The holidays are indeed a special time to explore New York City, with elaborate display windows and pop-up “gift villages” in places like Bryant Park and Union Square offering endless rows of kiosks featuring regional artists and unique gift ideas. When it’s time to duck into a bar to warm up or take a break from the shopping frenzy, the city has you covered on that front as well. Whether it’s a seasonally appropriate hot cocktail or a drink that specifically celebrates the magic of Hanukkah or Christmas, you won’t have to look far for great libations.
Many bars now offer winter menus, shifting to dark spirits and rich, spicy or creamy drinks. So catching up on the new (or returning) offerings at your favorite waterhole is a nice way to while away a couple of hours.
Though it wasn’t designed as a Christmas cocktail, the new Samba Sour at Sugarcane inside SushiSamba will put you in the Holiday spirit. Part of an upgraded, revamped cocktail menu, the Samba Sour (a silky, frothy blend of pisco, Yuzu juice, Tumeric-infused simple syrup, egg white and maraschino liqueur) is decorated with vibrant red and green swirls of “edible graffiti” (“why should anything be just food coloring?” asks drinks creator Richard Woods of London’s Duck and Waffle bar). Evoking snowcapped peaks and ski lodge drinking, Pouring Ribbons, in Alphabet City, has the dangerously yummy Snow Cap Float, a mix of eight-year rum, Ramazotti, vanilla, root beer bitters and topped with fluffy white peaks of Galliano-infused whipped cream. Think of it as the Irish Coffee meets the Root Beer Float. For a little Chinatown-inflected holiday cheers, head over to Lumos, a nearly unmarked basement bar specializing in baijiu, that funky earthy Chinese spirit. The Good Luck is a bright red drink with cranberry-infused baijiu, vodka and orange liqueur. If you find yourself exhausted in Midtown after a flurry of holiday shopping, Bar 54 in Hyatt Times Square, kicked off an entire winter cocktail menu designed by Clover Club’s Julie Reiner. The Trending Hashtag is a smooth blend of coffee-infused dark rum, pumpkin spice and vanilla cream (with a cocoa # symbol sprinkled on top). And for a nightcap with a bit of attitude, consider the Good Evening, Spitfire at The Bennett, a new Tribeca spot from Raines Law Room bar manager Meaghan Dorman. Though it’s served chilled, the blend of mezcal, chile liqueur, coconut milk, cinnamon syrup and Molé bitters is reminiscent of a spiked Mexican hot chocolate.
Frosty weather and snowstorms make tromping around city streets arduous. Hot cocktails have become a mini-trend over the past few years, and almost every bar can pour you at least one toasty drink to ward off Old Man winter. Though Irish Coffee (coffee, Irish whiskey and whipped cream) can be found many places, it’s likely you won’t find a better one anywhere in the city than The Dead Rabbit located in the Financial District. The rich, dark restorative is topped with the most gentle cream foam. It’s worth ordering the second before you finish the first: you’re going to want it. Over at Tribeca whisky haven Ward III, they’re pouring the Prohibition Hot Toddy featuring blended Canadian whiskey, lemon juice, honey water syrup, fresh-pressed ginger juice and hot water), in celebration of December’s Repeal Day (when Prohibition in the U.S. ended). Or dip into cozy Booker & Dax for the Red Hot Poker, a clean mix of Pernod, lemon juice, cinnamon and brown sugar that your bartender will then set on fire via a custom-made...red hot poker. It’s worth it just to watch the process, but it also tastes fantastic.
Perhaps a wintry drink simply isn’t enough. Perhaps you want full-on Holiday charm. Not a problem. For the second year, Mace, a spice-themed bar in Alphabet City, has transformed into the holiday wonderland dubbed “Miracle on 9th Street.” A menu of Christsmassy drinks ($14 each) include the Bad Santa (a hot, clarified Milk Punch with two kinds of rum, arrack and a plethora of spices) served in a festive Santa-head mug, The Grinch (rye, sherry, nuoe mam, pine bitters and frankincense smoke) and Yippie Ki Yay Motherf****r (pumpkin-infused rum, cachaça, curaçao, chestnut orgeat, lime juice) named after Bruce Willis’s catchphrase in the best Christmas movie of all time. There’s even a “Hanukkah Nook,” and the Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel (chocolate gelt-infused reposado tequila, sherry, maple syrup, black walnut bitters) garnished with plastic dreidels for hours of bartop fun.
This year the Christmas-theme pop-up concept has been expanded to include Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack at sister bar Boilermaker on 1st Avenue and 1st Street, where you’ll find holiday-influenced beer-and-shot combos and cocktails like the “I Saw Mommy...” (vodka, grapefruit juice, Branca Menta, chocolate syrup, chocolate bitters). Meanwhile, La Birreria, the rooftop space/microbrewery atop Madison Square’s Eataly, has morphed itself into an Alpine-themed “Baita” or ski lodge, with antler-decorated evergreens, strings of lighting, cozy winter blankets on all the chairs and festive winter cocktails. You can also swing by the Winter Village at Bryant Park, where a two-story, glass-enclosed cocktail lounge serves up martinis and spiked hot chocolate to weary shoppers and ice skaters. And if you want to go old school New York, Christmas at Rolf’s Bar, near Gramercy Park. The iconic German bar-restaurant has been drenching its room in lights and decorations for years (you can hit fantastic burger-and-beer dive Molly’s next door, which is also similarly Christmas-fied).
If December 24th rolls around and you haven’t yet found a spot to raise a glass of Christmas cheer, head over to casual, old-timey cocktail spot The Richardson in Williamsburg. From the 23rd through Christmas Day, the classic American bar will play host to an “Old Fashioned Christmas Eve Celebration.” You’ll find $8 Old Fashioneds served all day long (noon to 4 a.m.), and half-priced “early Christmas Eve” whiskey specials on the 23rd. And Christmas Day, after all the presents have been opened and played with, saunter on in for Mulled Cider spiked with brandy.
Written by Robert Haynes-Peterson
Brought to you by Chivas