When you live as close as we do to New York City, ground zero for the craft cocktail renaissance on the East Coast, it’s almost a duty to go visit bars there. Actually, it is a duty. It’s what budding chefs do (visiting highly acclaimed restaurants, that is, not bars necessarily), and it’s what young mixologists should do too. Drink and learn from the best. Drinking in situ, to speak, is no match for on-line videos and blogs.
But that doesn’t mean these trips happens with regularity or ease, as it’s not inexpensive to get into the city and then there’s the question of where to spend the night, unless you want to punish yourself with a two-hour, lights-blazing train ride home after a fine evening of being out on the town.
And there’s what I also call suburban inertia, which requires a powerful escape velocity to break through. To muster this energy, fixing a date in the calendar, instead of just talking about it, can be most helpful, and this is what we did.
On a scheduled Monday evening in early April, Paul, Laura, and I of Night Owl Hospitality met up in the city to visit well-established craft cocktail bars. Our chief goal that evening was just to do it, to go on a cocktail crawl, as we had been talking about it for years, and our tactic was to keep the crawl localized so that we could walk from place to place.
Familiarity was behind our meeting spot. Dear Irving is near where I have a pied-à-terre, and both Paul and Laura used to work with a woman who used to bartend there. Since it was a Monday, it was a bit quiet at this Gramercy bar, but that meant we could focus more on the design and decor and notice for the first time how the bar is divided into two very different styles. Clever! And so are the drinks. The clear winner was Paul’s highball, fresh and lively.
Where to next? I really wanted to go back to Existing Conditions since it’s one of the newest bars in the city and it’s doing something totally new and rad. In addition, I have been long following the career of one of the bartenders there, ever since Garrett and I sat next to each other at a seminar at the very first Manhattan Cocktail Classic in 2010. The spin there is modern tiki—the flourish of tiki pared down and focused, with the help of Dave Arnold’s technical wizardry such as the centrifuge. I was craving a drink made this way, rum and pineapple. Laura decided to go big and get one of the more pricey drinks on the menu, Tropical Storm, which was so fresh and delicious.
We let Garrett pick the next stop, Katana Kitten, where he sends many folks after they close, which is on the early side for Manhattan, at midnight. Again, it was quiet here, but this meant we got the full attention of the bartender. I went with one of their “coldest balls in the city,” the Toki Highball.
How can you not go to Employees Only when it’s right across the street. Paul had never been and neither had Laura. It presented itself like no other way that I had previously seen it—off the walls at 2am on Monday. Paul and Laura loved their drink so much they ordered a second round, so deep was their appreciation. But this, of course, leads to what all things lead to, even if you are on a professional drinking tour—late night pizza which doesn’t always end well. But it all did end well: we actually went toured craft cocktail bars together and have another date on the calendar.
Tips for doing your own craft cocktail bar crawl: Do some research ahead of time so you can hit the places you should be hitting. Talk to the bartender not just about what she’s making and how she’s doing it. Get her suggestion about where to go next and then go there. This is usually choice info. To keep things moving and to minimize the chance of over consuming, just drink one drink at each place. Know that you won’t hit every spot, so plan to come back another time. And put it in your calendar.