Sometimes, pumpkin-spice margarita-tinis, green apple zima slushees, or flaming shots of Jäger just don’t cut it. Maybe you want to avoid getting carded. Maybe you don’t want diabetes and cirrhosis. Or maybe you just don’t get off on sugar like you used to. Whatever the reason, it’s time to have a real drink. The kind where you can taste the alcohol. The kind your grandfather gave you a sip of, teaching you that it’s possible to choke and vomit at the same time. Try a few of these expertly-crafted classics and you’ll learn why people drink them. The other reason people drink them? They’re fucking delicious.
Old Fashioned at Passerby, 436 W 15th St.
Some Wednesday night, venture to this dark Chelsea block and enter the first unmarked black glass door you see. You might think the pulsating disco floor and art industry clientele don’t bode well, but one look at the enormous steel juicer perched on the George Nakashima bar will set you straight. Wednesday is when owner Toby Cecchini tends bar solo and atones for inventing the now-omnipresent Cosmopolitan by mixing, quite simply, the best drinks on earth. It won’t be quick, but it will be worth it. What sets his Old Fashioned apart? Anyone can use the best bourbon, but Toby makes his own Maraschino cherries, muddles them expertly with citrus and uses two types of bitters. And he uses the espresso machine’s steam spout to make fresh simple syrup for every drink. But what’s the secret ingredient? It’s love damnit.
Aviation at Angel’s Share, 8 Stuyvesant St.
Be prepared to wait for a seat at this open secret, hidden behind a door in a bustling Japanese restaurant, so you can try the Martini’s infinitely more interesting cousin. Frankly, it even has a better name: the Aviation. Another bracing classic, this perfect intro to gin has been largely forgotten. The bartenders at Angel’s Share are working on changing this, with the loving obsessive ways of a sushi chef. Gin, maraschino liqueur, and fresh lemon juice, shaken hard, strained. Appropriate for the bar’s Asian-Victorian sensibilities, it’s a perfect yin/yang drink: fruity and earthy, sweet and sour, funky and refined. Classic yet forgotten. Rediscovered perfection.
Manhattan at Little Branch, 20 Seventh Ave.
Sick of the cloak and dagger routine at Milk & Honey? Now you can get the same wondrous drinks from the same obsessive owners made with the same gargantuan ice cubes. And Little Branch even has a listed phone number. The first drink any budding alcoholic, I mean, “cocktail enthusiast” should try is this, the most classic of New York libations, named after the concrete island beneath your feet. Ask for American rye whiskey (bourbon is for soft-lipped Southerners and Canadian whiskey is for, well, Canadians), Formula Antica vermouth, and three dashes of bitters. It’ll be stirred briskly (shaking would make it cloudy) with those huge, slow-melting ice cubes, strained into a cocktail glass, and garnished with a cherry. The first sip should be bracing, like a January wind funneled through the Midtown tunnel. The icy punch/caress of a Manhattan lets you know you’re alive. Savor it. And for God’s sake, this is supposed to be fun. So eat the cherry.
Ramos Fizz at Pegu Club, 77 W Houston St.
Bartending legend Audrey Saunders taught her handlebar-mustached protégées more than just the signature cocktail menu at her downtown Rangood-inspired temple of booze. They’ll make anything you know to ask for, including the Ramos Fizz, one of the most annoying drinks on the planet to make correctly. This amalgamation of gin, lemon, cream, egg white, sugar, and orange flower water should be shaken longer than one person’s arms can handle, so when it was a pre-prohibition craze, it was passed from bartender to bartender. And that’s exactly what they do at the Pegu Club. If any part of the recipe is off, it’s like drinking a liquefied omelet out of your grandmother’s purse. Made right it’s a complex yet ethereal cloud, an alcoholic Orange Julius of the Gods. And with all that protein, fat, and gin, it has been the cause of, and solution to, all of my biggest hangovers.