Since relocating to New York City in spring of 2022, the question I am most frequently asked is “What’s your favorite bar?” This question is impossible to answer, not only because drinking is a highly contextual experience but also because of the truly staggering number of excellent bars in New York—from world-class, highly conceptual cocktail programs to damn good classics. In an effort to place parameters around such a large category, what follows is a small, subjective slice of what I’ll categorize as (for lack of a better word) “fancy cocktails” in New York City, by which I mean bars crafting beautifully elaborate, creative, and delicious cocktails served in stunning spaces with the high-caliber hospitality to match.
If you are even a passive follower of craft cocktail culture, odds are that you’ve heard of Double Chicken Please. Opened in November 2020, the bar quickly began to garner praise for their design-forward concept and playfully creative cocktails. By 2022, 50 Best had named the bar No. 6 in the world. We highlighted the ever-humble founders GN Chan and Faye Chen in our 2023 Imbibe 75. And in May of this year, the bar was named No. 1 in North America by 50 Best. It seems almost an impossible standard to live up to, but I am here to tell you that Double Chicken Please is Worth. The. Hype. Their mind-bending cocktails, from Cold Pizza to Key Lime Pie to Japanese Cold Noodle, need to be tasted to be believed, while the entire bar team sets the standard for welcoming hospitality.
When it comes to finding fancy cocktails in New York City, a steakhouse in the Flatiron District wouldn’t typically be my first thought. However, Hawksmoor punches well above its weight in both creativity and execution. The success of the cocktail program is due in large part to the mad scientist–like devotion of beverage director Adam Montgomerie. His passion for creating new and complex flavors leads to ideas like pre-batched Martinis placed in a makeshift jewelry cleaner where 45 minutes of high-frequency ultrasonic waves homogenizes the flavors. Seriously. After tasting through 20-plus cocktails on the menu, I can attest that there was not a dud among them. While the aforementioned Martinis are stellar, as are their other steakhouse classics like the Full-Fat Old Fashioned, don’t sleep on their lighter offerings, like the Ginza Highball (Johnnie Walker Black, pear, apple, and lemon verbena served carbonated). Pro tip: Add an order of the Reuben sandwich nuggets.
One of the best reasons I’ve found to go to Midtown so far, Madame George is a newer spot in the basement of ever-popular bar and restaurant Valerie. Helmed by Valerie’s beverage director Marshall Minaya, the sprawling cocktail program is based on the history and neighborhoods of the city itself, and is nearly as expansive as a map of the area. Luckily, the bar team is more than happy to be your tour guide. Crafting drinks that emulate the signature flavors and culture of New York (from the NY Bodega Sour with bacon-washed rye and everything bagel seasoning to the Nuts 4 Nuts Manhattan riff infused with the aromatic street cart treat), Minaya and crew seem to delight in challenging themselves. Sit back in the comfort of their Art-Deco-meets-alpine-lodge vibe of subterranean opulence and enjoy a delicious tour of the city.
You could debate which is better at Manhatta, the drinks or the views from their wall-to-wall, 60th-floor windows. I think it’s more a case of each improving the other, creating the quintessential mental image of drinking fancy cocktails in New York City. That being said, the cocktails are truly extraordinary, with enough familiarity to please the classic cocktail drinker while still getting experimental with unique ingredients and flavor combos for the adventure-seeking (i.e. me). The semi-seasonal menu helmed by beverage director Will Edwards and head bartender Cameron Winkelman may feature cocktails incorporating such ingredients as fig leaf, tonka bean, or black rice to enticing effect. But don’t overlook the collection of spirit-forward “Neighborhood Cocktails,” with the Astoria (blanc and dry Vermouths, gin, chrysanthemum, palo santo, pickled honeydew) being my personal fave.
After serving as the head bartender at pioneering cocktail bar Angel’s Share for nine years, Takuma Watanabe left to co-found and create the drinks program for the new Gramercy Park bar Martiny’s. The charming, three-story carriage house (and former art studio of French American sculptor Philip Martiny) matches the refined nature of the drinks without feeling stuffy. Watanabe marries the finely honed precision of the cocktail culture of his native Japan with modern Manhattan influences, resulting in menu staples like the supremely drinkable namesake Grand Martiny’s (gin, sherry, port, cognac, St-Germain) or the playful, milk-washed Caprese (whiskey, tomato, grapefruit juice, basil). But feel free to drop the reins, because the knowledgable crew makes it their mission to get a drink into your hands that you will love.
It’s difficult not to be impressed by Overstory, where the chic elegance of the petite, salmon-hued Art Deco bar is gilded by the stunning 64th-floor views over the Financial District. With a program led by bar director Harrison Ginsberg, the easy-to-drink deliciousness of the cocktails belies their complexity. Look no further for evidence of their devotion to one-of-a-kind recipes than the Terroir Old Fashioned with reposado tequila, palo santo, homemade honeycomb, and Tilden sea salt that the team harvested themselves from Fort Tilden. It is likewise unsurprising to find Overstory sitting squarely in the top 10 of 50 Best Bars North America at No. 7.
Set apart from the standard cocktail circuit, Sugar Monk opened in Harlem in 2019, managed to weather the pandemic, and has since become a fixture of the neighborhood. (And while you’re in the area, make it a point to visit the pioneering Harlem cocktail bar 67 Orange Street.) Co-founder Ektoras Binikos is a veteran of the hospitality industry, while his husband and business partner Simon Jutras comes from the world of design and fine art. Together their aim was to pay homage to the Jazz Age speakeasies in Harlem, and the result is a dim and sexy cocktail lounge with a drinks program unlike any other I’ve seen. Binikos makes his own amari, liqueurs, and botanical infusions, allowing for the incorporation of specific and individual flavors into their cocktails. (They even work with a professional forager to source botanicals). The extensive menu, divided into categories like “bright/enlivening” or “complex/vigorous,” describes each drink’s flavor elements from foundation spirit to fruit, spice, herbs, and more.