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 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.
Public's Pimm’s Lychee Tea $12
210 Elizabeth Street, Soho
Normally, the word “lychee” is a stop sign for me when it appears on a drink list. Too many bars use lychee syrup, and lychee syrup comes about as close in taste to an actual lychee as a Grapico soda comes to munching a fresh red grape. Public in Soho has their act together in terms of cocktails, though, and instead of shortcuts and syrup, you get muddled fruit in a shaker. The pulverized lychee is topped with ice and a hefty dose of Pimm’s No. 1. They stir in Bianco vermouth, a rich and tannic rooibos iced tea, and simple syrup. There’s the beautifully perfumed flavor of the fruit (and actual small slivers of lychee through the straw) alongside herbal tones from the Pimm’s and the soothing effect of the tea.
Rocking Horse's Margarita de Jamaica $12
182 8th Avenue, Chelsea
Rocking Horse should definitely be on your "top five" list for Margaritas as the weather warms up. They serve them in large pint glasses. You know ? the type that makes you thank god for the chips on the bar after the first round and the cabs on the curb after the fifth. While their classic version is perfect, expand your horizons with a Margarita de Jamaica in April. The drink is basically an alcoholic version of the tart, sour Hibiscus tea they have been lightly sweetening and serving for years. Named for the Spanish term for hibiscus, it has a deep purple hue courtesy of a three-ounce pour of the house hibiscus tea reduction. The reduction requires steeping two full cups of hibiscus blossoms, and then cooking them down to a single quart. That liquid is then shaken with Herradura blanco tequila, fresh lime juice, and triple sec.
Prima's The Last Cocktail $12
58 East 1st Street, East Village
Sometimes, it’s tough to stomach the expense of cocktails in New York. Okay, most of the time. If you have this issue, go drink at Prima. The cocktail list was created by Greg Seider (the man behind the lists at Summit and Le Bernadin), and this spring, it’s showcasing his trademark mix of playfulness and serious mixology prowess. Hell, don’t take my word for it. Ask local mixologists. They flock to Prima and Summit for Seider’s skills at balancing complex (often seemingly incongruent) flavors.
Honestly ? order anything. The Last Cocktail is outstanding. It starts with the Colorado brand Spring 44 Gin, shaken with a house pear puree, fresh lemon juice, and Seider’s rosemary-infused agave. Double strained into a rocks glass, it’s topped with Prosecco and sprinkled with a clove dust. The aroma of rosemary leads into a pear lemonade with a bit of floral juniper from the gin. All punched up by the effervescence of Italian bubbly. Have it with a side of brunch – launched this spring.
Talde's The Chinatown $12
369 7th Avenue, Park Slope
I cannot speak to any of the other cocktails at Talde besides The Chinatown. It’s the only one I’ve had at new Top-Chef-backed Park Slope spot. However, it impressed me so much, I felt it needed to go on the list this month regardless of the fact that I haven’t sipped a single other drink there. Co-owner John Bush created the bar program, and this is apparently the first drink he created while mulling over the Asian-American food menu. Lime wedges, Amarena-soaked cherries, a single brown sugar cube and lemon bitters are muddled, and then topped with Diplomatico Rum and Lairds Applejack Brandy. It’s shaken and strained. The real selling power on this cocktail is in the garnish, a delivery of fresh ground pepper on top. It influences your nose as well as your palate, giving this tart and sweet drink a rustic level of common spice used in a unique way.
The Ada Clare at The Vault At Pfaff’s $16
643 Broadway, Greenwich Village
For all those people out there who gripe and moan about the expense of cocktails in this town, here’s a great option. Put down the Chex cereal, get out of your pajamas and go get some true bar culture at a discount. (Really, take off your pajamas because the suited door guys aren’t going to let you inside.) Tuesday through Saturday, from 6 PM to 9 PM, The Vault runs a cocktail hour with deeply discounted high-end cocktails, beers, neat pours and appetizer pairings. There’s no discount to the ambiance. You enter a room where Walt Whitman once drank. Apparently he was moved to write a poem including mention of this bar. The furnishings are custom-made, there’s beautiful candlelight on hand-painted murals and wonderful cocktail staples like The Ada Clare. To the bold rye heat of Rittenhouse whiskey, they add Luxardo Amaretto for sweetness, and a mix of fresh house-made citrus for sour, hard shake and strain into a massive beveled-edge Martini glass. It has a cinnamon sugar rim. It’s frothy and kind of girly. It’s delicious. Act like a man and order one.
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