When the late Sasha Petraske opened Milk & Honey on the Lower East Side in 1999, he started the first wave in a sea change in how bars crafted both cocktails and the environments in which we consumed them. Quality spirits were key, naturally, but so were things like fresh juices and clear, properly cut ice -- not to mention attention to technique. And the spaces themselves were austere, with rules ("no name-dropping, no star-fucking; no hooting, hollering, shouting or other loud behavior") that helped to encourage a sort of reverence for the art of the cocktail.
Of course, a whole lot has changed since then. Now, it's almost a challenge to find a bartender incapable of making a proper Old Fashioned or Manhattan. So when determining which cocktail bars in NYC are the best today, it obviously isn’t enough that the staff knows how to properly stir (not shake!) a martini (gin, not vodka!) -- that's a foregone conclusion these days. Nearly 17 years after Petraske opened his seminal bar, a different sort of atmosphere and approach are key, with many of the top bars in the city dropping (or at least modifying) some of the rules and rigidity of their forebears in favor of a little more adventure and fun -- while, of course, holding on to the standards that kickstarted the cocktail revolution all those years ago. From a cheerful Tiki den to an East Village spot that takes its cues from the spice rack, these are the best cocktail bars in NYC.
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Lower East Side
Opened in the original Milk & Honey space by two of its longtime bartenders, Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy, Attaboy takes the standards of Sasha Petraske’s revolutionary bar (quality liquor; fresh juices; clear, carved ice) and houses them in a grittier, way-less-formal atmosphere. There are none of Petraske’s notorious rules here -- and there’s also no menu, so get comfortable with the pro bar staff and bare your soul (Are you in the mood for something refreshing, with gin, perhaps? Or maybe something spirit-forward, with whiskey?). Whatever route you take, you're in good hands: Ross, who still works the bar from time to time, is the man behind a host of modern classics, like the Penicillin, with whiskey, honey-ginger syrup, lemon, and Islay Scotch.
Julie Reiner is one of the cocktail world's OGs, having stamped her name on spots like the Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club (the latter headed up by the legendary Audrey Saunders). But it's Reiner’s Cobble Hill bar, Clover Club, that hits all the right notes with its thoughtful cocktail menu and deceptively casual vibe. The grandiose interior, with its burnished-wood accents and tufted furniture, may seem a little intimidating at first glance. But nab a seat at the bar and you’ll find the atmosphere is warm and inviting -- and that includes the staff, who don’t adopt the stereotypical bad attitude that tends to be on display at other, similar establishments. The menu follows suit: while drinks hew to the standards of classic cocktailing, they often come with an unassuming twist. See the "The Herb Is the Word" menu section for inventive drinks like the Dill With It, made with dill seed-infused gin and bitter Suze.
The original Angel’s Share, hidden inside the East Village’s Village Yokocho, has been turning out refined cocktails for almost two decades, even helping to establish some of the standards for cocktailing we still see today (it’s said Petraske himself took cues from the bar). It’s a spot that helped set a new pace for the industry: creative menu, accommodating staff, and keen attention to detail. Now, in true neo-speakeasy fashion, this old-school drinking den has its own hidden bar -- well, more like an annex (it’s a few doors down from the original, above Sharaku). Angel’s Share 2.0 is where you turn when you’re we’re looking for a more open and inviting space; plus, wait times for tables here are significantly shorter. While the original location has more classic preparations on the menu (the traditional martini is a must-try), the annex offers quirkier spins on old standbys, like a leather-aged boulevardier, poured tableside from a pouch.
After working behind the stick for almost half a decade at Julie Reiner’s Clover Club, Ivy Mix has stepped out to co-helm (with Reiner) this colorful, lively spot right across the street from her former stomping grounds. Latin-American spirits and flavors inform the drink list here, which includes standards like tequila and every kind of rum you can imagine, as well as more esoteric picks like singani, a sort of Bolivian pisco. (If a cocktail isn't in the cards, the bar also offers a number of tasting flights for spirits -- extra points there.) Even better, Leyenda has some seriously knockout bar food from Suenos vet Sue Torres. The move is to settle in for drinks, grab some rich, gamey goat tacos for dinner, and then order dessert (in the form of the nutty, creamy Shotgun Wedding cocktail).
The premise for this East Village den’s menu, from Experimental Cocktail Club's Nico de Soto, is pretty straightforward: each drink is based on an individual spice. But that doesn’t mean the cocktails here are simple. De Soto plays with seemingly incompatible ingredients in unique ways to create concoctions with shockingly complex flavor profiles, like red cabbage with yerba mate, or Aperol with beet juice, coconut cordial, and a mace mist. The eccentric menu is served by some incredibly skilled bartenders: order the Saffron cocktail, a fragrant gin-sour variation, and you’ll receive a light (but still creamy!) cocktail that’s been whipped until the egg whites have emulsified into fluffy, meringue-y peaks, and ingredients measured just so to ensure that flavors meld harmoniously. It also doesn’t hurt that crowds are tame here, which means you can actually watch the bartenders juggle jiggers, bottles, and beakers to make you something you’ve never tasted before.
Long Island City
There are plenty of standout spots to drink in Long Island City (craft-beer temple Alewife; local favorite LIC Bar), but there’s only one Sasha Petraske-affiliated cocktail bar. Of course, that means you can expect a quality drink (made with crystal-clear hand-carved ice from Hundredweight, housed in the same building as DK), but it also means you can expect this bar to be straight-up packed. No matter, because Dutch Kills’ classic-leaning cocktails -- not to mention the kickass bar food from M. Wells, and an $8 Monday-through-Thursday happy hour -- make any amount of jostling worthwhile.
Lower East Side
Bar Goto may seem like the most serious-minded of all of the picks on this list, what with its sleek, simple décor (a golden-wood bar, a row of two-tops, and a mirror-lined back bar) and hushed atmosphere. Still, the air here isn’t somber -- it’s actually quite calming, which is the best way to savor the Japanese-influenced cocktails from Pegu Club vet Kenta Goto. The sake-and-gin Sakura Martini, garnished with its namesake cherry blossom, or the Improved Shochu Cocktail, delivered in a masu, or sake "overflow" box, are choice spirit-forward picks. If you’re not looking to go the super-boozy route, opt for the dessert-y Rum Oshiruko, made with red bean soup and dark rum, and served on crushed ice with mochi ice cream. Once you inevitably find yourself hungry after all that drinking, the chicken wings here are practically required eating, and you can’t go wrong with the sesame celery.
The closings of PKNY and Lani Kai in recent years haven't exactly portended great things for the success of Tiki culture in New York City. But Mother of Pearl, nearly a year old, is still going strong slinging piña coladas in the East Village. That's good news for the rum lovers, coconut enthusiasts, and vegans in your life. Yes, everything at Mother of Pearl, down to the food, is animal-free -- unless you count the bourbon-and-passion-fruit Shark Eye cocktail, served in a ceramic shark's head with “blood” streaming from its jaws. It’s a drink worthy of a picture, for sure, but really, the entire scene at Mother of Pearl is a vision: wooden fans wave in the main bar area, flowy white curtains flutter in the breeze, and a leafy green “chandelier” welcomes imbibers into this oasis on Avenue A.
If you're looking for an escape along with your cocktail, Meaghan Dorman's Union Square "cocktail parlor" has you covered -- threefold. There's the super-sexy crystal-curtained anterior, where you can sip on an actually delicious espresso martini (a popular choice for good reason: Dorman makes hers with a specially chosen Irving Farm Coffee Roasters cold brew and vanilla liqueur); a classic burnished-wood bar area, which offers ample seating; and a Marie Antoinette room, which is just as ornate as its name suggests. Drinks here are as delicious as you'd expect from the woman behind the Raines Law Room, but it's the vibe -- or vibes, really -- that make this spot a draw.
Lower East Side
The cocktail menu at this pint-sized subterranean bar covers all of the bases, from boozy “Firewater” options (the amari-forward Family Affair is a favorite) to easy-to-drink “Go-To Goodness” picks (try the refreshing Jaguar Shark). Naturally, the drinks here get the attention to detail you’d expect from an industry vet like Natasha David, previously of Maison Premiere and Prime Meats. Cocktails, poured under a watchful eye, and stirred or shaken ‘til they’re perfectly cold, are thoughtfully garnished with things like candied ginger and fresh florals, making them a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. And you can forget those stereotypical cocktail-bar hushed tones -- the crowd here tends to be playful (but not rowdy), so it’s a great choice if you and a crew are looking for a few rounds of well-made drinks.
It’s not a stretch to say that no NYC bar is more responsible for the (OK, relative) popularity of amari -- those bitter, herbaceous Italian liqueurs -- on the drinking scene today. This 6th St establishment puts traditional classic-cocktail spirits in second place and shines the spotlight on those until-now-obscure elixirs like Fernet Branca, Cynar, and Meletti, an antidote if you’re suffering from Tom-Collins, Old-Fashioned, or classic-daiquiri burnout. Seating here isn’t exactly plentiful, so come early if you want to post up, and get the 8 Amaro Sazerac, a "House Favorite," which mimics the original beautifully while ditching the rye whiskey altogether.
While Grand Army's drinks maestro Damon Boelte made a name for himself crafting riffs on classics at Prime Meats, his cocktail-and-oyster spot is where his creativity really shines. Boelte takes a seasonal approach to his menus, constructing them around specific themes. Currently, it’s “in celebration of hot nights of debauchery,” which means mostly easy-drinking tipples with island-inflected flavors like coconut and curaçao (the Under the Sea) and black rum and toasted orgeat (the Carnivale). The space itself is a welcome break from the cramped spots you find lining Smith and Court Sts; it’s wide open, with a wood bar front and center, just begging you to have a drink and a dozen briny bivalves.
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1. Leyenda221 Smith St, Brooklyn
2. Angel’s Share8 Stuyvesant St, New York
3. Attaboy134 Eldridge St, New York City
4. Clover Club210 Smith St, New York
5. Dutch Kills27-24 Jackson Ave, Long Island City
6. Mace649 E 9th St, New York
7. Bar Goto245 Eldridge St, New York
8. Mother of Pearl95 Avenue A, New York
9. Amor y Amargo443 E 6th St, New York
10. Dear Irving55 Irving Pl, New York
11. Grand Army336 State St, Brooklyn
12. Nitecap151 Rivington St, New York
Julie Reiner -- the mastermind behind Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge -- and her protégé Ivy Mix, bring you Leyenda, a “pan-Latin” cocktail spot that specializes in spirits from Central and South America: mezcal, rum, tequila, pisco, cachaca, sotol, and raicilla. The menu offers both traditional cocktails and creative concoctions that are legendary -- which is what Leyenda translates to in Spanish. Alongside the cocktails, they have standard Latin food on the menu, cooked up by the acclaimed Chef Sue Torres. With its gold tin ceiling adorned with crosses and cathedral-pew booth seating, the decor matches the overall authentic vibe.
A Japanese speakeasy lives next to the unassuming, second-floor restaurant Village Yokocho: walk up the stairs, turn left and through an unmarked door you'll find a small but comfortable room with a dark wood bar, regal wallpaper, and a large mural depicting the namesake angelic cherubs. Long lines betray Angel's Share's secret since the place has been catering to cocktail enthusiasts for decades, so arrive early -- and with a small group. The formally dressed bartenders craft impeccable, Japanese-tinged takes on classic American cocktails that make it worth the wait.
Founded by former Milk & Honey mixologists Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy, Attaboy is an intimate, semi-hidden craft cocktail bar and lounge on the Lower East Side. Operating out of Milk & Honey's old digs, Attaboy builds on the personalized cocktail experience M&H made popular with a menu changes nightly and encouraging guests to ditch the menu altogether; simply tell Sam or Michael what you're into and they'll craft you a bespoke libation worthy of hall of fame status.
From Julie Reiner (Flatiron Lounge) and her protege, cocktail legend Ivy Mix, this tearoom-style spot charms with pressed tin ceilings, velvet-upholstered settees, and a 19th-century mahogany bar. In keeping with the casual-sophisticated vibe, dinner fare includes everything from mac & cheese and steak frites to steak tartare and caviar service, while the cocktail selection, which includes numerous variations on Old Fashioneds, cobblers, punches, cocktails, and five other categories, will have the most experienced of drinkers excited with options. For a new take on a real classic, start with the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, which combines rye, maraschino, absinthe, and bitters.
First things first: Dutch Kills is unquestionably the best cocktail bar in Queens. The space is modest with low, moody lighting, and the bartenders really know what they’re doing. Opt for the bartender's choice by suggesting a base spirit and letting them work their magic, or order from the list of handcrafted mix drinks. The owners operate a custom ice shop too, so depending on the cocktail, you'll also receive a specially hewn piece of ice harvested from a single 300lb block.
When Mace arrived in the East Village in the spring of 2015, the neighborhood had long ago established its reputation as the craft cocktail epicenter of New York. And yet the bar, helmed by a trio of cocktail veterans, stands out among its speakeasy and sake lounge neighbors. The menu sticks to 12 cocktails, all of which are similar in their spice-driven element (drinks are named after spices and seeds: saffron, chia seed, barley seed, coriander, star anise, etc). There's a tiny selection of snacks too, and a few craft beers and wine.
This Japanese-style cocktail bar on the Lower East Side, opened by Kenta Goto, offers detail-oriented and expertly crafted drinks with an Asian twist. Behind its blond wooden-doored exterior lies a small L-shaped bar, a row of dark banquettes, and walls decorated with fabric from Koto's grandmother's 100-year-old kimonos. The bar is known for its Sakura Martini (sake, gin, maraschino liqueur, cherry blossom), but also serves Japanese appetizers, such as Kombu celery, Japanese cabbage pancakes, and miso chicken wings.
Located in the former Gin Palace spot, Mother of Pearl is an upscale cocktail bar with a hit-you-over-the-head Tiki theme that is, amazingly, equal parts elegance and kitsch. Run by Jane Danger and Ravi DeRossi, this “post-modern Polynesian” spot has plenty of Hawaiian-inspired eats, like Kalua pork belly and a tuna poke bowl, plus some serious booziness, like the Tiki bitters-loaded Shark Eye that actually comes in a shark shaped glass dripping with "blood." Also, it has no walls on its front -- just curtains. Go check it out.
You won't find any mixers, sugars, or juices in this tiny, tile-covered sleeve -- just a bitters/amaro-heavy focus on truly classic, uncorrupted cocktails. Head-man-behind-the-rail Sother Teague also peddles everything you need to stock your home bar and make the same exact drinks he does (but probably not as well!).
Dear Irving is an old-school cocktail parlor with a Midnight in Paris kind of vibe. The bar is made up of four separate rooms, each of which represents a different historical character. The drinks are stellar -- as you'd expect from Meaghan Dorman, who's also behind the Raines Law Room -- and every cocktail is as much an experience as the interior. The espresso martini packs a huge punch with Irving Farm Coffee Roasters cold brew and vanilla liqueur. Note: Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are definitely encouraged.
Take the unpretentious attitude of a neighborhood bar, New York food and drink veterans, a cocktail-and-seafood focused menu, and the result is Grand Army in Boerum Hill. The team, which includes heavy hitters from Prime Meats, Rucola, Mile End, and Alder, delivers a reliable roster of oysters and out-of-this-world cocktails that, unsurprisingly, taste best at happy hour.
This high-end speakeasy (make sure you don't walk past it -- look for a bouncer down a set of narrow stairs) is a dark and moody space with throwback music, exposed brick, and a backlit bar. It comes from the owners of Death & Co., so you know you're getting expertly crafted cocktails with premium ingredients. That said, the extensive drink menu changes with the seasons, but you can expect inventive concoctions like the Play It Cool (which you should do here), mixed with vermouth, jalapeño-infused tequila, cane juice rum, avocado, green bell pepper, and lime juice.