New York City is a cocktail town — a great city for afterwork unwinding, late-night libations and pre- and post-theater sipping. Summer 2017 has seen an especially robust crop of new bars where the drinks are imaginative and expertly mixed, the snacks inspired and the settings breathtaking. Here are 11 of the most impressive new spots.
In a harborside building at Manhattan’s southern tip, Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon, who brought “Gangs of New York’’ to life with The Dead Rabbit back in 2013, have launched this glamorous throwback to 1920s Havana. As the novella built into the menu recounts, it was a time when a thirsty American could escape Prohibition by cruising to boozy Cuba, like a tipsy latter-day Columbus. And in fact, the explorer is featured in a reproduction of an 1847 John Vanderlyn painting behind the bar. Rumba music, palm trees, a glowing stained-glass ceiling and a case of Cuban cigars (for display only) evoke that freewheeling era.
Drinks: Juggling jiggers, the bar staff is so showmanlike, they remind you of a speakeasy version of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail.” Every drink is an update of a classic. The gin-based celery sour delivers the snappy astringency of its namesake vegetable overlaid with pineapple, vanilla and creamy Greek yogurt. The heady Pendennis Club blends earthy, grassy rhum agricole and pisco with sansho pepper, macadamia and herbal liqueur. They might sound strange, but they work deliciously.
Food: Cheddar barbecue chicharrones and other twists on island snacks help soak up the sauce, but the menu ranges to heftier plates, too, including a riff on the Cubano with the delicious addition of pulled rabbit.
Cocktails $16; small plates $7-$19
Pier A Harbor House, 22 Battery Place, Second Floor, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 785-0153
Cocktails never felt so ethereal until chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened this haute vegetarian destination in a white-on-white space attached to the luxury home goods store ABC Carpets near Union Square. For sipping, sit at the small bar or at the drinks-only front window.
Drinks: Libations that sound exotic (seabuck thorn, matcha, raw coconut juice) turn out to be comfortingly familiar. A yuzu gin and tonic is rust-colored from the housemade tonic water and brightened with Japanese citrus, but there’s nothing more fussy to it than that. A Rhubarb Blanco is a margarita on the rocks, essentially, with a sweet-tart zing. The wines, beers and cider are organic, and the teetotaler shakes and herbal tonics are laced with healthful fruits and vegetables, courtesy of a bank of Juicera cold-pressed juice dispensers.
Food: While the machines’ iPod-like design gives the bar an Apple-store look, you’d never find anything as delicious in an Apple store as chef de cuisine Neal Harden’s global-South, plant-based plates: Cauliflower gets a Middle Eastern treatment with turmeric-tahini and pistachios; artichokes stay Mediterranean with mint and green olives. The menu card touting the ingredients’ health benefits might be ponderous, but the cooking is in Jean-Georges’ lithe style.
Cocktails $14; small plates $8–$21
38 East 19th Street, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 475-5829
Lit with Edison bulbs and painted dark blue with a curvy wood-slat ceiling like the hull of a ship, this Chelsea spot is rather cavelike, but the front is open to the street in summer, giving it a welcoming feel.
Drinks: Bar director Stephen Thomas’ high-minded cocktails will slake your thirst. The “In the Garden” blends cachaça with Reisetbauer Carrot, an Austrian eau de vie (fruit brandy) that tastes precisely of its namesake root. Housemade English pea juice adds froth and just-picked goodness, while rhubarb gives it a tangy, fruity edge. Rarely are cocktails so daring as the Powderfinger, which pairs New York farmstead vodka with Swiss chard and strawberry juices, aged balsamic and pink peppercorns. It’s garnished flamboyantly with a fresh chard leaf.
Food: Guarav Anand’s Indian-fusion dishes, including terrific pork dumplings with green apple and bacon in a blistering vindaloo sauce, are spiced for drinking. Subtlety is left for the check, which comes discreetly tucked inside a wooden box.
Cocktails $12-$14; appetizers $10-$18
206 Ninth Avenue, Manhattan. Tel. (646) 678-5471
Shuttered during a lease dispute, The Campbell has recently reopened and expanded under new owners, the Gerber Group. But skip the new outdoor terrace and palm court to cosset yourself in the original space: the former office of 1920s New York tycoon John W. Campbell, tucked into an upstairs corner of Grand Central Station. You’ll feel as if you’re drinking in a Florentine monastery. The 25-foot, coffered ceiling is hand-painted in heraldic symbols. The backlit bar is framed in churchlike leaded glass, and the fireplace features a frieze of a standing griffin.
Drinks: Grab a leather club chair or perch on a barstool to admire head bartender Paris DuRante’s superb facial hair. While vodka-based strawberry-basil lemonade appeals to lighter palates, most drinks are powerhouse classics: a Manhattan fueled by Woodford reserve; a Bull Shot piquant with Worchester, horseradish and beef broth; an $85 Old-Fashioned made with Macallan Rare Cask.
Food: The place can get busy at night, but the Gerber Group’s great innovation is lunch: A French dip is the right order for a whiskey-fueled afternoon.
Cocktails $18-$65; bar food and lunch $11-$28
Grand Central Station, 15 Vanderbilt Avenue, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 297-1781
The drink goes down as easily as the sun, which you can watch set over downtown Manhattan from a riverside table at the new Dumbo branch of the SoHo House’s global restaurant group. If the weather is inclement, the chandeliered dining rooms are none too shabby, either.
Drinks: The glassware of summer 2017 is heavy cut crystal, and the Old Pal is served in just such a rocks glass. That’s the perfect vessel for a potent yet elegant mix of Vermont-made gin, wormwood-laced Gran Classico Bitter and, surprisingly, French rather than Italian vermouth blanc. The Old Pal is one in a list of Negroni variations at this spot that makes Brooklyn feel like San Remo. They’re still working out the kinks, but if the bus person doesn’t clear the glass you’ve drained of an Aperol spritz, relax and consider yourself lucky to be taking in the ultimate skyline view.
Food: Chef Riccardo Bilotta is a Trieste native. His meatballs are excellent, and his vitello tonnato (cold braised veal in a creamy tuna sauce) is a respectable rendition of a dish that’s otherwise hard to find in New York.
Cocktails $15; appetizers $8-$17
Brooklyn Bridge Park, 55 Water Street, Brooklyn. Tel. (718) 650-3900
Ernest Hemingway, e.e. cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay—in the 1920s, these and other writers lingered at this West Village speakeasy. By the early 2000s, the place was a dive. Not anymore. Alessandro Borgognone of Sushi Nakazawa has reopened it as a high-class hideaway for literary nostalgists. The chocolate-brown leather banquettes are bordered in the covers of books by former regulars, who peer out from framed photographs hung on ornately papered walls. Dinner is reservations-only. But if you can find the joint’s unmarked entrance, you can sit right down at the bar.
Drinks: Cocktail genius and Chumley’s manager Jessica Duré makes superb use of her Vitamix blender. Gin, aquavit, tarragon liqueur, arugula and citrus juices, and poppyseed-agave syrup roll up into the Mrs. Easy, a nutty, grassy elixir that tastes dastardly and virtuous at once. Duré specializes in scotch and soda. The Ol’ Poet’s Smoke, with peaty Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, amaro, honey and lemon, could cure a bard’s sore throat.
Food: If hunger hits, chef Victoria Blamey’s beef tartare, punctuated with hazelnuts and showered in sheep’s milk cheese, is the best you’ll ever taste, and her luxurious lobster eclair is a new New York classic.
Cocktails $16; appetizers $17-$24
86 Bedford Street, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 675-2081
The exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum’s new annex in the old Whitney building have been fabulous. But you needn’t be an art lover to appreciate a cocktail in this cool, calm establishment on the bottom floor of the Met Breuer space. The decor is spare, allowing the concrete austerity of the landmark building to shine. But there’s also a mellow, European feel to the place, which looks out onto a garden courtyard.
Drinks: At the long marble bar, the cocktail menu doesn’t hold back on flavor, but it achieves balance nonetheless in drinks like the Rosemary Society, where the namesake is infused in the simple syrup and also muddled into gin, pear brandy and grapefruit juice for an herbal libation with lovely citrus and stone fruit notes. The Negroni is as proper as can be, and the wine list favors the Loire.
Food: Chef Ignacio Mattos’ menu is heavy on tastes from the sea. Go for the Spanish-style anchovies and boquerones (uncured anchovies) draped in fruity olive oil. Come back the next morning for coffee and a housemade sticky bun.
Cocktails $16; appetizers $9-$175 (for the seafood platter with osetra caviar)
Met Breuer Museum, 945 Madison Avenue, Manhattan. Tel. (646) 558-5383
Check into this sexy lounge in the Beekman Hotel, and you might never want to leave. Just don’t look up if you’re vertigo-prone because you’ll be staring into the Victorian building’s nine-story atrium. It’s an optical illusion fashioned in wrought iron and pressed-tin tile. There’s much to see at ground level, too. Plush couches, leather armchairs and floor lamps surrounding inlaid wood tables on Persian rugs make the room look like a high-roller’s gambling parlor. An enormous portrait of Edgar Allen Poe and illuminated, glass-fronted bookcases evoke the historic Mercantile Library Association that once stood in this location.
Drinks: The paint is barely dry on the walls here, and they haven’t perfected the cocktails yet. But the wines, beers and sherries make up for it. Order the aged fino and enjoy its deeply umami flavor as French gypsy jazz lilts from the speakers.
Food: If you’re famished, you can sample Tom Colicchio’s vibrant cooking without entering the dining room, which is hidden behind velvet curtains beside the bar. Like all the bar food, the sensational clams casino is a culinary paean to a New York of yore.
Drinks $8-$34; appetizers $11-$27
Beekman Hotel, 5 Beekman Street, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 658-1848
When the proprietors of the Four Seasons lost their lease, wailing went up among uptown elite. But Major Food Group, which took over the space, has bettered the original. The iconic restaurant’s Grill Room has been reborn as THE GRILL. Seagram Building owner Aby Rosen’s blockbuster art collection decorates the landmarked Philip Johnson interior, which got a spit shine.
Drinks: For cocktails, sit at the round illuminated bar. The screen that separates it from the dining room might frustrate people watchers, but the personable bar staff compensates. So do big, gorgeous martinis. The Gibson has just enough onion brine to make you sip and sip. If it warms and you want for ice, the rocks will come in a crystal bucket. If you like to drink your dessert, this bar takes the Grasshopper seriously.
Food: The real transformation here is on chef Rich Torrisi’s menu, a just-this-side-of-ironic homage to midcentury American fine dining. Showy tableside service includes a prime rib cart. Behind a lavish buffet table, chefs wearing sky-high toques whip up a terrific goose terrine, which goes splendidly with the cocktails.
Cocktails $18-$24; appetizers $18-$36 (market price for select items)
The Seagram Building, 99 East 52nd Street, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 375-9001
Gone are the trees that cluttered the view of the pool in the former Four Seasons. Now that square marble pond glows golden beneath a Calder mobile that new proprietor Major Food Group has installed. And what once was the dreary private dining room, shuttered behind a wall of doors a few steps up from the main floor, is the fabulous new, flower-draped lounge. The doors are flung open, and perched there on a low-backed, semi-circular armchair or a couch watching the hubbub below, you feel truly special.
Drinks: Libations sport big, clean flavors and showy garnishes. Tart lime and spicy Angostura bitters blend with pisco in the “Grape” cocktail. Served in an enormous coupe draped with a cluster of the frozen namesakes, it’s positively Bacchanalian. Berries impaled on a rosemary sprig rise from a mound of pebble ice in the gin-and-pastis-based “Strawberry.” A King Kong-size melon slice hangs from a skyscraper-tall highball in the rum-based “Watermelon” cocktail. A shiso leaf inside the glass melds with the fruit for a pleasingly Jolly Rancher flavor. All the drinks are refreshing and balanced.
Food: For now, there is no food in the lounge, but if you make a reservation for the dining room, arrive early to linger in the lounge before diving into chef Mario Carbone’s seafood-driven menu, which includes such delicacies as caviar service, sea urchin toast and coconut-citrus-vinaigrette Lobster Floridian.
Cocktails $18; wines by the glass $15-$75
The Pool Lounge
The Seagram Building, 99 East 52nd Street, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 375-9002
Gastromolecular super-chef Grant Achatz and partner Nick Kokonas are transforming the lobby lounge on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental into a branch of their Chicago bar, The Aviary. Expect highfalutin drinks and a phenomenal Central Park view when it opens in mid-September. In the meantime, the crew has unleashed its experimentalist energies on this cozy barroom on the same floor. Leather armchairs, antique steam trunk and typewriter, Twenties-era artwork, and Deco wallpaper set the vibe for a focus on old, rare spirits.
Drinks: History is in the tumblers here. Fancy a yellow chartreuse tarragona from 1930? Sip that for $600 an ounce, while studying the menu’s timeline for the spirit. Whisky is your drink? Compare the 30-year Highland Park to the one from Balvenie. Or savor a Tanqueray sweet gin from the 1900s in the wet martini from the house’s “Dusty Bottle Cocktails” list. Contemporary cocktails are just as transporting. The gin-and-chartreuse Snap Pea is sweetly vegetal, garnished with pea shoots and vinegar powder. The amaro sour is like no other: Black truffle and smoked salt add umami panache, while Cynar 70 gives it a riveting bitterness.
Food: The snacks are exemplary. The fish is poached in olive oil and citrus rind, finished with fines herbes and crème fraîche, and topped with Arctic char roe and a bouquet of peas and flowers for the prettiest salmon rillettes. And you’ve never seen such fancified vegetable crudité, served on ice in a vintage punchbowl with a sweet pea bavarois.
Reservations suggested; cocktails $23-$600, food $21-$40
The Office NYC
80 Columbus Circle, Manhattan. Tel. (212) 805-8800