New York has a thriving cocktail scene with dozens of fine bars throughout the five boroughs. But this is really nothing new. Practically from its inception, the Big Apple has been a drinker’s town boasting a spirited nightlife. (Surely you’d expect nothing less from the city that doesn’t sleep.) The list of legendary establishments that have significantly contributed to New York’s drinking society is long. But for drinkers looking for a shot of history with their cocktails, here are a few of my favorite places that deserve a visit.
Have a classic cocktail while enjoying a tall tale at this great old haunt. While there are many speakeasy-style bars around the city, this is the real thing. Bill’s has graced midtown since defying the stubborn laws of Prohibition. Dozens of photos of Broadway stars, legendary cowboys and boxing greats adorn the walls—a collection worth a visit all on its own.
Though the glory of Delmonico’s midtown Manhattan palace is long gone (a casualty in many ways of Prohibition), the Wall Street location retains the history and pomp first inspired by the Delmonico brothers, John and Peter, when they emigrated from Switzerland in the early 1800s. The restaurant and bar (pictured above) claims to have invented a number of dishes, including eggs Benedict and lobster Newburg, and it played frequent host to the likes of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Diamond Jim Brady.
One of the oldest and finest bars in New York, the Ear Inn dates back to the middle of the 19th century when it was a sailors’ hangout. Order a beer and a shot of Wild Turkey 101 rather than a cocktail as you while away the time in conversation.
Famous for its revolving dance floor and breathtaking views, the Rainbow Room is synonymous with Dale DeGroff for many bartenders and cocktail geeks. His famed bar was inspiration for the cocktail revolution that has affected joints large and small around the world. The Rainbow Room is sadly closed to the public at the moment, but you can still steal a glimpse if you’re nice to the elevator security guards.
This is the resting place of giants of industry, the arts and also Jerry Thomas. Professor Thomas, as he was known by fans, was the first celebrity bartender and author of the first bartender’s guide, How to Mix Drinks. Thanks to David Wondrich’s award-winning tome Imbibe!, and the republishing of the professor’s own book, Thomas and his drinks are famous once again. Pay homage to “the Jupiter Olympus of the bar” in section 55 of the Poplar Plot.
Restoration Hardware, 935 Broadway, Manhattan:
Restoration Hardware is sacred to drinkers but not because of its selection of cocktail shakers and glassware. At this address, just south of Madison Square Park and in the shadow of the Flatiron Building, Professor Jerry Thomas ran a lavish bar. Not the swiftest with finances, he opened and lost more establishments than Donald Trump. So take a flask and make a toast to the legendary barman.
Allen Katz is the Director of Mixology & Spirits Education for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. He is also a Liquor.com advisor.