The NYC Cocktail Bucket List: 21 Drinks to Try Before You Die
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.
Benton’s old fashioned
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.
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.
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.
Flor de Jerez
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.
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.
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.
Gin & juice
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.
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.
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.
Maison Absinthe Colada
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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