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Nov 11, 2011 01:03 PM

Classic Cocktail Bar/Lounge

Chowhound from Seattle looking for the best classic (not dive) cocktail bar/lounge in the EV, LES,WV, etc. Not looking for a trendy "be seen" place, but rather a place that takes pride in using the right size ice cubes, glass ware, etc. For serious drinkers.

For those of you who have visited SEA, PDX or SF, I'm looking for something comparable to Rob Roy, Tavern Law, Spur in Seattle, Clyde Common in PDX, and Bar Agricole in SF.

Thanks for any help.

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  1. EO in West Village if you go early.

    2 Replies
    1. re: tgseaver

      The bartenders at Employees Only do not jigger and they are inconsistent because of this -- I'd had some overly sweet and some overly sour drinks there. It's a nice place and I wish they would jigger as we've had some great cocktails and food there. But also some not so great cocktails.

      Employees Only
      510 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

      1. re: kathryn

        i agree with kathryn: while Employees Only has some interesting drinks and is better than 90% of the places out there, it is not even in the same league as some of the true great cocktail places such as Pegu, Death & Co, Little Branch, etc.

        Little Branch
        22 Seventh Ave South, New York, NY 10014

        Employees Only
        510 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

        Death & Co.
        433 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009

    2. Are you looking for the classic cocktails (manhattan, martini, martinez, etc) and obscure older drinks done to perfection? Or a place that is more new school w/ infused syrups, infused liquors, housemade tinctures, etc?

      How about places that are focused on a single spirit? Would you be interested in a tequila/mezcal bar? Or a rum bar? Or a tiki bar? Or a bitters bar?

      Really... how long are you here for? :)

      The Milk & Honey / Dutch Kills / Little Branch family are more about classic cocktails with 4-5 ingredients made VERY well and less so about infusing liquors; the basis of their cocktail lists really is classic drinks with some modern modifications/variations but most of their cocktails have a very clear lineage that traces back to something from an earlier era.

      Whereas PDT, Mayahuel, Death & Co. infuse liquors and use more nouveau ingredients and have more complicated cocktails (sometimes with a LOT more components - like eight or nine). It should be noted that PDT, Mayahuel, and Death & Co all have their lineage from Pegu Club, so, similar philosophies.

      If I had to rank my top 5 in town:

      1. Death & Co: Their menu is huge and divided into base spirit and whether you want a stirred or shaken drink; they'll also do bartender's choice in request. I love the innovation here with the infusions, house made syrups, etc. and they brought back punch service into fashion in this city. Good, big ice and chilled glassware are the norm here. Modern speakeasy decor. Also their head bartender used to be at the Alembic in SF!

      I think if you really want something more cutting edge, Death & Co and PDT are you places to go (RIP Tailor). Off the current menu, they have two drinks with a Sichuan peppercorn-infused gin, for example, and one with a coconut-green-tea-infused scotch (The Grass Kilt, it's so good). Get there early. It fills up quick. I only go to D&C on off nights before 8pm. No standing allowed. Do note that last call is around 1ish.

      2. PDT: Tiny bar hidden behind a phone booth inside of a hot dog joint. Taxidermy themed decor. Reservations for tables/booths only taken at 3pm for that same day; bar is always first come, first served, though. Go right at 6pm and sit at the bar. No standing. I believe the cost of drinks is at $15 each now, other places are still $13-14.

      It is very small, VERY VERY popular, and the drinks list is not quite as extensive as, say, Death & Co or Pegu Club. I think a lot of online reviews can focus too much on the difficulties of getting in and the faux speakeasy schtick and high price of cocktails/price of food compared to food cost. I still like it a lot but I think logistically, it's a pain to get in, so I don't go as often as I used to.

      Their bacon fat infused bourbon old fashioned (Benton's Old Fashioned) is one of the most innovative drinks in the city and one of the early forebears of the fat washing movement. Off the current menu, I like the Imperial Blueberry Fizz (with champagne), the Sixth Street (curry, egg white, ginger, guava, lime, lemon, gin), and the Mezcal mule with passionfruit, cayenne, and ginger.

      They also serve hot dogs and tater tots from the kitchen next door. I love the Torres Tots, paired with a Deragon dog. Mmmmm. Kind of a cool upscale bar/downscale food thing going on.

      I also highly recommend their brand new book that is chock full of recipes, equipment recommendations, brand recommendations, etc.

      3. Pegu Club: Pegu Club is a must visit just for historical reasons. Audrey Saunders is one of the reasons why we have a such plethora of cocktail lounges to choose from here these days. She trained with Dale DeGroff back in the day and Pegu Club was one of the first artisanal cocktail lounges to open in NYC. It's named after a British officers' club in Burma.

      A lot of places who make their own ginger beer are really just using her recipe. The Gin Gin Mule is a modern classic. If you like gin or ginger, this is the place to go as their gin and/or ginger beer based drinks are outstanding, but Pegu doesn't go as wild and crazy with the infusions as, say D&C or PDT. There is also a slight Asian bent, both in terms of decor, and the drinks, though I may be biased because I typically love whatever Kenta Goto is mixing (he's Japanese). I'm fond of the Tomatillo Highball with gin, tomatillo juice, basil syrup, and jalapeno, if they still have it. Which reminds me, they should start making their Tom & Jerry's soon....

      They also allow standing, so you could conceivably go later on in the night and still get in; but if the bartender is slammed, the quality tends to dip a little bit and it's a bit too loud to talk.

      I like going on the early side and quietly sipping a Pisco Punch, Gin Gin Mule, Jamaican Firefly, or an Old Cuban. She also known for her very wet martini (the 50-50), especially paired with their smoked trout deviled eggs. And her earl grey infused martini. Hell, half her list is "famous" and copied elsewhere now.

      It's also on the second floor and has windows, which means it has a slightly different atmosphere than the others (PDT and D&C are windowless).

      4. Milk & Honey / Little Branch: I put these together because M&H is basically impossible to get into unless you're a member.... But Little Branch is open to all. It's also one of those basement speakeasy/no sign bars. Pre-Prohibition atmosphere and drinks.

      Basically their philosophy is "fine dining standards applied to classic cocktails" in a place where you can relax without being unnecessarily hit on if you don't want to (hence I don't put a lot of stock in the Yelp reviews with complains that run counter to the concept). This is where you can get a great Champs-Élysées or Aviation or Last Word, etc.

      They usually don't bring the check until you ask. BUT they do allow standing in the bar area (as opposed to the tables/booths they have towards the back) and there's a line to get in due to, well, the fire code/occupancy laws (if a bar violates the fire code it can have its liquor license taken away). Live jazz, but only Sunday through Thursday. I like it a lot -- but the menu is rather short.

      This place works best if you are a repeat customer doing "bartender's choice" and the bartender can learn your tastes over time. But if you do go, go early (they open at 7pm) and ask for a pisco sour with Peruvian bitters if you go.

      5. Lani Kai

      This is Julie Reiner's upscale Hawaiian cocktail place--don't call it tiki, but it does have some great punches and rum drinks. Their orgeat is handmade, they garnish with fresh orchids, etc.

      It's big, and can get very loud and crowded, as they allow standing. A very pretty room, and less cozy than the others. We prefer the upstairs bar, instead of the larger bar/lounge down below. Her drinks are fabulous and balanced in a way that many tropical drinks are not. Try the Leilani's Fizz with gin, lychee, lime, lemongrass syrup. Or the Tia Mia, a mezcal take on the Mai Tai, with mezcal, Jamaican rum, orgeat, orange liqueur, and lime.

      And on Mondays they have taken to hosting a regular guest bartender, Brian Miller, who was Death & Co's tiki aficionado for a while. His drinks are really wonderful -- if you have the heart for it, ask him for a Winchester, which is his 3 gin version of a Zombie. I think they're reserving a little corner of the menu for his drinks regularly, too. It'll knock you out! The pork buns and poke are also outstanding, but pricey. They also have good brunch and happy hour specials. The same cocktails as later on in the evening but much cheaper.

      Julie Reiner also has two other cocktail lounges: Flatiron Lounge (which is more art deco) and Clover Club (pre-Prohibition drinks). But Clover Club is in Brooklyn, and while I like Flatiron a lot, it is just not as interesting to me personally as PDT, Death & Co, etc.

      If you like tequila, you must visit Mayahuel. It is focused on both tequila and mezcal, not just mezcal. It's a fairly large facility as far as craft cocktails go in NYC, which is nice, and it should be much easier to get a larger group of people in the door. The food is pretty good, not the absolute best, but it hits the spot (I think the D&C food and Pegu food is a little bit better). The drinks are really great and interesting. They do some with tea and tea infused tequila, jalapeno infused tequila, celery bitters, mole bitters, etc. I love the Loop Tonic, Slight Detour, Watermelon Sugar, Pilot Punch, La Vida Rosa. The menu is surprisingly extensive and Phil Ward is some sort of tequila genius (before he opened Mayahuel, he was at Death & Co, and before that Pegu Club).

      The Oaxaca Old-Fashioned is a modern classic and rightly so. Reposado tequila, mezcal, agave nectar, and Angostura bitters. It was featured in the NY Times a little while ago -- drinks of the decade or something crazy like that. No standing.

      If you're into rum, try El Cobre (all rum drinks) or Cienfuegos (all rum punches -- they will do single servings, too -- try the Honey Badger punch with Flor de Cana 4 yr extra dry, bonded applejack, lime, passionfruit, honey, jalapeño.).

      If you're into gin, try the new Whitehall or Vandaag (which also has aquavit cocktails and some beer cocktails).

      If you like bitters, go to Amor y Amargo. Order a negroni with their housemade vermouth. Divine! Possibly the best negroni in the city.

      There's also a host of restaurants with respectable cocktail programs like Fatty Cue, Peels, WD-50, Eleven Madison Park, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Minetta Tavern, Locanda Verde....

      50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

      Eleven Madison Park
      11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

      Momofuku Ssam Bar
      207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

      Minetta Tavern
      113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

      Little Branch
      22 Seventh Ave South, New York, NY 10014

      Please Don't Tell
      113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009

      Flatiron Lounge
      37 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011

      Pegu Club
      77 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012

      Death & Co.
      433 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009

      Milk and Honey
      134 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002

      304 E 6th St, New York, NY 10003

      Locanda Verde
      377 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013

      95 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009

      103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

      Lani Kai
      525 Broome St, New York, NY 10012

      El Cobre
      95 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009

      Amor y Amargo
      443 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009

      Tom & Jerry's
      288 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10012

      12 Replies
      1. re: kathryn

        A wealth of great insight and info. Thank you

        How about the best american whiskey bar?

        Also, I am here for one week

        1. re: drock36

          Kathryn's list is, of course, great and rather definitive.

          I would also add Raines Law Room to that list. Lovely bar that is very, very comfortable to sit and sip for awhile. Their head bartender, Meaghan Dorman, is infinitely talented and puts great emphasis on hospitality.

          Ward III, in Tribeca, has a very thorough list of scotch (both single malt & blended), bourbon, ryes, etc., etc.

          Raines Law Room
          48 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011

          Ward III
          111 Reade St, New York, NY 10013

          1. re: drock36

            For more of a dive atmosphere, I really like Idlehands. It's underneath a different bar, Billy Hurricane's. For something more upscale, Brandy Library is good. They do tasting flights and have great gougeres.

            See also:

            Brandy Library
            25 N Moore St, New York, NY 10013

            Billy Hurricane's
            25 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

            Idle Hands
            25 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

            1. re: drock36

              A few more notes:

              Cienfuegos has a bar but no bar stools so you can't really sit there and hang out.

              Same for Little Branch but you can stand and hang out.

              Raines Law Room is similar. Standing rather than sitting at the bar. They have a kitchen that you can stand in and watch, but no proper bar with stools. The rest of the space is lounge furniture with semi-private booths, so if you're just one person I'm not sure where they'd put you. The setup seems geared more towards couples and small groups.

              Little Branch
              22 Seventh Ave South, New York, NY 10014

              Raines Law Room
              48 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011

              95 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009

            2. re: kathryn

              @kathryn - re. M&H - did something change in the recent past like the last 2 months wrt getting in? i'm not a member but have always been able to get in after making reservations.

              1. re: indiefoodie

                If you're not a member and already have their contact info, I suppose you're OK, but they took their web site down, so getting the contact info is once again by "word of mouth."

                1. re: kathryn

                  Right. Well, I hope they don't change their contact info. else I'll be cut off :) Just curious - In addition to email, have you heard of any other way of making reservations there?

              2. re: kathryn

                Kathryn! Oh my stars, what a GREAT list. I think I should buy you a cocktail when I'm in town as thanks!

                I am definitely into the idea of a 'bitters bar'. I'll start a new topic on that.

                Is there anything from this list you'd strike as of March 2013 (due to closure or recent suckitude)?

                1. re: tenacity

                  Lani Kai has closed.

                  Milk & Honey has moved from the LES to near the Flatiron Building; I haven't yet been to the new incarnation. Middle Branch has also opened.

                  Experimental Cocktail Club has opened as has the Dead Rabbit and Pouring Ribbons.

                  Booker & Dax is now operating in the space next to Momofuku Ssam Bar.

                  1. re: tenacity

                    Forgot to mention that El Cobre is now Gin Palace. M&H is no longer members only. The old M&H space is now Attaboy.

                    Vandaag has closed.

                    And Empellon Cocina also has a fantastic tequila/mezcal cocktail program.

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Gin Palace - gotta love that name if they back it up in bottles. :-)

                  2. re: kathryn

                    Kathryn, Mr. Bourdain needs to invite you to his TV show!

                  3. Hi, this post if a few months old so I wanted to get people's opinion on what are some of the best cocktail places right now. The last couple of times that I went to M&H, I left disappointed. Somehow the drinks were not as good as all the times before that - imbalanced flavors probably being the biggest complaint. Another place that is popular but I did not like was Angels and Share. Very ordinary drinks IMO. I recently went to PDT (before it got very crowded) and liked it. The drinks didn't blow me away but were pretty good. Death and Co. - I've never sat at the bar but liked it the few times that I've been here. Will definitely like to go back and sit at the bar. Pegu Club- I think is solid and consistent, Lani Kai and Little Branch are good as well. Out of the relatively new ones, I've been to Amar y Amargo and Cienfuegos - the drinks were OK, nothing special. Never been to Raines Law or Employees Only. So, what are your favorites??

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: rahulsingh

                      Angels Share is second tier IMO. So is Employees Only, they free pour.

                      Raines Law Room or Lanterns Keep on a quiet night would be my next recommendations, followed by Booker & Dax. Flatiron Lounge is also worth a stop, same woman runs Lani Kai and Clover Club.

                      Or NoMad which is run by someone who is ex-Death & Co.

                      1. re: rahulsingh

                        Mayahuel should be on your list as well.

                      2. Experimental Cocktail Club 191 Chrystie

                        1. Tried Pouring Ribbons recently. I thought it was really good. I'll still rate Death & Co. slightly higher but just slightly. I've not been to Booker and Dax or Experimental yet. How are they compared to Pouring? Any newcomers that should be tried out?
                          Thank you.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: rahulsingh

                            B&D is really a unique sort of bar so it's not fair to compare it to others who aren't using the same techniques.

                            Dead Rabbit just opened recently.

                            Did you ever end up going to Raines?

                            1. re: kathryn

                              I did go to Raines and liked it. I also went to M&H's new location and found it to be decent.

                              1. re: rahulsingh

                                If you liked Raines, try Lantern's Keep.

                                If you liked Death & Co, try Mayahuel, JBird, or the NoMad as well. All of those are run by former D&C people.

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  I had gone to Mayahuel once but wasn't very impressed. But this was a while ago. Maybe I should go back.
                                  NoMad, I had a few cocktails when I had gone there for dinner. I'll give Lantern's Keep a shot some time.

                            2. re: rahulsingh

                              Booker & Dax has a much more limited (and less interesting, imho) menu than Pouring Ribbons. Experimental Cocktail Club has a very cool room and really off the wall drinks, but many of them are not that great. Pouring Ribbons is the best of the three.