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.
Vinegar Hill House's Salerno in September, $12
72 Hudson Ave., Vinegar Hill
Vinegar Hill House reminds me of the movie Midnight in Paris. When I walk in, I feel like Owen Wilson, suddenly deposited in a place recognizably New York, but bearing the refinement and charm of a lost generation. It’s convivial. That’s the adjective. That’s the mood. The drink list is supported more by wine than cocktails, but the eight they do provide are straightforward and well done. There’s not a lot of hassle. Kick back and drink a really good Irish coffee. Better yet, ask for The Salerno in September. It lands at your elbow in a chilled coup glass, bravado and balance in only three ingredients. It’s got gin, Cocchi Americano (clearly a beloved booze brand this spring) and French vermouth. It slides down warm and easy and is refreshing on a mild spring day or bracing on a chilly spring night.
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana's The Icalor, $13
11 Madison Ave., Flatiron
If I had to pick a favorite spirit for spring, it would absolutely be pisco. It’s got this ability to be light and floral and ready to sing when shaken with citrus. Yet it also stands up stirred alongside the toughest over-proof rye whiskey. Personified, pisco’s that woman who walks into a dive in a sundress and kicks everyone’s ass at pool.
The bar at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana is manned by the skills of Saul Ranella, and his experiences traveling the bodegas of Peru translate in the Flatiron to drinks like The Icalor. Ranella begins by making an orange juice, habanero and pisco shrubb. He then creates a second shrubb made from cranberries, lemon juice and pisco. Those are married, three-to-one, with tasting done at every stage to ensure the outcome is an enjoyable level of spice. The Icalor joined the menu at Christmas. But it’s been so popular, he’s leaving it on the list. The habanero comes in at the end, but the front has this flowery pisco, tart cranberry situation that’s unforgettable. It’s served in a tall glass with ice, garnished with a lime twist and a trio of skewered cranberries.
The Dutch Kills' Bayflower, $11
27-24 Jackson Ave., Long Island City
Karin Stanley created the Bayflower cocktail last winter during a period when she laughs that she was “really excited about Tiki cocktails and crushed ice.” We all get that way in March, Karin. Winter weather is still here, but there’s that rare, 65-degree day that makes you feel six-years-old again. A Crushed Ice Day, if you will. Oddly enough, the lovely Bayflower never went on a menu last year. It just hung around?in Karin Stanley’s brain. It’s finally making a debut on the Dutch Kills blackboard this month. Karin dry shakes Bols Genever, St. Germain, two parts grapefruit juice to one part lemon juice and a tiny dose of simple syrup. The effect is light and citrusy, with refreshing notes from the elderflower. The maltwine quality in the Bols certainly comes through, but the focus is the citrus through and through.
L’Artusi's The Senorita Blanca, $15
228 W 10th St., West Village
L’Artusi is not a place that immediately sprang to mind when I wanted a cocktail in 2011. Now, with my feet firmly planted in 2012, I have a different view of it. (I’ve been haunting the bar there all month, making up for lost time.) Their drinks are as carefully calculated as the food, with great range and use of interesting flavors and ingredients. Plus, a little digestif after a bowl potato gnocci never hurt anyone.
The new cocktail list, barely a week old, offers up contributions by several bartenders. Ulysses Vidal created my favorite, the Senorita Blanca. It’s a stirred, served-up blend of blanco tequila, Cocchi Americano, Cardamaro, orange bitters and apricot liqueur from Rothman & Winter. The apricot and orange from the Cardamaro come through lush and full, and, while the tequila’s certainly there, this is a drink on the sweeter side. If you manage to avoid a food coma by meal’s end, skip dessert and request Bartender Jorie Morales’ Triple Crown flip. It’s bacon washed bourbon, a black cherry reduction, the necessary whole egg, lemon juice and demerara.
The Toucan & The Lion's The Lion, $10
342 E 6th St., East Village
You enter into a front room bar area, which is dark and fairly romantic, filled with terrariums on birch stumps and an ominous picture of a rabbit in period garb. In the dining room (also diminutive), there’s a theme of stark white - chairs, walls and tables - and some greenish bulb choices that cause me to prefer the aforementioned front room with the weird bunny painting. The food focus is Asian with a Gastropub twist.
While I cannot comment on the dishes or the curious choice of fusion, the cocktail menu does confirm beautiful, honest, rich work of Asian spices and classic mixology. The signature Lion cocktail starts with kaffir lime and ginger infused rum. It’s shaken with lime juice, simple syrup and a dose of Sriracha. Without the hot sauce, I’m not sure this Daiquiri riff would have been all that impressive. With it, though, there’s something magical that happens with the combination of herbaceous kaffir and the final heat of ginger. It’s a mouth scorcher, but in a good way.
· Previous Editions of Strive for Five [~ENY~]