It was a cold December night in 2010, and we had ventured uptown to view the famous window displays of New York’s flagship department stores, and as we ogled in childlike wonder at Barney’s “Foodie Holiday” window –the likes of Bourdain and Flay flinging food across a Last Supper-esque dining table frozen in fictional time – a snowstorm unexpectedly hit. Umbrella-less and unable to catch a cab, we took off running. We walked into the closest watering hole we could find, soaking wet, but I’ll never forget the sweet relief after our coats were hung and I had my first sip of a warm, well-made, bourbon-based cocktail – I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Since then, winter cocktails in New York have only gotten more advanced, and more plentiful. Here are our five favorites for the next time you need a winter warmer – which could very well be tonight.
1. Hot Apple Cider at Smith & Mills: Come July, Smith & Mills’ famous Dark & Stormy, flush-with-ginger-shavings, is sometimes the only antidote to venturing outside and enduring the summer heat. Now, consider this: what their D&S is to summer, is what their Hot Apple Cider is to winter. We suggest sealing yourself into this cozy little former carriage house in TriBeCa and gulping in the warmth of fresh pressed cider, melted butter, a splash of lemon juice and shaved nutmeg on top. Oh, and it’s anchored by a generous helping of Calvados apple brandy – which gives it quite a kick, especially when compared to your favorite (non-alcoholic) winter drink from your childhood. 71 North Moore Street, at Greenwich Street
2. Rockin’ Chair at Angel’s Share: At this Japanese speakeasy, the Rockin’ Chair is not a place to sit and knit a sweater, next to a log fireplace – though you may find it to be just as cozy. It’s actually a cocktail served up in a coupe glass, with scotch, yuzu citrus juice, Wasenbon sugar, egg white and brûlée, which is similar to a whiskey sour with whispers of spice and caramel. Angel’s Share’s discreet and intimate East Village location on the second floor of an izakaya restaurant makes it the perfect place to hide inside with the comfort of elegant drinks, while looking down at the tops of umbrellas zig-zagging through our city’s slippery sidewalks. 8 Stuyvesant St., 2nd floor, between Third Avenue and East 9th Street
3. First Date at Booker & Dax: Breaking Bad may be over, but at the bar adjacent to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, the Periodic Table is alive and well. Cocktail wizard Dave Arnold utilizes liquid nitrogen and flames to make cocktails, and while this wintery-wonderland-in-a-glass, known as the First Date, only advertises three ingredients (scotch, dates, bitters) it’s the furthest thing from being exempt to Arnold’s mad scientist ways. Beginning with a hand-cut ice cube in a rocks glass, Arnold blends bourbon and dates, then spins them in a centrifuge to turn it all to liquid. With a dash of Angostura bitters and both orange and lemon peel having grazed the rim of the glass before being tucked inside, it’s like an Old Fashioned meets Brave New World. 207 Second Avenue, at East 13th Street
4. The John Lee Hooker at The Summit Bar: Call it the ultimate remix: in homage to the 1966 blues tune, “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer,” Greg Seider, co-owner of The Summit Bar in the East Village, whipped up the non plus ultra of winter elixirs with the name that credits blues singer John Lee Hooker. Any blues you might have, whether it be the weather, your job, or your significant other gone AWOL, as the song elucidates, are likely to evaporate with this pint glass full of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Vietnamese cinnamon agave and lemon juice, dashed with orange and sarsaparilla bitters, then hard shaken, double strained and served on the rocks with a float of Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and garnished with an orange peel. And what’s that hint of smokiness? The glass is misted before and after serving with Peat Monster Scotch. 133 Avenue C, between East 8th and 9th Streets
5. Great Pumpkin at PDT: If there’s ever been a winter cocktail for the books, it’s PDT’s Great Pumpkin. So much in fact, it’s even featured in their 2011-published PDT Cocktail Book. Cocktail Renaissance man Jim Meehan created the creamy concoction in 2008, which unites Rittenhouse rye, Laird’s bonded apple brandy, maple syrup, a whole egg and pumpkin ale. The ingredients are shaken and strained into a chilled fizz glass and topped with grated nutmeg. We recommend watching the Charlie Brown classic of the same name, then making good on your reservation (make sure you call first) for one of this East Village institution’s coveted bar stools. 113 St. Marks Place, between First Avenue and Avenue A