Drinking New York City

I get to New York about once a year on average. I make lists each time. Bars, restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops. Places I just have to hit. It’s always a blend of the old and new – I lived there many years ago and still have to hit some favorites each time I go back. And I usually make it through only a small portion of “the list,” defeated by human limitations on time and consumption. And, of course, walking the streets of New York, there are always places that were never on the list that end up beckoning you in.

Cocktails at Mayahuel

For cocktails this trip, I ended up hitting PDT and Mayahuel and Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar (which also has an incredible wine list), and had time to walk in and check out Death and Company but not enough time to actually get a drink (bummer! this was at the top of my list but just didn’t work out). Other places I had really hoped to hit were The Beagle, Amor y Amargo, Booker & Dax, and Employees Only. Amazingly, The Beagle, PDT, Death and Company, and Mayahuel are all in an area about four blocks square in the East Village. That would be some cocktail crawl. Another time.

Mayahuel rocked. Thanks to some local Atlanta bartender friends who insisted I go there; I had never heard of it.¬†Mayahuel focuses on tequila and mezcal, and does tremendously well with those spirits and a number of infusions and interesting flavor plays. There was the “Slight Detour,” with a jalapeno-infused tequila, reposado tequila and mezcal, agave nectar, and Xocolatl mole bitters. And there was something else… I can’t recall thanks to the tequila and mezcal. It’s a cool little underground space, an intimate bar with good things going on.

Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar was one of those places I just happened upon, another tiny little space that seats about 15 people max. I know the Blue Ribbon folks do just about everything well, so was confident that we’d find something good there. There were oysters, champagne, and deviled eggs, and then a cocktail involving gin and cucumber that was bright (naturally) green and tremendously interesting and complex. I just wish I could have done a few wine flights here as well.

The Bear at PDT

And the heralded PDT? Let’s just say I’m over the whole speakeasy-enter-through-a-secret-door thing, and I’m also kinda over gimmicks like bacon-infused bourbon. PDT has been doing this particular drink (the Bacon Old Fashioned) for more than four years now, but it seems people won’t let them take it off the menu. I may not love bacon-infused bourbon, but, luckily, I do love stuffed bears.

The only beer stop on the trip was Birreria, the rooftop bar at Eataly. The rotation of three house-brewed beers here are a co-production of Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Italian brewers Baladin and Del Borgo, but I was really disappointed in them (despite being a fan of Dogfish Head in general). All three are unfiltered, unpasteurized and naturally carbonated cask ales. All sounded interesting Рthere was a witbier brewed with coriander and peppercorns, a chestnut ale, and a thyme pale ale. But none met the mark, more due to the beer lacking character than the presence of the flavoring elements. Service was equally disappointing.

Coffee? Holy smokes, it seems like there are excellent coffee choices every block or so in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I had the wonderful New Orleans ice coffee at Blue Bottle, a few fabulous espressos with different portions of steamed milk (no Italian names here) at Ninth Street Espresso, a great latte and espresso from Joe, a spot-on cortado at Third Rail… and I passed many, many more places that I wish I could have checked out, including the Mudtruck on wheels. Like I said, holy smokes.

Wine? That list at Blue Ribbon blew me away, and I had some really nice wine pairings at a “fancy” lunch at Eleven Madison Park. Favorite wine of the trip? A funky Savennieres from Domaine aux Moines that really woke up my taste buds with excellent acidity.

Making the Egg Cream

Oh, also at Eleven Madison Park, one of my favorites things imbibed this trip, an orange cocoa-nib “egg cream” that was perfection, with a subtle chocolate kick beneath a sharp orange cream bite. Like liquid dark chocolate-covered orange rind. In case you didn’t know, egg creams have no egg, no cream (discuss…), but are based on seltzer water, milk, and (most often) chocolate syrup. A high end take on this humble New York specialty was a surprising treat.

Of course, there was lots of food to go along with the drinks. A few places that I’d highly recommend: Kin Shop for semi-upscale Thai, Red Hook Lobster Pound for lobster rolls, the Lounge at Le Bernardin for late night seriously upscale seafood, Lonestar Empire at the Williamsburg Flea Market for an awesome brisket sandwich, and the always amazing chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery. Sure, there was some damn good pizza and pasta and bao and soup dumplings and pastrami, too, but the names above stood out most.

Local Spirits: Bourbon? Leave that to the South!