Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring-Forward Cocktails (Part I)

As the warmer weather arrives, all the red wine and hot punch from the winter months becomes less desirable. The thought of warming my hands over a mug of mulled cider, as I so often did this winter, no longer seems appealing; with spring, thoughts of fresh herbs, flower blossoms, fizzes and flips take center stage! Ice cold drinks start to feel good again, as does tippling in back gardens and at sidewalk cafés. Daylight Savings time also means that we can once again start Happy Hour before the sun sets, an event that never fails to cheer me up.

Mr. Mix and I have sampled many of the city’s best cocktails over the better part of the last year, and given his connoisseurship, I’m pretty confident in our choices for the Top 20 Spring-Forward Cocktail Bars in NYC. Of course, these bars offer New York’s best cocktails in any season (and some have some pretty good grub on hand too), but the offerings we’ve highlighted remind me most of spring–light, flowery, and often effervescent. Many use citrus and other fresh fruit; some also incorporate herbs or herbal infusions, but all are best savored after a long day in the sunshine.

A few Sundays ago, Mr. Mix and I tried our hand at replicating some of luscious libations from the list below. We invited over our best friends to taste test what NYC bartenders are mixing up for spring. You can sample any of these drinks next time you’re painting this craft cocktail town red, or should you prefer to shake things up from behind your home bar, I’ve also included a couple signature cocktail recipes perfect for ushering in the warmer weather. Rest assured each libation has Mr. Mixologist’s stamp of approval, so feel free to Drink it Up!

Top 20 Spring-Forward Cocktail Bars in NYC

1. 67 Orange
This uptown bar is starting a new Harlem Renaissance–in cocktails, that is. 67 Orange has been gathering buzz for a couple of years now with its innovative drinks and speakeasy vibe (its name is taken from the address of the historical speakeasy Almack’s, one of the first black-owned bars in the city). My favorite spring-inspired drinks at 67 Orange feature herbal ingredients, like the Sir Basil (homemade basil-infused rum, sour sop syrup, dry vermouth, and fresh lemon juice). When remixing this at home, we found the drink to be really light and refreshing. Sour sop can be hard to find, but try a Latino grocery (we found it at a C Town in Billyburg!). Also pitch-perfect on the 67 Orange menu is the Madame Almack’s: bison grass vodka, cynar artichoke aperitif, mint, and champagne. Grass, artichoke, mint, basil – four flavors that sing “spring” to me.

67 Orange: 2082 8th Avenue (near 113th Street), Manhattan

2. Amor Y Amargo
This teeny tiny bar is both the newest and likely the most experimental on my cocktail list. Now fronting Cienfuegos, the rum “social club” upstairs from what was formerly the Cuban sandwich joint Carteles, this friendly, eight-seat bar and general store focuses on exotic bitters and homemade sweet vermouth, the latter on tap. You can also buy small-batch Bittermens bitters or take cocktail classes in the space, but I’m more interested in settling in for one of their springlike “fizzy drinks”, like the Orchard Street Cel’ry Soda (Applejack, Genever, club soda, Bittermens Orchard St. Celery Shrub and Bittermens Peppercake Bitters) or the Françause Four-Play (Bonal Quinquina, Yellow Chartreuse, Cognac, Lillet Blanc, club soda, Bittermens Hellsfire Shrub and a twist of lemon).

Amor Y Amargo: 95 Avenue A (near East 6th Street), Manhattan

3. Angel’s Share
My favorite speakeasy is actually Japanese. Hidden upstairs from Village Yokocho in the East Village, Angel’s Share (the name refers to the liquid that disappears from a barrel of wine or spirits during the aging process) is genteel and adult. Angel’s Share has a no-standing, no parties over four policy that makes it an ideal place to get to know a date (that is, if you actually want to speak to them). Their cocktail book is thick, but they always have a range of seasonal cocktails to make the most of fresh ingredients and changing temperatures. But despite its Japanese origins, my favorite drinks here are actually Southern-inspired. Though it’s not on their menu, Angel’s Share has made me a divine mint julep, with sugar cane reduction, Bourbon, and fresh mint. A perennial springtime libation, we hunted down sugar cane reduction to try this version at home, but it was essentially the same as simple syrup…no need to get sugar cane! Then there’s the Tennessee Waltz, which features Jack Daniels with roasted thyme, strawberry, Cassis, and cranberry juice. Neither would be out of place at the Kentucky Derby.

Angel’s Share: 8 Stuyvesant Street (near 3rd Avenue), Manhattan

4. Apotheke
Apotheke has made its name by combining the arts of cocktail-mixing and herbal medicine. The idea of curative cocktails may seem like a stretch at first, but the fact of the matter is that several of the drinks we take for granted today–Coca Cola, bitters–began as restorative drinks. Though Apotheke can’t and does not claim that their drinks have healing properties (several bars in other states had to change their name after they ran too close to the protected word, “apothecary”), they certainly do make me feel better. For spring, I adore their Hemingway Special (dark rum, house elixir #5, Israeli mint, and house-pressed sugar cane juice), and their Bell Pepper Martini, which contains muddled dill, fennel oil, peppercorns, and a chipotle salt rim (and a slice of floating bell pepper). One takes me away to the Caribbean; the other takes me away to my dream springtime garden somewhere in Northern California.

Apotheke: 9 Doyers Street, Manhattan

5. Cienfuegos
Upstairs from Amor y Amargo, this second-floor retreat is as romantic as a date in Havana with Sky Masterson (circa 1950). Though it’s known for its rum drinks, I am partial to gin in the spring, as I find its bracing, herbal flavor a perfect match with the season’s smells and tastes. Anyone who’s as into gin as I am will know that gin does not come in just one size–all throughout this list you’ll find flavors as diverse as Genever (the original Dutch gin) and the traditional Plymouth, used in Cienfuegos’ Viola Royal (Mount Gay Special Reserve, Plymouth Gin, Creme de Violette, lemon, maraschino, and Cava). Then there’s the Prince Punch (Aviation Gin, Lemon, Campari, concord grapes, egg white, and Cava ), whose Aviation Gin is of the “new western dry gins” now becoming more popular here in the US. The Viola Royal was a favorite of the night when we recreated it at home: beautiful, dusty lavender color, floral and effervescent. We added a real Luxardo (think high end maraschino) cherry, which looked and tasted great at the bottom of the glass, and chose Denizen over Mt. Gay, which Mr. Mix thinks is the best white rum on the market for just $15 a bottle! Either is the perfect prelude to a summer meal.

Cienfuegos: 95 Avenue A (near East 6th Street), Manhattan

6. Clover Club
Though it’s been open less than three years, Clover Club has already become a standby for classic cocktails in south Brooklyn. Their marble-topped tables are always full on weekend nights, but during the week it’s one of the quieter places to catch a happy hour drink (and a scrumptious deviled egg or homemade, duck fat-fried potato crisps). But we’re focusing on the cocktails in this case, and with Clover Club, it’s all about the strawberries: the Rope & Rose (strawberry and pineapple infused Pisco, lime and elderflower liqueur), and the Strawberry Blond (white rum, lemon juice, strawberry, grenadine, simple syrup, egg white, cracked black pepper, and club soda). One is sweet and tart, the other is effervescent, just the way I like my spring cocktails.

Clover Club: 210 Smith Street (between Baltic and Butler Streets), Brooklyn

7. Death & Co.
If you’re really picky about your cocktails, Death & Co. is the place to go. Possibly the most serious cocktail bar in the city, D&C is also one of the most pleasant (when you can get in), and the discriminating Mr. Mix and I have had many before, and after-dinner drinks, on their stools. They’ll make you nearly anything off-menu that you can ask for, but it would be a shame to miss some of their own original creations, like the Nordic-inspired Slap n’Pickle (Krogstad Aquavit, muddled cucumber, fresh squeezed lime juice, housemade grenadine, and cucumber wedge, or the Pearls before Swine (Martin Miller’s Westbourne strength gin, fresh squeezed lemon juice, orgeat, Greek yogurt, lemon curd, and rose water). The Slap n’Pickle is a delicacy of a delicatessen, but not a fan favorite at our Sunday taste test…the Aquavit had a caraway and anise flavor that’s not for everyone. I liked the savory quality of this cocktail and think it would be perfect served with smoked salmon, better yet, gravlax! Both plot more to the bracing-and-herbal end of my spring cocktail spectrum than the sweet-and-fruity, making them excellent aperitifs before a dinner at, say, Prune down the street.

Death & Co.: 433 East 6th Street (near Avenue A), Manhattan

8. Dram
Dating Mr. Mix has meant a lot more trips across the East River for this downtown girl, and a lot more time exploring the edibles and drinkables of Williamsburg. Dram, opened in south Williamsburg just over a year ago, has quickly become one of the most-lauded cocktail bars in the city. Along with their eclectic menu, they offer a Bartender’s Choice for the indecisive (choose your spirit, choose your style, and let your bartender do the rest). My favorites here hew toward the tiki (Behind God’s Back: Chairman’s Reserve rum, fresh pineapple, lime, orgeat, cane syrup, and bitters float) and the new sherry cocktail craze (Sherry Cobbler: sherry, simple syrup, and orange slices). Whatever your mood, there’s something unique and refreshing available to satisfy it–on or off the menu.

Dram: 177 South 4th Street (between Driggs Avenue and Roebling Street), Brooklyn

9. Dutch Kills
No offense meant to the queenliest of boroughs, but it takes more than an average cocktail to get me out of my comfort zone. Of course, since Dutch Kills is owned by Sasha Petraske, it’s no surprise that the drinks are swell (and the prices lower than at Milk & Honey). When a more low-key vibe is called for, even I will head to Long Island City, where a handful of new ventures are turning this formerly-industrial area into a hotspot for drinks and dining. After dinner at M. Wells, a Steinway Punch at Dutch Kills (rye, lemon, Curaçao, and soda water), is a divine nightcap, as is an Avenue (Bullet Bourbon, Calvados, passion fruit juice, grenadine, orange flower water), ordered off-menu. This cocktail is the most SPRING-forward of the bunch, very floral and fruity, sweet but strong, and the passion fruit lends a tart tang. The Avenue was originally printed in 1937 in the Café Royale cocktail book (a true classic of the post-prohibition era), making it even more exotic. Yes, Dutch Kills is hard to find (their minimalist website contains nothing but an address and ten sets of directions), but the warm weather is a perfect excuse to explore.

Dutch Kills: 27-24 Jackson Avenue (near Dutchkills Street), Queens

10. Dutch Boy Burger/Franklin Park
Though technically not a cocktail, nor served at a cocktail bar, the spiked milkshakes at Dutch Boy Burger (via Franklin Park) in Crown Heights are too good to leave off this list. On the first truly warm day this spring, I’ll be heading over to this burgeoning area of Brooklyn for a fat Dutch Boy burger and a Bourbon Spiked Milkshake, made with local Blue Marble vanilla ice cream. There’s also a Root Beer Schnapps-spiked milkshake, for fans of the traditional Brown Cow, and a Moo-Thunder Stout Spiked Float, using Moo Thunder Stout from Butternuts Beer & Ale (made in upstate New York) and the aforementioned vanilla. Dutch Boy Burger operates a small storefront, but a connecting hallway in the back links the place to the roomier Franklin Park bar, where outdoor seating makes the most of the spring weather. Pull up a chair and order off the Dutch Boy menu–getting tipsy has never tasted so good.

Dutch Boy Burger: 766 Franklin Avenue (near St. John’s Place, Brooklyn
Franklin Park: 618 Saint Johns Place (near Franklin Avenue), Brooklyn

My Original Recipe: Orange-Chocolate Rum Float

I love the chocolate-orange combination so much that it tempts even me to “eat” ice cream…something I don’t love so much. The soda water is what makes this drink so doable for me because it lightens it up and makes it refreshing on a warm spring day.

  • 1 Blood Orange (juiced and save some for garnish)
  • ½ oz Blood Orange Bitters
  • 1 oz Crème de Cacao
  • 1 oz 10 Cane Rum
  • 8 oz Sparkling Water
  • 2 scoops Chocolate Ice Cream

Scoop two balls of ice cream into a milkshake glass. Dry mix the orange juice and bitters with the rum and cacao without ice, and pour over the ice cream. Finish by pouring soda water till full and drink with a straw.

To be continued

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One Response to “Spring-Forward Cocktails (Part I)”


  1. Zara Cataldo

    I really liked your blog. Want more.

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