Manhattan Bar Tour: Two Outta Four Ain’t Bad, Right?

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When I travel, I have a list of bars and bartenders that I want to see in whichever city I’ll be visiting. My recent trip to Manhattan was no exception, and after the Repeal Day party I made a point of heading out into the snowy night in eager anticipation of having some world-class cocktails.

The first bar on my list was the Flatiron Lounge, near Gramercy Park. All of the reviews I’d read told me that this was the place to be treated to some serious bartending, and judging by the cocktail menu that was placed before me, I was going to be in for a treat.

My first drink from the menu was a Chinchona, created by Charlotte Voisey, Hendrick’s Gin Brand Champion. The drink, to the best of my recollection, contained añejo tequila, Lillet rouge and orange bitters. I watched as my bartender, Giuseppe Gonzalez, crafted my cocktail with the technical prowess and attention to detail of a true master.

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Sitting at the bar at the Flatiron, admiring their extensive liquor collection, I noticed a bottle I’d never seen before. Upon inquiring further, Giuseppe brought the bottle down from the shelf and let me try a sip. Amaro Abano, by Luxardo. Rich and viscous, with a lot of cardamom, saffron and bitter orange. The saffron interested me, so I asked to try a Negroni with the amaro. Giuseppe grabbed two ounces of Old Raj gin, and one ounce each of the Abano and Campari. The Abano lent a heavier texture than Italian vermouth, something like a reduction of Punt e Mes. But considering the 2:1:1 ratio, the drink worked well, especially in Giuseppe’s skilled hands.

By this point my friends from Eugene had showed up and it was time to track down some more cocktails before heading back to the hotel to pack for my flight.

Our next stop was to be Please Don’t Tell, a new cocktail-centric bar in St. Mark’s Place that has been hugely successful since its opening this year. Unfortunately I never got to set foot inside, as the place was packed beyond capacity. Heavy sigh…

The good news was that famed bar Death and Company was right around the corner. The bad news was delivered to us by the staff as we walked in on them dismantling the bar for the night. I considered suggesting we implement the recently-announced bartender exchange program right then and there (I’d take over breaking down the bar and they could fly back to Eugene and work my shift – sounds fair, right?) but I kept my mouth shut and assured them that we’d be back.

I’ve admired Sascha Petraske’s bartending philosophy for quite some time now, and I wanted to try at least one of his world-famous bars before I left. So the last stop of the night was decided to be Little Branch, a semi-reclusive neighborhood joint in the basement of a corner building in the West Village.

We were shown to our table by the cocktail server, directly across the aisle from the bossa nova quartet that was filling the cavern with familiar, soothing melodies.

My friends and I browsed the simple and well-constructed cocktail menu and settled in on a Hot Toddy, a Bramble, and (my selection) a Bartender’s Choice with the caveat that I was in the mood for some nice rye. I was delivered a light, beautifully-balanced blend of Rittenhouse rye, Laird’s applejack and Regan’s orange bitters, bathing a single cube of freshly-cut ice.

While I missed out on half my list of bars to see during my 36 hours in Manhattan, I was humbled by the professional service, brilliant craftsmanship and profound knowledge I witnessed in the two bars I was able to visit.

I’ll be back, New York.

10 Replies to “Manhattan Bar Tour: Two Outta Four Ain’t Bad, Right?”

  • Giuseppe says:

    It was apleasure to have you come in Jeff. When you are in town, please let me know so me and the other NYC cocktail geeks can show you around.

  • Thanks again, Giuseppe. And believe me, the next time I’m in town I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. I had a wonderful first time in NYC.

  • Joaquin says:

    Sorry we couldn’t accommodate you at D&Co that night. We’ve started closing a bit earlier than we used to (which sadly affects our favorite industry regulars), but we are opening at 6pm to soften the blow. Drop me a line before your next visit and we’ll save you a spot at the bar…

  • Joaquin, you guys are at the top of my list for next time, I’ll be lined up promptly at 5:59.

  • Lance Mayhew says:

    I just brought back a bottle of Luxardo Amaro as well as Amaro Cio Ciaro from CA. We’ll have to crack them open next time you are in town.

  • I’ll have to check a couple of those places out next time I’m looking for a place to drink. Especially as there is all sorts of awesome food around St. Marks too. I’ve somehow started routinely getting falafel after drinking(and coffee..no wonder my stomach is always ready to kill me..). There are a lot of belgium bars around there too, for a more beer oriented drinking experience.

  • Flatiron is a great place.
    I try to hit it when I’m in NYC.

    The bartenders know their stuff – as do the wait-staff (which you don’t always get).

    I like the downstairs lounge as it is a great chill space.

    You didn’t get to Pegu Club?

    I need to check out that “Please Don’t Tell” place next time I’m up there.

  • TK says:

    Giuseppe Makes amazing drinks, but its his encyclopedic knowledge that takes it to the next level.
    Flatiron has a great staff props to Julie and the gang for keeping it top notch

  • In the short amount of time I was able to spend at his bar, I was able to pick up on that about Giuseppe. I wish I’d had more time to pick his brain, but all the more reason for me to return again!

  • Chris says:

    I’m a brand new fan of “The Bar Book” who has lived in NYC for over 10 years. I’ve been going to places like Death & Co, Angles Share, Little Branch, and Pegu Club for years, and sincerely hope you’ve been back to NYC to experience how craft cocktails have caught on. Because of bars like this, I have officially become a craft drink snob (i.e. no sour mix from a bottle please).

    Can’t wait for my next trip to Portland

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