2015 was a damn good year to be drinking in New York. For one, there were lots and lots of tropical drinks, and I challenge you to find me a man, woman, or child who can say anything bad about a tropical drink. (Except maybe the child, but one day they’ll know, too. Oh, they’ll know.) For two, on top of making insanely good drinks, 2015’s best new bars were also churning out some seriously good food, because your days of chugging PBRs on an empty stomach are long gone, my friend (maybe?).
From a Japanese-inspired cocktail joint with kimonos on the walls to the quintessential neighborhood spot with seafood towers, these are the best bars that opened in New York City this year.
The brainchild of supergirl bartenders Ivy Mix and Julie Reiner (of Clover Club), Leyenda is a Latin-inspired bar that’s singing the praises of mezcal, rum, and tequila, and offering a number of quality cocktails, like the upgraded mai tai (aptly named the Tia Mia) with mezcal, Jamaican rum, curacao, lime, and orgeat. But just because it’s got one of the best bartenders in the country doling out great drinks doesn’t mean the food is to be passed over here; must-try Mexican/Latin dishes include goat and chicken tacos, ceviche, and papas rellenas.
Casual, homey, and cool without trying to be, this New Orleans-themed bar on Wythe and Berry is Williamsburg's best new bar, adorned with lots of wood and exposed brick, a stand-up piano, and many, many pretty people. Grab a draft cocktail, like the Loosie’s Cup (a revamp of the Pimm’s Cup), and after you’ve hung out for a bit, head next door to sister restaurant Loosie’s Kitchen, which has been doing a number of great pop-ups recently, as well as a holiday market.
The guy behind The Commodore’s new Bushwick Tex-Mex/Tiki spot has effectively defied our preconceived notions of New York Tex-Mex (i.e., that it’s pretty bad), with some really great, heavily stuffed tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and nachos (plus a solid burger). And then there’s the Tiki drinks, which just about every new bar seemed to be doing this summer, but El Cortez continues to do the best. The bi-space spot is lined with banana leaf-wallpaper and an Aztec pyramid mural, as well as leather chairs and bar stools, and the crazy exterior features a huge totem pole and an orange sun -- which is all to say, it feels far more like LA than Bushwick.
Over the summer, the guys behind the always-great Wayland opened another totally unpretentious, high-quality cocktail bar in the old Simone Martini Bar location. This time around, there’s exposed brick, tile floors, a reclaimed wood bar, and old family photos adorning the walls to supply you with all of the homey feelings. But most importantly, there are great seasonal cocktails, like the Mayflower Sour with bourbon, butternut squash, lemon, and egg whites), plus oysters, and a very impressive fish sandwich (with pastrami spices!).
This sexy UES bar is a collab between the people from The Gilroy, Ducks Eatery, and former Dead Rabbit bartender Pamela Wiznitzer. The decor more than fits the name, with red banquettes, sewing machines, and an actual leather goods shop on site. There's also an impressive list of 50 “American classic” cocktails, plus some great originals like the Goodnight Stella with gin, Quintinye Extra-Dry, Gran Classico, and rosemary smoke, as well as one of the best new burgers of 2015 (made with mutton!!).
From Mile End’s Noah Bernamoff, Grand Army is the neighborhood bar of your dreams (assuming you dream of neighborhood bars, which you totally do). It’s got a no-frills interior, superb drinks from bar man Damon Boelte (get the Quartz Mountain with gin, amaro, and brandy), and it’s not messing around with food, either -- the menu is seafood-heavy, including towers, smoked octopus, and deviled eggs with peekytoe crab.
Jane Danger and Ravi DeRossi’s "post-modern Polynesian" joint in the old Gin Palace space is a sight to be seen, with blaring all-white everything (white curtains, white bamboo floors, and white accents just about everywhere else). Plus, there’s a strong Tiki program that includes what is quite possibly the year’s craziest-looking drink: the Shark Eye -- a shark head-shaped glass with bourbon, curacao, passion fruit, lemon, and maraschino (which serves as the “blood”).
Matthew Piacentini's (formerly of beloved bar The Beagle) dark, wallpapered craft cocktail den is the cool first date spot you’ll want to save for that really special Tinderella. Vintage ads and brown leather banquettes line the walls, and classic cocktails are served in flask-like bottles (or you can opt for an original cocktail, sans-bottle, like the wonderfully named One-Star Yelp Review with vodka, amaro, and grapefruit & lemon juice.)
The Lower East Side isn’t exactly known for being a hotbed of upscale drinkeries, so Pegu Club’s Kenta Goto's first solo mission was a pleasant surprise this year. The Angel’s Share-esque Japanese-inspired cocktail bar features walls adorned with Goto’s grandmother’s repurposed kimonos, and drinks include matcha punch and the Tom Collins-like Yuzu Calpico Fizz. The miso wings are also not to be missed.
Hidden down below the equally great Happiest Hour, Slowly Shirley's a sexy throwback to Old Hollywood, with red leather banquettes, jazz music, and classic cocktails (as well as a number of great signatures, like the Plum Tuckered with gin, whiskey, and plum sake). Also, yes, you can order the burger down there.
Named after the river in Ireland where one of the owner’s husbands grew up fishing, because it’s just that cute, the Camlin is the city’s best new wine bar, with a solid brunch featuring one of the greatest new Bloody Marys in the city. The wine list is obviously impressive (over 100 bottles!), but there’s also a number of great beers and classic cocktails. If you’re headed here at night, grab a glass and some cheese and charcuterie (and maybe some oysters, too).
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Lucy Meilus is Thrillist’s New York Editor and would like to title her memoir One-Star Yelp Review. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
1. Leyenda 221 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (Carroll Gardens)
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.
This midcentury-styled bar is New Orleans themed with a casual and homey yet very cool vibe. There's a stand-up piano, plenty of pretty people and lots of wood and exposed brick. Stop by for cocktails on tap and eventually venture next door to their sister restaurant, Loosie's Kitchen.
The Wayland team is behind this homey cocktail/seafood bar in the East Village, filled with lots of exposed brick and charming family photos. The cocktails are seasonal and highly experimental while still affordable, and there are nightly deals to indulge in while saddled up to the reclaimed wood bar sourced from one of the founder's ancestral homes in Connecticut.
Created by the team behind nearby bar The Girloy (Josh Mazza and Steve Laycock), Pamela Wiznitzer of the Dead Rabbit, and Will Horowitz of Ducks Eatery, Seamstress focuses on All-American food and drink, including a bar menu split into six distinct sections -- fresh, spirit forward, low proof, elaborate, nonalcoholic (?), and large format (!) -- as well as a section on the back dedicated to 50 cocktail classics from the 50 states. Food is pub-grub taken to the next level, so a smoked mutton burger with triple cream cheese on brioche, and a braised pork shank with dry tomato, fermented black bean, and spruce.
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.
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.
This sexy, wallpapered spot in Greenwich Village is cranking out well-made tipples (the best of which is the Foster Avenue with Glenmorangie Scotch, Perucchi vermouth, pear eau de vie, honeydew melon, orange bitters). If you're going with a group, get one of the jacked-up bottles of Messier Manhattans. If you're not... probably still get one of those. Snacks like pork rillettes with chimichurri aioli ensure you won’t be leaving any time soon.
9. 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.
Hidden below the equally-as-great Happiest Hour, Slowly Shirley is a sexy throwback to Old Hollywood, with red leather banquettes, jazz music, and both classic & signature cocktails. After enjoying one of the city's best burgers from the lounge upstairs (a serious In-N-Out contemporary), we recommend ordering the Plum Tuckered (crafted with gin, whiskey, and plum sake).
Named after the river in Ireland where one of the owner’s husbands grew up fishing, this sleek Kent Ave spot is perfect for when you're not sure what exactly you want to drink (or eat). There's an impressive selection of 100+ bottles from all over the globe to choose from, plus a number of great by-the-glass options, and the menu offers plenty of small, interesting bites (there are lots cheese and charcuterie options, and oysters are just $1 all day every day). The Camlin also does brunch, serving up the classics like eggs Benedict and some of the city's best Bloody Marys.