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Fat Guy

The five best cocktail destinations in NYC

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It seems to me there are now enough serious cocktail places that we can talk about a top five list (I'm also going to try to write an article on the subject now that it's mainstream enough). So what do the cocktail experts out there think are the five best in NYC?

Impressionistically, I love PDT, enjoy Pegu, have had mixed experiences at Death and have never done well at Tailor. But that's pretty much the whole universe of my experience and I don't feel qualified to explain why one place is better than another.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In New York City, and in no particular order:

Pegu Club

Death & Company

PDT

Clover Club (or Flatiron Lounge if you're restricting to Manhattan)

Milk & Honey

I don't think there will be too much argument among NYC cocktailians on this list.

One of the things you will find is that 95% of the top cocktail spots are closely related, all sprouting from the Audrey Saunders/Julie Reiner/Sasha Petraske tree in one way or another. Tailor would be the major exception to that -- and, needless to say, Eban is doing his own unique thing there.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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In New York City, and in no particular order:

Pegu Club

Death & Company

PDT

Clover Club (or Flatiron Lounge if you're restricting to Manhattan)

Milk & Honey

I don't think there will be too much argument among NYC cocktailians on this list.

One of the things you will find is that 95% of the top cocktail spots are closely related, all sprouting from the Audrey Saunders/Julie Reiner/Sasha Petraske tree in one way or another.  Tailor would be the major exception to that -- and, needless to say, Eban is doing his own unique thing there.

Agree wholeheartedly. Haven't been to Little Branch lately but I'm sure I'd still put it next on that list.

Impressionistically, I love PDT, enjoy Pegu, have had mixed experiences at Death and have never done well at Tailor.

If you've had mixed experiences at D&Co I think you're just not going often enough! In all seriousness, there is an incredible amount of talent behind the bar there.

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Even since they switched over the new menu, my estimation of Death & Co. has only gone up. The menu is rich and varied.

I love Pegu a lot but the menu seems a bit stale and not as balanced (use of ginger beer and mint), and cocktails going to those seated at tables might not receive as much care and attention.


"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

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pegu

pdt

death and company

milk and honey

angels share


"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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The thing is, NYC's cocktail culture has matured, but even now I think you could pretty much do it ALL in a list of seven:

Death & Co.

PDT

Tailor

Pegu

Clover Club

Milk & Honey

Flat Iron

I personally just don't think there are enough contenders yet to merit a "Top 5", since it would be the top 5 out of at best 10 possibilities.


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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The thing is, NYC's cocktail culture has matured, but even now I think you could pretty much do it ALL in a list of seven:

Death & Co.

PDT

Tailor

Pegu

Clover Club

Milk & Honey

Flat Iron

I personally just don't think there are enough contenders yet to merit a "Top 5", since it would be the top 5 out of at best 10 possibilities.

I think you could add Little Branch to this list.

There are plenty of places on the next level down. Places with good bartenders and good drinks that are good enough to be far and away the best cocktail joint in most American cities, but are second-tier in NYC. These are places like Freeman's, Rayulela, Brandy Library (although cocktails really aren't their best thing), Employee's Only, B Flat, Elettaria, East Side Company, etc.

Angel's Share, I don't get. That place has been cruising on a no-longer-valid reputation for at least 5 years.


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The thing is, NYC's cocktail culture has matured, but even now I think you could pretty much do it ALL in a list of seven:

Death & Co.

PDT

Tailor

Pegu

Clover Club

Milk & Honey

Flat Iron

I personally just don't think there are enough contenders yet to merit a "Top 5", since it would be the top 5 out of at best 10 possibilities.

I think you could add Little Branch to this list.

Two people I trust immensely in matters of cocktails have suggested Bobo (and Angel's Share gets mentioned all the time even if it doesn't actually deserve the accolades). In all I have a list of 10 (sneaketer's list of seven plus Little Branch, Bobo and Angel's Share) places that reasonable (albeit possibly ill informed) people have suggested could be top 5, so I think it's useful to look for a top 5 out of that universe.

My read on the situation is that nearly every person who has made a study of it puts Pegu, PDT and Death on the top 5 list but that there's a real debate as to the other 2 slots (I'm still personally trying to understand Death but hope to get there). Even if we made it a top 10 list, though, there would be people arguing about whether to include Elettaria or whatever.

At what Sam calls the next level down, I'd also probably argue for just about any Union Square Hospitality Group bar operation. They tend to be quite serious about their cocktail programs. (Jim Meehan is ex-Gramercy, I believe.)


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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For the very very little it's worth, I find your inability to "get" Death & Co. to date interesting, since to me it's the best of the field.

I think this shows, among things, that these places are extremely variable, depending A LOT on who's manning or womanning the bar when you're there.

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I think as cocktails become more and more serious you are more influenced by stylistic differences that have been alluded to in other threads. This is especially true when considering a bar's drink list on the whole. Be it the influences of the head mixologist, the bartending team, or something else entirely you often times see similar themes manifest themselves across a menu. This, to me, is actually a good thing. Just as some people don't get the cuisine of Wylie or Liebrandt, their cooking would certainly go on my Top 5 list.

Lists of this nature are kind of pointless because once you get to a certain level of quality it really comes down to less objective factors. Better to just talk about the trend at large and define the traits that make a good bar. Then again, if you want to write an article about it, people love seeing lists.

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Thank you.

Atmosphere counts: you can't discount the fun, clubby effect of the phone booth entrance at PDT, for example. Cocktailian consistency only is relevant if you've been to a place repeatedly with different people behind the stick. (I certainly haven't.)

Audrey hugged me both times I've been to Pegu Club, so that's a plus.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I think that's exactly right.

What's more important and interesting is why there's this group of 8 or 10 places in the City that are categorically different from all other similar places.

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It's not about lists. I'm not sure I've ever written an article containing a list as such. And it's not just about what I want to write. I think the question of top five makes sense and is interesting for a variety of reasons, not least that it's a doable number for someone who wants to devote a weekend to the project of getting up to speed on cocktail culture.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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What's more important and interesting is why there's this group of 8 or 10 places in the City that are categorically different from all other similar places.

I wonder if 8-10 is the peak of the trend or the beginning.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My impulse is to say the peak. But since it's very difficult to get into most of the current eight or ten, I'd have to say that in reality the market is still underserved.

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When you're writing about this, FG, one useful thing you can do for your readership is to differentiate between what I'd call Serious Cocktail Bars and what I'd call Douchebag Bars, which also charge a lot for cocktails and also use premium ingredients, but which don't feature balanced, quality mixology but instead cater to people who don't care about culinary quality but just want to be seen spending a lot of money.

The Gold Bar. The Jade and Rose Bars. The Eldridge (not that I've been, of course). Etc.

(It'll be interesting to see which side Apotheke falls on.)


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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What criteria would people use to determine which places belong on this list?

For me, knowledge and creativity of the staff. I know I'm getting a perfectly made cocktail, whether it be a Corpse Reviver, something off the menu, or a new formula they're experimenting with.

For the very very little it's worth, I find your inability to "get" Death & Co. to date interesting, since to me it's the best of the field.

I think this shows, among things, that these places are extremely variable, depending A LOT on who's manning or womanning the bar when you're there.

I agree that consistency is important, and for that reason alone I put Death & Co. and PDT at the very top of my list. I don't find them to be variable at all - every bartender at Death & Co. is amazing in his own right, and that goes for everyone who's made me a drink at PDT as well. For precisely the same reason, I don't go to Pegu as much anymore. Not all the bartenders I've met there can go off menu with confidence, and that's a lot of the fun of it for me.

I personally don't care for Angel's Share for anything other than atmosphere (which means I haven't been in years).

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I don't mean inconsistency of quality, Daisy. I mean of style.

To be sure, each of these places has a house style that's somewhat distinct.

But since we all go off menu, the style of each particular bartender becomes important. And there are bartenders whose styles are more to to my taste than others -- even though they're all superbly skilled.

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When you're writing about this, FG, one useful thing you can do for your readership is to differentiate between what I'd call Serious Cocktail Bars and what I'd call Douchebag Bars . . .

Love that. So true.

Another thought - as far as cocktails at restaurant bars go, I do think that there is more variability based on who's there that night. Many of the bar staff at places like Bobo and Elettaria are (or were) excellent and can also be found behind the bar at the cocktail bars we're discussing, but that doesn't mean the entire bar staff is going to be of the same caliber, or that the restaurant is as concerned with consistency as much as a cocktail bar would be.

Was talking about The Randolph last night at D&Co - I haven't been yet but am interested to hear people's thoughts on it since I don't think anyone's commented on it in a while.

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I don't mean inconsistency of quality, Daisy.  I mean of style.

To be sure, each of these places has a house style that's somewhat distinct.

But since we all go off menu, the style of each particular bartender becomes important.  And there are bartenders whose styles are more to to my taste than others -- even though they're all superbly skilled.

Oh, I see - I misunderstood, but completely agree. Their individual styles come in a wide range. I love trying to figure out which bartender originated a cocktail. God, I am such a dork.

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Another thought - as far as cocktails at restaurant bars go, I do think that there is more variability based on who's there that night.  Many of the bar staff at places like Bobo and Elettaria are (or were) excellent and can also be found behind the bar at the cocktail bars we're discussing, but that doesn't mean the entire bar staff is going to be of the same caliber, or that the restaurant is as concerned with consistency as much as a cocktail bar would be. 

This is certainly right.

But even aside from that, I think cocktails function differently at restaurants than at cocktail lounges, giving the cocktail programs different purposes.

At restaurants with serious cocktail programs, the cocktails still have to complement the restaurant's cuisine, so that the food and cocktail programs work coherently (see Ellataria (sp?)).

Also, I suspect that a good restaurant cocktail might be different from a good bar cocktail. Since the restaurant cocktail is a prelude to a meal, I have a feeling that a mixologist would formulate a restaurant cocktail differently from a bar cocktail, perhaps using fewer flavor components and perhaps tamer ones.

Now the distinction I'm drawing here becomes less important the more a restaurant's bar is designed to function as a stand-alone entity. But to the extent we're talking about cocktails that are adjuncts to the food program, I think the distinction stands.


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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