With the proliferation of high quality cocktails in this city, both in specialty bars and high and low end restaurants, it can be hard to keep track of all that's on offer in New York and easy to slip into the pattern of ordering the same old gin and tonic or perfect Manhattan at every stop. So here's the latest edition of Strive for Five, a new column where Eater highlights five excellent drinks to try every month at bars and restaurants helmed by New York's best cocktail talents. Time to get drinking.
The Wayland's Willie’s Sour Cherry Flip, $11
700 E 9th St., East Village
Inside of the The Wayland (previously the Loisaida Bluegrass dive, Banjo Jim’s) the liquor selection is carefully cultivated yet the bar shelves maintain large portions of empty space. Meanwhile, the corner kitchen nook is so crammed, five skillets balance atop a single toaster oven. The bartenders are changing liquor brands every time the menu changes. While it might cost them in supplier price breaks, it’s creating a better cocktail experience for the customer. The bartenders remain unattached to a specific liquor brand month after month, and the menu’s creativity reflects it.
Try their version of a Flip. Sour cherries have been chillin’ in a jar since July, and those preserves are combined with Old Overholt, an entire raw egg and a dash of walnut bitters (also made in-house). You get a drink that’s rich, tart and luscious in its simplicity.
J. Bird's The Everyman Afterall, $12
339 E 75th St., Upper East Side
The cocktails at J. Bird’s new Upper East location are brought to you by Marshall Altier (bartender/author of How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails & Unsound Advice) and Jason Littrell (behind the stick at Death & Co). The menu offers approximately 20 drinks, divided into categories. “Old-Fashioned” gets you the classics. “Collins, fizzes & effervescent,” is a good category if you are thirsty (and simultaneously in need of synonyms for “bubbly”). My pick lives in “Sours,” and is called The Everyman Afterall ($12). Altier created this drink some time ago, and it has rightfully earned a fair share of press. He admits that his choice of Denizen rum helped name it, because he feels the brand to be somewhat of an everyman’s rum, both full-flavored and straightforward. It’s not nepotism in this case. The rum has certain tones of sweet and citrus, yet enough funk to power through Altier’s additions of Apple brandy, Crème de Pêche, lemon, lime, a bit of simple syrup. The final touch is his own peach bitters blend, a combination of Fee Brothers Peach bitters, Regan’s Orange bitters and steeped green cardamom pods.
Minetta Tavern's The Green Mary, $14
113 MacDougal St., Greenwich Village
Every Saturday morning, someone on staff at Minetta is up early, smashing green tomatoes and straining them. That juice lands in a blender with cilantro, celery, and parsley. Once it’s fully liquefied, in go cornichon pickles, southwestern chili spices, Worcestershire sauce, liquid hickory smoke, green chili paste, Tabasco, black pepper and sea salt. The drink’s creator, Lawrence Green, spent months on the recipe for the Green Mary ($14) and inadvertently solved the biggest first-world problem in existence: Wishing one’s Bloody Mary wouldn’t separate so quickly.
He added agave syrup, and it gives the final drink real staying power. The flavor is heavy handed on the liquid hickory smoke and salt (you’ll miss the two-ounces of Tito’s vodka entirely) but there’s enough of that acidic, green tomato tartness to balance it. You can lounge with this one. Pay attention to your eggs. Chat with friends. Read the paper. The only thing you can’t do is drink it on weekdays. That guy who gets up early to smash tomatoes is apparently unwilling to do that seven days a week. Go figure.
ABC Kitchen's Gojin & Juice, $15
35 E 18th St., Union Square
ABC Kitchen hangs its hat on lesser-known, sustainably sourced purveyors of booze. To those, they add a massive list of freshly juiced fruits and veggies. It creates a nice place to get out of your comfort zone, maybe trade your go-to, internationally known London Dry for a brand like Seneca Drums gin. Seneca Drums is produced upstate by Finger Lakes Distilling, and at ABC, they make their Goji & Juice cocktail ($15) with an ounce-and-a-half of it. The Goji is a tiny red berry (flavor cross between a cherry and a cranberry) farmed in the Himalayan Mountains. The FAIR Trade Spirits company produces the world’s only goji berry liqueur, and it remains the only spirit company in the world that is certified “fair trade.” The drink also has three ounces of fresh grapefruit juice, a dash of lemon, and a little soda. With this one, you get a higher price tag. You also get to try something new, make the most of the fresh winter citrus while it remains and do a little good for the planet at the same time.
Forty Four at Royalton's The Green Ribbon
44 W 44th St., Midtown
The creator of this cocktail was voted Shape magazine’s “Hot, Healthy Bartender” by 160,000 women this year. I have appreciation for hot bartenders as much as the next girl, but I usually find healthy cocktails to be an oxymoron. Frankly, I really wanted to find out what Joshua Brandenburg was capable of and if there was any spirits skill behind the handsome face. The verdict? His Green Ribbon is fantastic. Yes, technically it’s lower calorie. But – most importantly – it’s a drinker’s drink. Brandenburg creates a spiced simple syrup, cooked down with allspice, cinnamon sticks, and a helping of cloves. He adds an ounce of Laphroaig single malt, an additional half-ounce of malt whiskey liqueur, and a crowning dash of Angostura. Stirred well and served over ice with an orange twist, this drink is strong Islay peat with warming, winter spice tones. Brandenburg’s worth visiting the next time you need a cocktail in Times Square.
· Previous Editions of Strive for Five [~ENY~]