The New York 50
Newsletter #6: The 50 Most Iconic Cocktails in New York
Ten years ago, the San Francisco-based cocktail writer Camper English wrote an article for 7&7 Magazine about what he considered to be the city’s fifty iconic, must-try cocktails. Since then, he’s returned to the exercise periodically—most recently a couple weeks ago. I always thought the piece a nifty gambit, a sort of check-up on the health of San Francisco’s drinking culture, both past and present. (I have tried seven of the fifty drink on the current list, which I consider a pretty respectable showing for someone who lives on the opposite coast.)
It occurred to me after reading the recent edition that no one had ever done the same service for New York, which seems odd and wrong. Gotham certainly has enough iconic cocktails to fill up such a list. So I’ve taken the task upon myself to compile the following tally, drawing on 34 years of NYC-based drinking.
Had I attempted this article a couple years ago, it would look considerably different. The city has changed an awful lot during the pandemic and we’ve lost many good bars, as well as the drinks in which they specialized. So there’s no Southside at “21” Club on this list. Same goes for the Start Me Up at The Nomad Bar; Penichillin at Diamond Reef; Brancolada at Donna; the soda-machine bottled cocktails at Existing Conditions; In the Rock at Aviary; the Winchester at The Polynesian; and any number of drinks from the Pegu Club menu. It makes me sad and mad and thirsty just thinking about it.
But New York still has plenty of great watering holes left, thank heaven. Here are the cocktails you should order when you get to them, in alphabetical order by cocktail name.
Bartender’s Choice at Little Branch
Bartender’s Choice—an ordering strategy now practiced around the world, in which the bartender comes up with a drink based on your stated preferences—began at Milk & Honey. But it was first put on the menu as such here. So let the bartender choose.
Benton’s Old-Fashioned at PDT
Does anyone go to this bar without trying this fat-washed Bourbon favorite? Doubt it.
Blue Negroni at Temple Bar
Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy put a Blue Negroni on the menu of the newly revived NoHo icon to get attention. It worked.
Boulevardier at Long Island Bar
Toby Cecchini didn’t invent the Boulevardier. But he may have perfected it. This is the best version of the cocktail in town, and justly famous.
Carondolet at Maison Premiere
This attempt at a stirred Ramos Gin Fizz, by Maks Pazuniak, has been on the menu at this New Orleans-themed Brooklyn bar since it opened. For good reason.
Cosmopolitan at Odeon
The best Cosmopolitan in the city isn’t served here, but the drink was invented at this restaurant, long, long ago. So have one and feel historical.
Flavored Vodka Martini at Russian Samovar
There are a couple dozen jars of house-infused vodka behind the bar of this old-school Russian joint in the Theater District. Choose one as the base of your king-sized Martini. (I recommend dill.)
Frozen Painkiller at Super Power
A crowd-pleasing mainstay at what might be the most unsung tiki bar in the city.
Garibaldi at Dante
The name of this Campari and “fluffy” orange juice highball is painted on the pillar by the bar for a reason. Take the hint. Order it.
Gibson at Dear Irving
Finally, someone in New York took the Gibson seriously enough to get it right. Thank you, Meaghan Dorman.