Tasty drinks for a night on the town
By Megan Bungeroth, Alissa Fleck, Christine Wei
When the mood to imbibe strikes, you can grab a beer or a gin and tonic at any old bar in the neighborhood. But when you’re craving a delicious, expertly crafted cocktail, the likes of which can only be invented by a true mixologist, where do you go on the Upper East Side? We picked out a half-dozen top spots for specialty drinks and sipped them all in the name of research to bring you the best cocktail options uptown. Check them out, then go to nypress.com/best-cocktails-ues to vote on the ultimate adult beverages.
Bar Pleiades at the Surrey Hotel
20 E. 76th St.
Calling Card, $17
A refreshing treat at the Surrey’s Bar Pleiades, the Calling Card is delightfully citrusy with just the right amount of fizz. While the raspberry flavor is faint, the ginger and lime manage to transform typically bitter vodka into a pretty sweet elixir. The ginger here is the real deal—if you love unfiltered ginger ale, you’ll fall for this one in a heartbeat. Just as fun a mix, the reason the Aviation (gin, crème de violette and maraschino, $19) is only a runner-up is because what’s considered “intriguingly spicy” by one can be interpreted as “reminiscent of beef jerky” by another. Conclusion: Deliciousness is in the palate of the drinker, but the libations at this chic bar are consistently smooth and satisfyingly strong.
The Auction House
300 E. 89th St. No. 1
The Flower Child, $10
You have to love that the Auction House, a candlelit UES-meets-LES lounge with gilded paintings and plush velvet chairs, smells like honey instead of spilled beer. Don’t come here expecting a strong buzz or an experimental downtown speakeasy experience—but if it’s a hip upgrade on the sports bar scene you’re looking for, you’ll be very happy. G&T fans can take things up a notch with the gin-based Flower Child. Though the elderflower liqueur is more subtle than expected, fresh cucumber and honey keeps it light for balmy evenings. Alternatively, even though it’s noticeably watered down, the vodka-based Meloncumber achieves the feat of non-artificial fruitiness as a refreshing drink.
The Guthrie Inn
1259 Park Ave.
Golden Calf, $12
This cozy hole-in-the-wall spot nestled between less-hip digs is a stiff drink lover’s haven. Each signature cocktail is based primarily around the flavor of the main liquor. The Golden Calf plays up the solid burn of the reposado tequila with fresh lime juice, Combier Orange and a wicked sprinkling of hellfire shrub that kicks the drink into unique and spicy territory. For something smoother (and even stronger), the Jackson Ward pairs Old Grand-Dad 100 Bourbon with Nardini Amaro, sweet vermouth and wormwood bitters. It’s a great place to start off a date or swing by for a nightcap, but too small for groups, which is okay because the friendly bartenders can keep lone patrons company.
1504 Lexington Ave.
Ceylon Saison, $10
The sleek, modern, open vibe at ABV belies the menu of eclectic comfort food and delectable, unfussy cocktails that surprise with their unique flavors. The Ceylon Saison combines amontillado sherry, saison, cinnamon syrup and lemon in a tall glass over ice. It sounds tasty, and is uncannily like a liquid cinnamon roll (in a good way). Their most popular drink, the Sippy Cup, throws Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, spicy ginger syrup, angostura bitters and lime together in a drink that conjures a grown-up version of refreshing summer fruit punch. The menu puts cool twists on classic fare, and the bar also offers a selection of fun “0% ABV” non-alcoholic concoctions.
339 E. 75th St.
20th Century, $12
For Upper East Siders craving a throwback to a New York when ladies sipping cocktails were dames and the men always wore hats, JBird is the place to go. The vintage vibe stops short of cheesy with the smart and extensive drink menu and creative snacks (they also offer a full dinner menu and serve food late). The 20th Century is a recipe from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, published in 1937, bringing London dry gin to a complex mix with housemade crème de cacao, Cocchi Americano wine and fresh lemon. Served up and icy in an old-fashioned stem glass, it tastes like the best spiked lemonade you’ve ever had, but laced with hints of sweetness and chocolate.
Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel
35 E. 76th St.
Pisco Sour, $21
Bemelmans Bar has a cozy, hole-in-the-wall feel despite its moderate size, with low ceilings and dim lighting. One bartender said it’s the place people go when they don’t want to be seen. The whimsical wall murals and general decor—plush seats, tiny tables, lampshades painted with childish renditions of rabbits—are reminiscent of Lewis Carroll. All specialty cocktails go for $21, and after perusing summer and standard selections, we opted for the Pisco Sour, which mingles pisco 100, egg white, fresh lemon juice, Angostura bitters and simple syrup. The drink has a firm, distinct, harmonious flavor, without being overpowering. The texture is velvety but not too heavy. It is by no means a light drink, but it carries its weight well. Bemelmans Pisco Sour exemplifies how complexity can yield elegance.
Don’t forget to vote for your favorite at nypress.com/best-cocktails-ues!
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