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New York’s 10 essential cocktail bars

Jim Meehan, partner at cocktail bar PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in Manhattan’s East Village, outlines the originators and the game changers in the competitive New York bar scene.

Employees Only

Narrowing New York’s best cocktail bars down to just 10 bars in 2016 is a preposterous proposition. Neighborhoods like Manhattan’s East Village have more then 10 excellent cocktail bars themselves and boroughs like Brooklyn are beginning to challenge the “City’s” hegemony.  The cocktails at Julie Reiner’s Clover Club in Cobble Hill, St John Frizell’s Fort Defiance in Red Hook, Toby Cecchini’s The Long Island Bar on Atlantic Avenue and Joshua Boissy and Krystof Zizka’s  Maison Premiere in Williamsburg, which was just recognised with the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, deserve their own features. 

So, instead of watering down the list to cover the whole city or highlighting the top 10 new cocktail bars, many of which will come and go like the hangover you’ll have if you tackle this list in one night, I’ve chosen five of the originators and five newer bars that have the DNA to become modern classics. It’s hard to imagine today, but in order to understand how and why a selection of classic-minded cocktails prepared with fresh ingredients and premium spirits is listed on nearly every aspiring bar and restaurant’s menu in Manhattan­- and that there’s a cocktail menu at all – you need to return to the source, or in this case, the bars that got this whole thing started. 

Thanks to them, you have plenty of options.  Nearly every neighborhood in Manhattan sports a mixology embassy where there’s a precocious bartender all too interested in your beverage order eagerly anticipating your arrival. Start there and ask the bartenders where they go for drinks on their nights off. 

The Originals

**Angel’s Share

** Behind an unmarked door on the second floor of a Japanese restaurant called the Village Yokocho lies the legendary Tokyo-style lounge that inspired Milk & Honey.   Parties of four or less should sample Bacardi Legacy Global Champion Gn Chan’s winning cocktail, the Venceremos (2016), or Shingo Gokan’s Speak Low (2012).

Angel’s Share, 8 Stuyvesant St, East Village, +1 212 777 5415, New York City

**Flatiron Lounge

** This deco masterpiece of a bar was opened in 2003 by cocktail pioneer Julie Reiner, who’s best known for fresh, approachable cocktails like the Beijing Peach, prepared with jasmine green tea infused vodka, white peach purée and lime juice.   

Flatiron Lounge, 37 West 19th St, Flatiron District, New York City, +1 212 727 7741,

Negroni Frappe at Cafe Dante

**Employees Only

** Founded in 2004 by five of iconic restaurateur Keith McNally’s most talented bartenders (the employees in Employees Only), the bar has been packed – just like his restaurants – since day one. Order the Mata Hari or a shot of Fernet Branca.  

Employees Only, 510 Hudson St, New York City, +1 212 242 3021,

**Pegu Club

** After an illustrious stint at Bemelmans Bar in The Carlyle Hotel on East 76 Street, Dale DeGroff’s protégé Audrey Saunders brought her peerless palate and strict attention to detail to SoHo in 2005. Gin is the featured spirit here, so start with her famous Gin Gin Mule, prepared with lime, mint and house-made ginger beer.

Pegu Club, 77 West Houston St, SoHo, New York City, +1 212 473 7348,

**Death & Co

** The East Village has more world-class cocktail bars than any other neighborhood in the five boroughs. Death & Co was its first in 2007, opened by David Kaplan and Ravi DeRossi, who’ve added dozens of bars to their résumé with the help of brilliant barmen such as their current chief, Tyson Buhler. Order the Oaxacan Old Fashioned with mescal and agave syrup.  

Death & Co, 433 East 6th St, East Village, New York City, +1 212 388 0882,

The Second Wave


** In 2013, having tended bar for Sasha Petraske in the space that housed Milk & Honey for nearly a decade, longtime bartenders Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy made it their own, remodeled it  and christened it Attaboy. Let their team recommend a drink for you. 

Attaboy, 134 Eldridge St, Lower East Side, New York City, no phone or website

The Dead Rabbit

**The Dead Rabbit

** After building an international following at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry applied their methodical approach to every detail of their multi-storied bar on Water Street, which features a classic pub, a modern cocktail bar and an Irish whiskey academy.   Their Irish Coffee is available on all three floors.

The Dead Rabbit, 30 Water St, Financial District, New York City, +1 646 422 7906,

Cafe Dante

**Caffe Dante

** In 2015, longtime Australian friends Naren Young and Linden Pride took over this historic space and brought it back to its Italian roots.  Long lost classic aperitivi like the Garibaldi – Campari and orange juice – are prepared with innovative techniques and served with the cheerful hospitality these cafés were once known for. 

Caffe Dante, 79-81 MacDougal St, Greenwich Village, New York City, +1 347 707 5656,

NoMad Bar

**NoMad Bar

** New York City lacked a hotel bar on par with London’s five-star offerings until Will Guidara and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park opened two bars (The Elephant Bar and The NoMad Bar) overseen by award-winning bar director Leo Robitschek in The NoMad Hotel. Order a Gentleman’s Exchange at the latter and try to score a table for dinner.   

NoMad Bar, 10 West 28th St, NoMad, New York City, 

**Dear Irving

** Step back into time – there are four rooms inspired by different eras – at bartender Meaghan Dorman’s transportive 2014 follow-up to Raines Law Room, where she serves elegant twists on classics like the Vice Versa with gin, grapefruit juice, Pamplemousse, Luxardo Bitter and Rosé Cava.

Dear Irving, 55 Irving Pl, Gramercy Park, New York City,

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