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I'm putting this on here as a single topic, not as a series of individual posts because that's what made the most sense to me. Feel free to change that, obviously.

First, a few caveats. I have not been to all, or even most cocktail bars in New York (most notably I have not been to Angel's Share, or Milk and Honey, etc, and I'm very curious to hear people's takes on the spots I'm missing). Others know far more about this topic than me, and certainly have more to offer. In some cases I have only visited the bars listed below a single time, although in most cases I've been at least a few times, and in a heroic effort to crystallize my thoughts on the matter I hit five of the six over one 48 hour period this past weekend.

Second, if you visit any of these places I'm pretty confident that you'll have a good experience, and that you'll get a good cocktail. My main takeaway from this weekend was that, at least of the first five bars, I'd go to whichever is closer and/or has the shortest wait time.

Anyhow, here goes:
1. Death and Company
This is my favorite cocktail bar in New York, and perhaps my favorite that I've ever been to. The staff is friendly and courteous, they only allow as many people in as they have seats, which means that you can actually have a conversation and don't have to box people out to preserve precious bar space, and the cocktails are exceptional. I also just love the feel of the place, they play music, and it is loud enough that it doesn't feel stuffy and dead. Finally, although I'll speculate that this has just been dumb luck, I've yet to have exceptionally long wait times to get in when I've stopped by.

2. PDT
For those who don't know, this is the "speakeasy" attached to Crif Dogs, a hot dog place in the East Village. To get in you can either make a reservation, which required repeatedly calling right at 3 pm on the day you're hoping to drink there, or showing up and trying to secure one of the small number of seats actually at the bar. When you arrive at Crif Dogs, you enter a phone booth, pick up the phone, and wait for the panel to pop open to talk to the hostess. In my experience you'll then likely have to hang out in the hot dog joint for a few minutes even if you have a reservation.

Anyhow, I'm of two minds on all of that. On the one hand, the whole exercise is kind of fun. On the other hand, sometimes I just want a drink without going through all of those steps. Phone booth aside, the bar itself feels rather secretive when you're inside, it's small, has low ceilings, and has many taxidermied animals hanging on the wall. Again, service was fantastic, the cocktail list was extremely interesting, and I thought all of the drinks were great.

3. Booker and Dax
This is the bar attached to Momofuku Ssam Bar. I'd been here a number of times under its previous name, Momofuku Ssam Bar Bar, and went this weekend for the first time under this new moniker. The place looks exactly the same, but still has a different feel than before. Before it served essentially as a waiting area for the Ssam Bar, but now they only allow folks in if they have a seat. Also, while before they made excellent drinks, they now are doing all sorts of crazy stuff as well. This includes using liquid nitrogen to chill their glasses, and centrifuges to clarify the grapefruit juice for one cocktail. Whether or not you care about these touches (I enjoyed them on the whole), this is a cool spot for an extremely well made and inventive cocktail.

4. Mayhuel
Mayahuel is different than the rest of these spots. Owned by the same folks as Death and Company, they focus on tequila and Mezcal drinks. I really like this place. It feels kind of divey, and has a menu roughly the length of a Russian novel. Even if you don't like tequila I'm confident that there's a drink on here that you'll enjoy, and the staff is knowledgeable enough to walk you through the ridiculously long list of selections.

5. Pegu Club
The Pegu Club felt much more staid, quiet and reserved than any of the rest of these spots. I've only been here once, however, and it was on the early side (although no earlier than my trip the next day to PDT), which might explain that impression. The bar is much larger (or at least feels much more spacious) than any of the others, and is just "fancier" in the way that it is laid out. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, cocktail menu is extensive and interesting, service is great and knowledgeable, and the drinks are killer. If I were trying to have a quiet conversation, and wanted to do so over an extremely well made cocktail, this is probably where I would go.

6. Employees Only
It probably isn't fair to include Employees Only in with the rest of these bars, as there are a number of key differences. All of the places above will only allow folks in if they have seats available. At Employees Only they'll pack the place to the gills. When visiting on a Saturday night, as I did this past weekend, you have to fight your way to the bar to place your order, and work hard to carve out space to sit our stand to enjoy your drinks.

I left quite impressed, however. Despite my initial concern at any bartender who doesn't measure when mixing a drink (free pouring is apparently one of their core beliefs here), our drinks were very good. And everybody in the bar was drinking cocktails, and you didn't have to wait long to get them. The guys behind the bar were really moving.

Of the six spots this is probably the one I'm least likely to return to, but that doesn't mean it's bad. If I had a larger group and hadn't planned in advance this is probably where I'd go.

---

[The following posts have been split into separate threads:

PKNY (Gadarene)

Dead Rabbit (SeanMike)

Amor y Amago (cheezepowder)]

Edited by DonRocks
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This is pretty much spot on, in my view. As a matter of personal preference, I'd reverse PDT and Death & Co. - I like PDT's space more, but it's a small distinction, and I freely admit that Death & Co. is great.

I can also speak to two that you mention but haven't visited yet:

Angel's Share - I've only been there once but I enjoyed their cocktail immensely and approve of their policy, shared by others on this list, of not admitting more people than they have seats. They also do not seat groups larger than four (I believe PDT has a similar policy), which gives the place an extremely relaxed vibe.

Milk & Honey - another place I've only been once. Its cocktails were of very high quality, and I appreciated its core concept of not having a set menu but rather having the server ask you a series of questions about your preferences and bringing you something they believe you'd enjoy. I didn't think the cocktails were significantly better than PDT's, Death & Co.'s, or Angel's Share's, however, and both Death & Co. and Angel's Share are more accessible.

One quick note on the Pegu Club - it can get a bit crowded and hectic later in the evening, if memory serves.

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To me, of the "cocktail temples," Mayahuel and Death&Co. are the two tops. I'm partial to Mayahuel because I think people need to get out of their agave spirit comfort zone, and Mayahuel does that adroitly and pleasantly.

But my favorite place to drinks-geek in Manhattan is Amor y Amargo. No juice. No shaken drinks. Just amaro and other aromatic wines/spirits, simple cocktails, vermouth on tap. Yes, it gets crowded. But it's bloody awesome.

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The newly-opened Experimental Cocktail Club, which I wrote about a week or so ago, is gorgeous inside and the cocktails are exemplary. Since it's just finding its footing, I can't say as to how crowded or what the scene will be like at 10 PM on a Saturday night, but the 3 or 4 times I've been already, it was pretty mellow. Of course, I like to drink early and very rarely run into problems getting into any of the venues mentioned in the excellent OP.

Pegu is always a go-to when I'm meeting people coming from various locations around the city, since it's quite close to a number of subway lines and there seems to always be space for us. Your drinks will never fail you here.

Mayahuel, with the excellent Phil Ward running the show, Death & Co. (with their excellent peeps) and PDT are the most serious cocktail places in town. If you're into tequila, mezcal, etc., as jparrot notes above, get yourself to Mayahuel and be astounded.

Amor y Amargo is a little too claustrophobic for my liking (I know, strange coming from a New Yorker), but the drinks and the bitters are awesome. I was even able to buy a copy of beta cocktails here.

Dave Kaplan, one of the owners of D & C, along with Alex Day, one of the great bartenders from D & C's "early" years, have just opened Demi Monde in the Financial District...I haven't been yet, but I have to think it's going be good.

And for a "best bar in a restaurant," the recently opened The Nomad Hotel, helmed by GM Will Guidara and Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, along with Leo Robitschek running the cocktail "program," is garnering praises from every which way.

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I agree with the above comments on Mayahuel. I don't typically find myself ordering tequila and mezcal drinks on my own, and this forces me into agave spirits that I otherwise would not try. I need to try out Amor & Amargo, and I completely forgot about your post on the Experimental Cocktail Club while planning out this trip. Next time . . .

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I was very impressed by Pegu Club when I was up earlier this month. Excellent cocktails, great space for talking and the small plates were excellent. They toned down a cilantro jalapeno cocktail for me so there was just a hint of heat. It was sensational. If I had more time and money, I'd be trying more NY cocktail spots. Sigh...

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Demi Monde is quite good, although I think the target market is a little more loud/lounge-y/nightclub-y than cocktail-y.

Just made plans to go this evening. Agree about the target market...the after work Wall St. and the crowd that follows down there tends to be a little more raucous.

Sometime you should check out Old Stone Street, which is a pedestrian alley. There aren't any brilliant cocktails, but plenty of beer and booze flows, a great pizza can be had at Adrienne's Pizza Bar (the square one) and everyone is having a blast outside amidst some of the oldest real estate in NYC.

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My favorite of the NY cocktail bars I've been to is Booker & Dax (I've been to PDT, Death & Company, Pegu Club, Employees Only, Little Branch, Angels Share, Nomad). I keep going back to Booker & Dax. I really like their drinks - especially the basil drinks - and the relaxed but quiet atmosphere. (I prefer to go to all these bars on the early side.)

Death & Company would be up there if it weren't so dark! I'm usually in NY solo so I'll read my Kindle or something while drinking cocktails. It was way too dark in Death & Company to read my Kindle (it's not the backlit kind), and I could barely read the menu. But I'd go back there when I'm not solo.

I'm not sure if I was at the "right" bar at Nomad -- there seemed to be multiple areas -- but it was more of pick up scene than I'd like.

I went back to Pegu Club this weekend because I haven't been back in a number of years. I like the quiet reserved atmosphere with jazz/big band music. I had a cranberry/pomegranate/apple brandy cocktail, but it was a bit sweet for me. The tantris sidecar was more to my taste.

I'll try Pouring Ribbons next time I have a chance (thanks for the tip.)

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For those on a bit of a budget, there's a place on Avenue C and 9th called The Wayland - they actually have a happy hour where a well-made Manhattan or Sazerac may be had for $7, and oysters are $1 a pop. Idle Hands at Avenue B and 2nd is another well-stocked bar that does a nice happy hour...and the joint upstairs does a good burger.

The Tantris Sidecar is one of Audrey Saunders' classic concoctions. Pegu is, and will always be, one of my favorites.

And we've now got 2 more places to try; Milk & Honey's new Flatiron incarnation and Dead Rabbit, in the financial district (unfortunately having some problems opening, due to lingering effects of Sandy on the area).

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Just made plans to go this evening. Agree about the target market...the after work Wall St. and the crowd that follows down there tends to be a little more raucous.

Sometime you should check out Old Stone Street, which is a pedestrian alley. There aren't any brilliant cocktails, but plenty of beer and booze flows, a great pizza can be had at Adrienne's Pizza Bar (the square one) and everyone is having a blast outside amidst some of the oldest real estate in NYC.

Ulysses on Stone Street is a nice place to pass an evening. Particularly on Sundays when the crowd of Wall Streeters is thinner and Keith the Bartender leads an inoffensive quiz night.

*Adding caveat that I haven't been down there since Hurricane Sandy and am unsure the extent of damage if any

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I’m putting this on here as a single topic, not as a series of individual posts because that’s what made the most sense to me. Feel free to change that, obviously.

First, a few caveats. I have not been to all, or even most cocktail bars in New York (most notably I have not been to Angel’s Share, or Milk and Honey, etc, and I’m very curious to hear people’s takes on the spots I’m missing). Others know far more about this topic than me, and certainly have more to offer. In some cases I have only visited the bars listed below a single time, although in most cases I’ve been at least a few times, and in a heroic effort to crystallize my thoughts on the matter I hit five of the six over one 48 hour period this past weekend.

Second, if you visit any of these places I’m pretty confident that you’ll have a good experience, and that you’ll get a good cocktail. My main takeaway from this weekend was that, at least of the first five bars, I’d go to whichever is closer and/or has the shortest wait time.

Anyhow, here goes:

1. Death and Company

This is my favorite cocktail bar in New York, and perhaps my favorite that I’ve ever been to. The staff is friendly and courteous, they only allow as many people in as they have seats, which means that you can actually have a conversation and don’t have to box people out to preserve precious bar space, and the cocktails are exceptional. I also just love the feel of the place, they play music, and it is loud enough that it doesn’t feel stuffy and dead. Finally, although I’ll speculate that this has just been dumb luck, I’ve yet to have exceptionally long wait times to get in when I’ve stopped by.

Made my first visit to Death and Company two weeks ago based on this and other recommendations... Overall I agree with DCDuck and other posters here who were fans - got there right at six and had a short wait to get in (warning, they are very strict about only seating complete parties). The wait staff was wonderful and worked with the bartenders to craft an off-menu cocktail for me based on feedback after a few others. Drinks were top-notch in way that was inventive but not too over the top. The one complaint I did have was the space at the tables - I'm a decently if not freakishly tall gentleman, and after two hours of trying to stay in the small space I was alotted, I don't think I could have sat through another round. Not uncommon around there, but made what would have been a great visit less enjoyable.

Also had a few bar snacks, including a flatbread pizza that wasn't bad.

Best drink of the evening was Sforzando, which was rye mixed with mezcal, benedictine and bitters - the smokiness of the mezcal definately came through. It was a cocktail that I didn't care for at all after the first sip, but wanted three more after the last.

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All great ones posted, I didn't see Little Branch (Leroy and 7th - cash only) live Jazz after 11pm I believe, used to be every night they were open but that schedule may have changed. If you're looking to do something a bit more fancy, the bar at the NoMad hotel serves up great cocktails and is pretty lively.

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Newest, not-to-be-missed cocktails are now being serving at Pouring Ribbons. The principals are experts in the field, and the drinks are mighty fine.

And we've now got 2 more places to try; Milk & Honey's new Flatiron incarnation and Dead Rabbit, in the financial district (unfortunately having some problems opening, due to lingering effects of Sandy on the area).

I've been to Pouring Ribbons and Dead Rabbit in the last month and give a thumbs up for both of them.  They have different vibes - Pouring Ribbons is larger and brighter with a more modern feel and more modern cocktails.  Dead Rabbit specializes in historic cocktails, has dimmer lighting, and is a smaller space.  But I enjoyed my cocktails at both spots.

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One of my favorite bartenders, Xavier Herit (who spent 7 years behind the stick at Daniel and many shifts at ECC)  will be opening a new, neighborhood-y place this fall in the West Village - aka Greenwich Village.  To be called Wallflower, and there'll be some French food as well.  Really looking forward to this.

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I went to Dead Rabbit for the first time last night. The cocktails were quite good. We got there in time for the $1 oyster special (5-7 M-F upstairs, IIRC) and while they were good, they were rather poorly shucked.

Downstairs, it was hectic but kind of fun.

 

Dead Rabbit is an experience. I loved it (then again, I wasn't paying).  :)

I also like the Lobby Bar at Bowery Hotel. So cozy on a winter evening whether you sit at the bar itself or in the lounges just outside. On my last visit I saw both Pat Carney of the Black Keys and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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