New York There’s a reason Dale DeGroff earned the moniker King Cocktail; the master mixologist has tended bar at notable establishments across the country for decades (including NYC’s storied Rainbow Room), and he’s penned books on cocktails (the man has a James Beard Award for Chrissake). Now a liquor consultant (awesome job!) and the founding president of The Museum of the American Cocktail (awesome museum!), DeGroff has juuuust enough time on his hands to give us his take on NYC’s cocktail scene, including where to go and what to get. (And if anyone wants to turn this into a crawl, feel free!)
The Dead Rabbit: "This is my go-to spot -- they’re the whole package, and they created a new era of cocktails. I call it the '100-year saloon', because it will always be there."
Go-to move: "If I’m on the first floor, I order a Midleton straight with a Guinness back. If I’m upstairs in the parlor, I just have an Irish whiskey."
Hudson Malone: "This is my favorite NYC saloon, since it’s very hospitality driven. It looks like it's been open for 50 years, even though it has only been around for a few months."
Go-to move: "A Manhattan with Bulleit Rye."
Pegu Club: "These are the best drinks in town, bar none. Audrey Saunders is a great bartender. If Audrey created it, I’m there."
Go-to move: "The Old Cuban (rum with lime juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, mint leaves, and Champagne)."
Death & Company: "All of the bartenders here have a wonderful attitude. They do unique versions of strong, stirred cocktails by taking classics and plugging in new ingredients, kind of like a Mr. Potato Head."
Go-to move: "The cocktail list is mammoth, so I just tell the bartender a spirit and let him or her take care of it. That’s the way to go."
Fort Defiance: "They have a brilliant selection of whiskeys here."
Go-to move: "An Old Fashioned."
Clover Club: "The best bartenders in town work here. Everything is impeccable, and they’re open to experimentation. These people are serious about their craft and approach it like a five-star chef."
Go-to move: "The Clover Club (gin with dry vermouth, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and egg whites)."
Bemelmans Bar (inside The Carlyle): "I trained the bartenders here years ago when I used to work for Rosewood Hotels. The piano player, Chris Gillespie, is spectacular and a fixture there. I also like the elegance of the space."
Go-to move: "Any of the classic cocktails on the list are spectacular, but I really like the Whiskey Smash."
The Dead Rabbit is a cocktail sanctum, taproom, small-plates resto, and "grocery." This Irish-American-inspired duplex in the Financial District -- boasting vintage saloon-like vibes and decor -- will make you feel as if you've traveled back in time. The taproom, which is located on the ground floor, is a traditional Anglo-Hibernian pub, where you can order craft beers, bottled punch, and a variety of whiskeys. If you walk upstairs you'll find the parlor, with an ambiance equally as charming as the pub, but with a heavier focus on communal punch and cocktails. The small "grocery" is actually a corner in the taproom, where they sell an assortment of dry goods, but most notably Irish and British imports that are otherwise hard to find.
Former PJ Clarker's bartender Doug Quinn brings you this classic NY drinkery in Midtown East. This saloon-like spot serves up classic cocktails (Manhattans and Martinis) and comfort food, like their organic grass-fed burgers. The 60s' throwback interior is perfectly Mad Men-esque while still feeling modern and cool.
Death & Co. is a high-end, dimly lit sanctuary for both the casual AND professional mixologist/cocktail enthusiast. Responsible for launching the careers of many of New York's most prominent bartenders, this speakeasy has produced a 500-recipe cocktail book and enough top-notch drinks to keep both locals and newcomers ready for the wait, and insatiably eager for another visit. Martinis are served in 5oz glasses with the remainder in an iced carafe, and Old Fashioneds are reinvented with reposado tequila, mezcal, and a flaming orange. While the decor is certainly reminiscent of Prohibition-era times, the drinks remain cutting-edge.
With a 13-star flag hanging in front, Red Hook's Fort Defiance nods to American history in more ways than one. The menu is rooted in American cookbook classics but sprinkled with European flavors: deviled eggs are topped with fried capers and roasted chicken is served with creamy polenta and braised Tuscan kale. Regular specials like burger nights, oyster happy hours, and the weekly Sunken Harbor Club, a celebration of Tiki food and drink, keep this neighborhood spot lively. That said, you can always count on weekend brunch.
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.
If it weren’t for all the alcohol, you could mistake Bemelmans for the world’s most lavish nursery. That’s because the walls and lampshades are covered with whimsical illustrations from Ludwig Bemelmans, the man behind Madeline. But don’t come here with your kids on a Sunday afternoon; instead, come on Friday, and grab a table on the floor or, if you can, a spot in one of the rich chocolate-brown banquets around the perimeter of the room and listen to live jazz and piano in the evenings. There’s a cover charge past 9pm on Sunday and Monday and 9:30pm Tuesday-Saturday, so be sure to get there early for a first-come-first-serve spot. The menu is all class, from fine wines to cocktails like the pisco sour and top-notch martinis. While you sip, tilt your head back to catch a glimpse of the 24-karat gold leaf-covered ceiling.
Cocktail connoisseurs flock to Pegu Club, a chic, shadowy barroom hidden off West Houston Street. Named after the eponymous gin drink favored by British expats in Burma during the 19th century and later perfected by master mixologist Harry Craddock, Pegu offers quaffable, gin-based creations, satisfying the palates of discerning drinkers and novice patrons alike.