Food & Drink

The NYC Cocktail Bucket List: 22 Drinks to Try Before You Die

Published On 01/18/2016 Published On 01/18/2016
Penicillin cocktail from Attaboy | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

New York has no shortage of good drinks. But some drinks are so special -- memorable, symbolic, or simply delicious -- that they’re beyond good. They’re “bucket list” drinks: the ones you absolutely have to try before you die (or otherwise leave NYC). From the original Bloody Mary, to the Gin-Gin Mule, to the best damn Irish coffee you'll ever have, these are the city’s 22 most iconic drinks. Get out there and try them all.

Flickr/mobilhomme

Benton’s old fashioned

PDT

Address and Info

East Village

Made with bourbon infused with Benton’s bacon, plus maple syrup and Angostura bitters, this drink re-introduced the concept of “fat-washing” to bars everywhere. It’s an iconic drink served at an iconic bar, complete with a secret entrance through a faux phone booth within Crif Dogs.

Emily Baltz

Billionaire Cocktail

Employees Only

Address and Info

West Village

This bourbon cocktail, made with lemon, EO’s own grenadine, and Angostura bitters, is well worth seeking out at this now decade-old industry bar featured in the documentary Hey Bartender. But the true bucket list drink? Chicken soup, traditionally served at last call.

Flickr/bionicgrrl

Clover Club

The Clover Club

Address and Info

Cobble Hill

The frothy drink is a classic, made with gin, raspberry syrup, and egg whites. And it feels right to sip it in the bar named after the drink, which played an important role in revitalizing Brooklyn’s now-hopping cocktail scene. It’s an ideal eye-opener at Clover Club’s weekend boozy brunch.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Flor de Jerez

Death & Co.

Address and Info

East Village

This bar, responsible for launching the careers of dozens of now-well-known bartenders, is also New York’s cradle of neo-speakeasy chic. And this well-balanced drink, which mingles dry, nutty sherry with Jamaican rum and rich apricot liqueur, is the type of sophisticated drink that made us fall in love with cocktail culture.

Steve Freihon

Garibaldi

Caffe Dante

Address and Info

Greenwich Village

You’ll want to visit this bar because it’s located within a 100-year-old space, renovated with a light touch while keeping the bones intact. Here, the ideal aperitif is Naren Young’s Garibaldi, a refreshing mix of bitter-edged Campari and freshly squeezed, “fluffy” orange juice.

The Long Island Bar

Cosmopolitan

The Long Island Bar

Address and Info

Cobble Hill

Proprietor Toby Cecchini is credited as a creator of the pink drink popularized by Sex and the City (at The Odeon in the ‘80s). Here’s how to proceed: first, settle in at the painstakingly restored Art Deco bar and order a round or two from the menu -- try a gimlet or a classic Boulevardier to start. Then, and only then, should you order a Cosmo, which is likely to come accompanied by a few choice expletives. Consider it part of the show.

William Hereford

Gin & juice

Booker & Dax

Address and Info

East Village

Because molecular mixology. This may be one of the most dramatic drinks to order anywhere: bartenders swirl liquid nitrogen in a Champagne flute, and you can watch the smoky plumes evaporate as the glass insta-chills. The glass is then filled with a mix of gin and clarified grapefruit juice. Runner up: anything made by dunking red-hot “pokers” into the cup.

Flickr/edsel_

Gin-Gin Mule

Pegu Club

Address and Info

SoHo

Under the auspices of proprietor Audrey Saunders, this bar, named for a storied, late-19th century British officers club in Burma, is noted for helping re-popularize gin and bringing forth cocktails such as the Gin-Gin Mule -- a fizzy, refreshing drink with gin and ginger beer.

Andrew Kist

Irish coffee

The Dead Rabbit

Address and Info

Financial District

It’s only fitting that a bar run by two Irishmen (Jack McGarry, Sean Muldoon) would perfect the warming Irish coffee. Their velvety version is made with Irish whiskey (natch), demerara syrup, French press-brewed coffee, and freshly whipped cream, plus a sprinkling of fresh nutmeg.

Nicole Franzen

Maison Absinthe Colada

Maison Premiere

Address and Info

Williamsburg

Here, absinthe cocktails + oysters = heaven, especially if you get to consume both while seated in the garden out back, beneath a string of globe lights, while being serenaded by the strains of jazz.

Courtesy of Keen's Steakhouse

Manhattan

Keens Steakhouse

Address and Info

Midtown

Since 1885, Keen’s has been a go-to for NYC carnivores. It doesn’t get much more old-school than this: order a steak (or burger) and a rye Manhattan, just like the Mad Men set would have done. Bonus points if you’re on someone else’s expense account.

Courtesy of 21 Club

Martini

21 Club

Address and Info

Midtown

A classic joint -- like the ‘21’ Club, which started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy -- calls for a crisp, classic drink. However you take your martini -- gin, vodka, olives, lemon twist -- know that it’s been the drink of choice here among celebrities and captains of industry for decades. Dress to the nines when you go; jeans are frowned upon.

Courtesy of Frances F. Denny/NoMad Bar

Cocktail Explosion

The NoMad Bar

Address and Info

NoMad

Bring friends if you’re planning to order one of these splashy large-format drinks, which serves six-to-eight revelers and arrives in an enormous, vase-like crystal decanter with a spigot and garnishes piled high. Yes, everyone in the room is looking at you, rock star.

Francesco Tonelli

Milk punch

Betony

Address and Info

Midtown

This crystal-clear milk punch is a clarified mix of milk, tea, citrus, and alcohol, such as rum or bourbon. It helped set a trend for clarified milk punches across the country, but many swear Betony’s version is the most complex and delicious of the lot.

Courtesy of Mayahuel

Oaxaca old fashioned

Mayahuel

Address and Info

East Village

This temple to agave spirits, helmed by the famously curmudgeonly Phil Ward since 2009, is the reason you can now find mezcal and wider varieties of tequila at bars everywhere. Pay homage with this Mexican riff on the old fashioned, made with reposado tequila, mezcal, agave nectar, and chocolate-spice mole bitters.

GENUINE Liquorette

Paloma

Genuine Liquorette

Address and Info

Little Italy

“Mexican bulldog”-style drinks are the thing here -- basically, mini bottles of booze up-ended into cans of juice or soda. Barkeep Eben Freeman created a device called the “cha-chunker” to widen the openings in cans like San Pellegrino Pompelmo, then empties a mini of Patrón or Avion tequila into it for an unusual riff on the classic Paloma.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Penicillin

Attaboy

Address and Info

Lower East Side

This smoky-sweet new-classic cocktail was created by bartender Sam Ross at Milk & Honey in 2005. When that bar closed, Attaboy opened in the same space; Ross is still there, mixing up this elixir of whiskey, honey-ginger syrup, and fresh lemon, topped with a floater of peaty Islay Scotch.

The St. Regis New York

Red Snapper

The King Cole Bar, St. Regis hotel

Address and Info

Midtown

French bartender Pete Petiot supposedly created and popularized the Bloody Mary here, renamed The Red Snapper since the “bloody” name was considered too gruesome for high society clientele. Ask the bartender for the ribald story about the massive Maxfield Parrish mural that hangs over the bar.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Sakura martini

Bar Goto

Address and Info

Lower East Side

Run by Pegu Club alum Kenta Goto, this sleek, wood-paneled bar embodies the best of Japanese bar culture: solicitous hospitality, great bar snacks like okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake), and perfectly calibrated drinks like this crisp sake-based beauty, garnished with a single cherry blossom.

Drew Swantak/Thrillist

Sharpie Mustache

Amor y Amargo

Address and Info

East Village

Served in an adorable little flask with a mustache sticker, this brown, boozy, bitter whiskey sipper is an ideal way to start or end a night of bar-hopping mischief. Ask bitters expert Sother Teague about any of the multitude of bottles lining the wall; he knows the story behind every bottle of bitter.

Robert Malmberg

Slushies

Mother’s Ruin

Address and Info

Nolita

Especially during the warmer months, stop by and try one of the ever-revolving varieties of cocktail slushies. Past offerings have included peanut butter & jelly with rye whiskey, dragonfruit, bourbon chocolate milk, and cucumber & honeydew. They try not to repeat flavors, so you never know what inspired craziness awaits. The team’s newer spot, Lorenzo’s in Bushwick, has an even wider variety of slushies on offer.

Vicky Wasik

White Zombie

Fort Defiance

Address and Info

Red Hook

The last Thursday of every month, this Brooklyn bar hosts one of the best and most elaborate Tiki nights in town. Turn out for a White Zombie (rum, pisco, Navy strength gin, velvet falernum, lime) or other rum-soaked delights beneath the Tiki torches.

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Kara Newman is a New York-based spirits and cocktail writer. She last wrote for Thrillist about NYC's Tiki scene. Follow her on Twitter: @karanewman

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1. PDT 113 St. Marks, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

Formerly one of New York City's best-kept secrets, this hidden speakeasy has become world famous thanks to its meticulously crafted cocktails and balance between swank and back-of-a-hotdog-joint status. Enter through a phone booth in Crif Dogs and get transported to a sexy hideaway where you can post up with inventive takes on Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs alongside waffle fries nestled in foil. Although the name insists you "Please Don't Tell," the secret's clearly out so it's best to make reservations; call to snag a spot when the lines open at 3 PM daily.

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2. Employees Only 510 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

This dimly lit industry bar/restaurant/lounge is tucked away from the busy streets of the West Village but inside, there's a bustling social scene and warm, welcoming ambiance. EO’s mixologists are constantly creating new and serving old-time, all-time favorite cocktails. Try the Billionaire Cocktail -- a bourbon drink made with lemon, EO’s own grenadine, and Angostura bitters. You’ll feel right at home with a staff that acts like a family, bonded by a shared love of EO (and they’ve all got the “EO” tattoos to prove it). Be sure to chat up the head bartender, who was a subject in the documentary Hey Bartender.

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3. Clover Club 210 Smith St, New York, NY 11201

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.

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4. Death & Company 433 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

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.

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5. Dante 79-81 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012 (Greenwich Village)

History is reborn at the West Village’s Dante, a restaurant and bar concept operating out of the same space as a century-old shop previously known as Caffe Dante. At the bar, an emphasis on negronis reads loud and clear: twelve varieties are served, including one traditional on tap (if you order it by the pitcher, the waiter will squirt some right into your mouth from the narrow spout), an “Unlikely Negroni” (with campari, pineapple shrub, banana, chili and sesame) and a “coffee swizzle” take (mezcal, sweet Noilly Prat Ambré vermouth, bitters and cold brew). Classic Italian dishes are elegantly plated, with a soft ball of burrata served with a skinned tomato drizzled in oil; sliced figs blanketed in prosciutto and honey on a chipped slate slab; and bloody steak filet served sliced and wet with mushroom-butter atop charred, slender broccolini. Much of the interior remains intact, just with a fresh white sheen on the walls and polished subway tiles lining the bar.

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6. The Long Island Bar 110 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (Cobble Hill)

When Long Island Bar, a favorite Cobble Hill diner, shut down in 2007 after 56 years in business, it looked like it was going to be another casualty of an ever-evolving New York. But after a seven-year hiatus, it was reopened by Toby Cecchini, the infamous bartender who invented the Cosmopolitan. The reimagined Atlantic Ave bar keeps the mid-century American diner feel but adds modern touches with its food and drink. The nostalgic menu features modest tweaks on diner favorites, like a reuben sandwich with smoked beet sauerkraut, and a double-patty burger topped with house-made American cheese, super-sour pickles, and the house "Fancy Sauce." The cocktails, executed by Cecchini, are straightforward and top-notch: the Long Island Gimlet (gin, lime-ginger Cordial, fresh lime) and the Boulevardier (like a negroni, but with whiskey instead of gin) are especially notable.

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7. Booker and Dax 207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

Hailing from the same culinary genius that begot New York City's most renowned bowl of ramen, Booker and Dax serves classed-up cocktails with innovative twists. Look for this creative spirit in the simplest of cocktails, like the Banana Justino, which is prepared via a centrifugal spinning process that separates the flavors from the solids that deliver them. The just-large-enough space keeps party groups at bay, so you can properly focus on your milk-washed tea vodka and all its complex, lemon-ey goodness.

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8. Pegu Club 77 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012 (Soho)

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.

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9. The Dead Rabbit 30 Water St, New York, NY 10004 (Financial District)

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.

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10. Maison Premiere 298 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

This cosmopolitan city-inspired oyster bar and cocktail den is a classy Williamsburg spot where you can enjoy a stocked raw bar, and lounge outdoors on its greenery-filled patio. We suggest bringing a first date here, as the swank and intimate atmosphere & delicious menu will be sure to wow them.

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11. Keens Steakhouse 72 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018 (Midtown West)

Keens was the gentlemen-only meeting place for all sorts of playwrights, publishers, producers, and newsmen of the Herald Square Theatre District back in the day... which was 1885, by the way. Today, the legendary steakhouse maintains its reputation and continues to deliver quality eats in an old-timey atmosphere, and women are now allowed in (!!). Wondering what to order? Try the mutton chops, word is you won't regret it.

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12. 21 Club 21 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019 (Midtown)

Since 1930, The 21 Club has attracted celebrities and A-list clientele to its sophisticated dining room right by the Theatre District. It's also one of America's most famous speakeasies from the Prohibition era, with a disappearing bar and secret wine cellar that's now home to an award-winning wine selection.

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13. The NoMad 1170 Broadway, New York, NY 10001 (Nomad)

Housed in a historic arts building, The NoMad hotel is a stylish, Parisian-inspired luxury hotel with hardwood floors and handmade rugs. Inside the hotel is a bi-level library, an opulent lounge with a mahogany bar, and an upscale restaurant. Around the corner from the hotel is the much-lauded NoMad Bar (10 W 28th St), serving refined cocktails and upscale pub fare in a hip, lively space.

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14. Betony 41 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019 (Midtown West)

Betony is a new-American, chic grubspot that's doling out fresh and innovative eats in a 35-seat bar and lounge, and 85-seat dining room.

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15. Mayahuel 304 E 6th St, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

From the guys behind Death & Co comes this tequila temple that continues their run of success in the booze department. In a lounge that is dark and sexy, they're serving a host of mezcals, reposados, and sotols that come primarily from indie distilleries. If you're there to eat, too, you'll be pleasantly surprised by their small-plate offerings, which include croquetas, black bean soup, and sushi grade tuna ceviche.

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16. Genuine Liquorette 191 Grand St, New York, NY 10013 (Lower East Side)

From the folks who brought you Superette and Roadside, Genuine Liquorette continues the trend of transplanting fun, fresh California inspired fare to the Lower East Side. What results is a love letter to LA dive bars, but with a twist (no pun intended)-- unlike your favorite hole in the wall, Liquorette's got a lot more than PBR and Jack on tap. They serve up over 750 different bottles (!!!). We'll cheers to that.

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17. Attaboy 134 Eldridge St, New York City, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

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.

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18. King Cole Bar & Salon 2 E 55th St, New York, NY 10022 (Midtown West)

Tucked away in the St. Regis hotel, The King Cole Bar is full of warm décor and expertly mixed drinks.

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19. Bar Goto 245 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

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.

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20. Amor y Amargo 443 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

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!).

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21. Mother's Ruin 18 Spring St, New York, NY 10012 (Nolita)

Mother's Ruin offers a variety of inventive, ever-revolving cocktail slushies (especially during the warmer months). Past creations have included peanut butter and jelly with rye whiskey, dragonfruit, bourbon chocolate milk, and cucumber and honeydew. This comfortable, neighborhood bar/lounge also offers a number of standard libations, which must be paired with the Old Bay-seasoned waffle fries.

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22. Fort Defiance 365 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

A thirteen-star American flag hangs outside of Fort Defiance, a nod to the Revolutionary War landmark of the same name and the elevated American fare you can expect at this quaint neighborhood cafe and restaurant: deviled eggs are topped with fried capers, country-style liver pate is served with bacon-onion jam and grilled skirt steak gets a side of rainbow shard and roasted potatoes. But don’t get too comfortable with the familiar ambiance: Every Thurs the bar menu and aesthetics are transformed by The Sunken Harbor Club, a celebration of Polynesian food and drink that looks and feels like a tiki whirlwind (toothpick umbrellas and all).

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