St. Germain, smoked grapefruit, lemon, buttered popcorn drink graced with a peaty whisper of Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Scotch.
2 Freeman Alley
New York, NY 10002
Hidden upstairs in a dim, wood-lined room in the Freemans restaurant at the end of an alley, Banzarbar feels as if you’ve stepped into a colonial era, 1700-early 1800s dining room, sitting at a couple of cozy, candle-lit tables or at the intimate bar. Opened in February 2018 by owners Taavo Somer and William Tigertt, the blessedly quiet bar serves a few dishes like duck confit dumplings or “The Kraken,” a whole tempura-fried octopus. The drink menu is based on Antarctic expeditions of early 20th century explorers — specifically, the 1930’s British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) — and is a creative, forward-thinking treasure for cocktail lovers and adventurous palates. Eryn Reece (formerly of Death & Co. and Mayahuel) oversees the cocktails, while friendly bartenders keep it chill. Low proof drinks are refreshingly unique, like Chuo Dori of Pineau des Charentes, Jamaican rum, miso, sage and lemon. Recent gin treasures included The Heart and the Hind (gin, Calvados, shochu, verjus rouge, thyme, honey, chili) and Letter of Marque (gin, aquavit, kummel, vermouth and nutmeg).
45 W 45th Street
New York, NY 10036
What a gift Valerie is to Midtown. Close to Broadway/the theater district’s touristy chains, one would not expect this gorgeous bar impressively built to look as if it’s from the Art Deco era. The towering space glows over tile, brass, marble and smoked mirrors, while live jazz makes it feel as if you’ve time traveled. Seasonal dishes from Darren Pettigrew and an extensive gin selection with flavor descriptions in the menu make it an ideal pre-or post-show stop for a bite and drink, while beverage director Marshall Minaya’s cocktails are worth coming for alone. Multiple rooms allow for a range of experiences, from the intimate Blushing Bar to the Gatsby Lounge (I got a sneak peek of a luxe subterranean bar they’re building out in the basement). Drink highlights are many, from five pages of house and classic cocktails, to a silky clarified milk punch: Speed Slowly, of gin, Cocchi Torino, quinquina, lemon, dairy, strawberries, London Essence bitter orange tonic. A spirituous gin standout is Enough Rope: local Dorothy Parker Gin, Lillet Blanc, Strega, strawberry rhubarb shrub, rhubarb bitters, absinthe rinse.
649 East 9th Street
New York, New York 10009
Founded by Greg Boehm (Cocktail Kingdom Hospitality Group, Katana Kitten, Mace), The Cabinet — an East Village bar and mezcaleria — opened Spring 2019 in the former Mace. I miss (and preferred) the original Mace to the current one, but find this space retains its glowing magic, with a new adjoining room and additional bar. Spoiler: this is not a gin bar, but gin lovers inform bartenders and they’ll craft something to your tastes, showcasing the glories of Mexico (also, Mexican gins continue to be on the rise). If you’re lucky enough to catch bartender Diego Livera, he’s a kindred in agave for those of us who love it, hailing originally from Mexico. Even if you’re a novice, he and the team will steer you to a customized tipple (or flight) from over 200 mezcals and thoughtful few raicillas, sotols and tequilas, grouped by Mexican state where the agaves are grown. Bar snacks transport to Mexico, including tamales from Tamales Lupita in Harlem and juicy watermelon and cucumber dusted in lime and sal de gusano (worm salt). Cocktails are straightforward but expertly made, whether an irresistible Pineapple Daiquiri of reposado tequila and rum perked up with paprika, or a bubbly twist on Mojito served up, beautifully funky with agricole-esque Mexican rum.
Bar Goto and Bar Goto Niban
245 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002
Kenta Goto opened Bar Goto in NY’s Lower East Side 2015, winning many awards and “best bar” accolades, then eventually opening Bar Goto Niban in Brooklyn at the fated beginning of 2020. With 80s rock keeping it fun, the intimate, wood-lined bar serves impossible-to-resist okonomiyaki and miso wings, alongside crushable highballs and lighter-than-air fizzes, like my early favorite here, a Yuzu-Calpico Fizz: gin, lemon, yuzu preserves and Calpico (a tangy milk soda from Japan). More recently I savored Tomatillo & Shiso, a vegetal refresher of gin, tomatillo, shiso, lime, soda, while martini options draw in gin lovers. I dig the Sakura Martini of gin, sake, maraschino, cherry blossoms.
Amor y Amargo
95 Avenue A
New York, NY 10009
Since opening in 2011, Ravi DeRossi and Sother Teague’s ever popular Amor y Amargo was the first bitters-based bar in the U.S. and has remained an industry favorite since. While I still miss the intimacy of the tiny original, the expanded bar and shop, which sells an extensive collection of bitters alongside a few key barware items and cocktail books, does allow more standing room for additional patrons, even if it lacks the one-on-one charm. The cocktails are still bitter-amari excellence, and while gin isn’t the obvious focus, their Negroni is a standard, alongside Amor y Amargo classics like Chris Elford’s Sharpie Mustache (equal parts gin and rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Amaro Meletti, Tiki bitters). Gin also plays a crucial accent to seasonal drinks like a recent Sunrise Mart spritz of Amermelade Aperitivo, Fred Jerbis Vermut, gin, strawberry liquor, rose bitters, or spirituous sippers like Oh My Word! (Nardini, Green Chartreuse, gin, maraschino, Scrappy’s lime bitters).
200 Church Street
New York, NY 10013
Opened late in 2021 during the pandemic days, Marathi is a Greek rarity in TriBeCa, chill for lunch or brunch given its tri-level, sunny space. Think whole grilled branzino or Greek salad with generous hunks of barrel aged feta. They also offer the rarity of Greek-inspired cocktails like Horiatiki, served long and tall with a base of Aczu Spanish Gin. The drink takes culinary inspiration with feta water, tomato espuma (foam) and extra-virgin olive oil adding texture and garden-fresh silkiness. Levendi is a cocktail of D’usse Cognac and Stray Dog Wild gin from Greece, served tall with peach Assyrtiko (Greek white wine) cordial, turmeric, lemon and club soda. The culinary mix results in cocktails that pair well with food and recall the bright ease of Mediterranean food.