11. Employees Only
Everyone needs a neighborhood bar. But to be able to call Employees Only my neighborhood bar is something for which I’ll be forever grateful. Not that it’s a Wednesday-night-beer kind of place; the crowd at EO is always well-dressed, well-heeled, and sometimes tightly-packed on weekends. It’s the cocktails that make the scene, though, and although EO’s Prohibition-era theme is as American as it gets, my favorite springtime cocktails remind me more of exotic destinations. The Lazy Lover (Leblon Cachaça & Jalapeño Infused Green Chartreuse shaken with Benedictine, fresh lime juice and agave nectar with a thyme garnish) is a south-of-the-border, Latin-flavored tipple, and the the thyme finish is an unexpected garnish. There’s just enough heat with the jalapeño to match the bite of cachaça. Meanwhile, the the Provençale (lavender-infused Plymouth gin, herbs de Provençe-infused vermouth and Combier Royal) is perfect for spring nights on the French Riviera–or the West Village, in a pinch.
Employees Only: 510 Hudson Street (between West 10th and Christopher Streets), Manhattan
12. Lani Kai
Lani Kai is one of my favorite new places in the city. I even took Mr. Mix there to meet my father; a situation in which location, of course, is crucial. Though their food menu is delectable, it’s the cocktails for which it is known, and justly so: Lani Kai is at the forefront of the tiki craze in New York, even as proprietor Julie Reiner (the force behind Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club and Clover Club) refuses to call it a “tiki bar”. Whatever you call it, this Hawaiian-inspired space is full of tropical plants and deliciously fruity drinks like the Pacific Swizzle (white rum infused with rosehip, lemongrass and hibiscus tea, lime juice, and passion fruit) and the Leilani’s Fizz (gin, lychee, lime juice, lemongrass syrup and club soda).
Lani Kai: 525 Broome Street (near Thompson Street), Manhattan
13. Little Branch
Milk & Honey’s western addition is less of a hassle to get in than its progenitor, with no reservations required. There can still be a wait at the door at popular times, but it’s more than worth it for the expertly-crafted cocktails and relaxed and romantic vibe (and occasionally, live jazz). Letting the bartender choose for you is always a good idea here, but they’re happy to have you order off the menu as well. My favorite off-menu drink here is the MacKinnon (lemon juice, lime juice, light rum, soda, Drambuie). I was surprised to love this one; although it’s so simple, it tastes layered. Drambuie is a scotch liqueur with honey and herbs and it adds the perfect balance to white rum. I’m also a fan of the Queen’s Park Swizzle, a Trinidadian version of the mojito that combines rum, simple syrup, lime juice, and mint with Angostura bitters for a more complex flavor. Just look for the little door on the corner (it is minimally marked), and knock if you see no one outside.
Little Branch: 22 7th Avenue South (at Leroy Street), Manhattan
If you’re tired of speakeasies and pre-Prohibition cocktails, Mayahuel is your place. Forget, too, the college-era memories of bad tequila and worse decisions, as Mayauel serves only tequila and its earthier cousin, mezcal (“Mayahuel” is the name of a Pre-Columbian goddess whose many breasts were thought to cause drunkenness). Brought to you by the same folks who own Death & Co., Mayahuel is quickly becoming a destination for those who appreciate this much-derided liquor’s smoky and complex tones. My favorites for spring are the Señorita (reposado tequila, orangerie, lime, agave nectar and grapefruit bitters) and the Trato Hecho (pineapple-infused mezcal with lime, green chartreuse and maraschino).
Mayahuel: 304 East 6th Street (near Second Avenue), Manhattan
15. Milk & Honey
The bar that started it all, Milk & Honey remains as exclusive and almost as difficult to enter as it did when it first opened, over ten years ago. It’s hard to sustain a buzz for a decade, but when the drinks are this good, where else would you go? Sasha Petraske’s biggest competition is himself, with other ventures like Little Branch and Dutch Kills (or Milk & Honey London, though it’s a little far to go for an after-dinner drink). If you find yourself inside, you can be sure that anything you order will be excellent. I’m a fan of classics like the Dark and Stormy (ginger syrup, rum, lime juice and club soda). Though a Dark and Stormy might sound like a winter drink, it was actually intended as a summer tipple, and I find its effervescence ideal for spring. My most frequent drink, though, is the Ramos Gin Fizz (Plymouth gin, lemon, lime, egg white, cream and orange flower water). Also called the New Orleans, Mr. Mix first introduced me to this drink last summer and I’ve been requesting them weekly ever since. This is my very favorite drink Mr. Mix makes…which is why I order it at my very favorite bar.
Milk & Honey: 134 Eldridge Street (between Delancey and Broome Streets), Manhattan
16. Orient Express
No, it’s not a Chinese restaurant. Still flying a bit under the radar, this cocktail joint is actually an “Orient Express” themed bar (the train, that is) with an ultra-romantic vibe. Built and decorated to look like a dining car on the famed train, Orient Express features drinks inspired by each of the train’s destinations, from Paris to Constantinople. Try The Agatha, with Old Tom Gin, Lemon, and house made strawberry-sage soda, or the Sleeping Car, with apricot infused cognac, Calvados, lemon juice, mint and bitters. No tickets required.
Orient Express: 325 West 11th Street (near Greenwich Street), Manhattan
Painkiller is a tiki bar that is proud to be called a tiki bar. How could they be self-conscious with Scorpion Bowls serving multiple drinkers at a time? Or a Zombie Punch (heck, an entire section of the menu) that’s limited to one per drinker? Their new cocktail menu sports 102 combinations, meaning that you should never have a reason to order off-menu (this is not the place for a mint julep). Instead, try the Pahoehoe, a combination of silver rum, passion fruit juice, lemon, grenadine, and a flaming lemon shell garnish, or a French Daiquiri, with silver rum, lime, creme de cassis, mint, and a lime wheel garnish. A fun twist on a classic recipe, the crème de cassis is a French black currant liquor, which makes it a bright fuchsia color. Fun for the ladies and the well heeled men among us…all of whom gravitated toward it when we hosted Happy Hour!
Painkiller: 49 Essex Street (near Grand Street), Manhattan
18. Pegu Club
Another New York stalwart, Pegu Club’s cocktails have become as famous as the bar itself. Take Audrey Saunders’ Earl Gray MarTEAni: fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, Earl Grey tea–infused Tanqueray gin, egg white and lemon twist. Simple, elegant, and perfect for spring. Or the Pisco Punch (a favorite of Mr. Mix’s), which combines pineapple-infused Pisco Capel, lime juice, housemade grapefruit and lime syrups, and fresh lemon juice. Before almost anyone else, Saunders introduced New York to the aspirational cocktail. That recipe still holds up.
Pegu Club: 77 West Houston Street (between West Broadway and Wooster Street), Manhattan
PDT opened with a tongue-in-cheek joke (“Please Don’t Tell” we’re located behind an above-average hot dog joint) and stayed on the radar for its well-executed drinks–as well as those hot dogs. Yes, you still enter the acronym-apparent space through the old phone-booth, though it’s really not a secret at this point. And yes, you can get tater tots to go with your cocktail, whether it’s the Gold Coast (Karlsson’s Gold, Carlshamns Flaggpunsch, simple syrup, dill, and black pepper essence, or the Park Slope (rye, Punt e Mes, Orchard Apricot liquor, aromatic bitters). When recreating this one at home, this drink was easy, simple, and a crowd pleaser. It was Mr. Mix’s fave of the night, and was all butterscotch and apricots in every sip!
PDT: 113 Saint Marks Place (between 1st Avenue and Avenue A), Manhattan
20. Raines Law Room
Sometimes, it’s as much about the ambience as it is about the drinks. Raines Law Room falls into this category, as the downtown speakeasy par excellence. After ringing a doorbell and speaking with a host, you’ll be (you hope) ushered into a room more like a private club than a bar, with velvet couches in front and curtained booths and bell pulls in back to summon your cocktail waitress. Order an Old Cuban (Flora de Cana 7-year Gran Reserva rum, lime juice, mint, sugar, Angostura bitters and Chandon Champagne), or their famous Archangel Cocktail (Plymouth gin, Aperol, cucumber and a lemon twist). Privacy has never tasted this good.
Raines Law Room: 48 West 17th Street (near 6th Avenue), Manhattan
Super sophisticated, a little complicated, but worth the wait. The violet, nutmeg and earl grey gin infusion work so well together and have a touch of that meringue taste that comes from the raw egg white. A very special cocktail creation I named after my gray-bearded father in celebration of Papa Belle’s most recent birthday!
For the Earl Grey Infusion:
• 1/4 cup Earl Grey Tea Leaves (loose)
• 1 liter Beefeater Gin
Carefully add the tea leaves to the bottle of gin and shake well. The tea should steep for two hours before being gently strained…we left the bottle in the Florida sun last time we made it down South with my dad, as heat helps to bolster infusions. But don’t press the tea leaves to extract the gin, as this can cause bitterness. Throw away the tea leaves.
For the Cocktail:
• 2 oz Earl Grey-infused Gin
• 1 oz Crème de Violette
• ½ oz Lime Juice
• 1 oz Lemon Juice
• 1 oz Heavy Cream
• ½ oz Simple Syrup
• 1 Egg White
• Whole Nutmeg (garnish)
Add all ingredients except nutmeg to a shaker, and dry shake (with no ice) to emulsify the egg. Add ice, and shake further to chill. Pour over fresh ice in a tall glass (with a silver spoon if you have one!) and grate with fresh nutmeg to garnish.
To read Part I of my Spring-Forward Cocktails, click here.