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Feb 16, 2012 08:05 AM

Cocktails/Beer in the LES

Hi all...looking for a good Cocktail Bar (coming from DC looking for places similar to Columbia Room, PS7 and PX) in the LES. Any input?

Also, any spots with high-quality craft beer selections (preferably with things harder to find)

Thanks a lot!

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  1. Hi there! Welcome to the Manhattan board...

    The LES is a great spot for excellent cocktail bars (Milk & Honey!), especially if you want walk up to the East Village (PDT, Death & Co, Booker & Dax, Mayahuel, The Beagle, Vandaag, etc). OR over to Soho (Pegu Club) or the West Village (Little Branch). There's a big concentration of great cocktail bars south of 14th Street here.

    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? Columbia Room (which I love) seems kind of in the middle of classic vs. nouveau...

    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?

    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.

    Booker & Dax is a newer more experimental place, attached to Momofuku Ssam Bar. It is excellent. They use liquid nitrogen to chill their glassware, red hot pokers to make hot drinks, there are centrifuged drinks, etc. Unlike anything in town!

    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). I also like the Meridien Daiquiri, which I think has aquavit in it. Get there early. It fills up quick after 6pm. I only go to D&C on off nights before 8pm. No standing allowed. Do note that last call is around 1ish. No reservations taken.

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

    It is very small, 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).

    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. The only thing I don't like is that there aren't any bar stools. So it can be a little awkward for a solo drinker, unless you like leaning up against the bar all night, in the midst of the crowds waiting for a table.

    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.

    Oh, and the head barkeep here worked on the Speakeasy Cocktails iPad app, which is really neat. You can really see his attention to detail.

    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.

    Another excellent place is Raines Law Room. Kind of a similar philosophy as Milk & Honey in that the drinks don't get too experimental. I like that instead of a bar, they have an open kitchen. As in, you can stand in the kitchen, around an island, and watch the bartenders work. However. they have the same problem as Little Branch, in that it can get awkward for a solo drinker, in the midst of the crowds waiting for a table. The atmosphere is also very intimate, set up kind of like a dark library/study -- I think of it more as a date place.

    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 at Mayahuel, no reservations.

    If you're into rum, try 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, The Beagle, Locanda Verde....

    Recommendations for a Beerhound in Manhattan

    LES and the nearby East Village will have a lot of options for you, especially near 7th Street.

    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

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

    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

    325 Bowery, New York, NY 10003

    Lani Kai
    525 Broome St, New York, NY 10012

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

    The Beagle
    162 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009

    Fatty 'Cue
    50 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014

    19 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10014

    Booker & Dax
    207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

    4 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Wow. What a terrific reply. Thanks so much. Alot to process. From what you say I may try Booker and Dax (any rec's there) or death and co/PDT.

      While I am open to pretty much any cocktail, when it comes to a certain spirit I am a bourbon man. Recs on that front?

      1. re: bwp2006

        At Booker & Dax, try the Chartruth (carbonated chartreuse and lime), Jenny & Scott (basically a Yamazaki old fashioned but with mole and hellfire bitters), Lady of the Night (for a different take on a Bloody Mary), or any of the red hot poker drinks.

        For bourbon, 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. If you're willing to go to Brooklyn, Char No. 4.

        See also:

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

        Idle Hands
        25 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

        Booker & Dax
        207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

        1. re: kathryn

          Coming down from Portland, Maine for the weekend. I have my M&H reservation for early Saturday night when they open at 8. From there I wanted to ht Death and co., PKNY and then finish over where we are staying in the West Village with Lani Kai and Little Branch. However, I haven't seen much on PKNY and don't know what is up with them since Pussers forced the name change...Any input, kathryn? You seem pretty well dialed in...

          1. re: Noreaster

            I haven't been back to PKNY in a while ever since Giuseppe left. Sorry.

            I think you should actually START at Death & Co around 6ish since you may not be able to get in on a Saturday night after M&H, since you probably won't get there until 9pm or 10pm. There's nearly always a wait at D&C on a Friday night.

            PKNY isn't as bad because they allow standing. The bar area is really narrow and gets a little uncomfortable if it's crowded. Also the bar stools are nailed down to the floor, so it's not like you can make more room by scooting in (which has driven me nuts in the past). There is literally just not enough space for 2 people to pass each other when PKNY is packed.

            Little Branch also gets pretty bad in terms of wait time for weekend nights, especially after normal dinner time is over. You might end up waiting outside if the bar area is too packed.

            Luckily Lani Kai is big enough to accommodate large crowds, so you should be able to get in on a Saturday night.

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

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

            49 Essex St, New York, NY 10002

            Lani Kai
            525 Broome St, New York, NY 10012