Jan
01
2015

Best of 2014

Y & M Kisling in Tokyo

Y & M Kisling in Tokyo

Best Bars of 2014

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

Another year, another few hundred menus tasted and perused around the globe. Though my 2014 wasn’t quite the travel schedule 2013 was (25 cities and 10 countries!) with my job as Zagat SF/Bay Area Editor, it was still a nonstop year that took me from places like Tokyo to New Orleans, NYC to Hong Kong.

Here are my 2014 best bars lists (more for best in food/dining here) covering the Best New Bars in San Francisco (opened December 2013 to November 2014), my 6 Best Bar Experiences USA and my 10 Best Bar Experiences Global, which are not necessarily new but those in which I tasted the best drinks and had the best service of the year.

Click on each bar name for my original articles – some I will be reviewing in the coming weeks. The San Francisco portion of the list was first published here at Zagat on December 29, 2014.

10 Best New Bars in San Francisco

1. The Coachman

Robert Burns' Hunting Flask at the Coachman

Robert Burns’ Hunting Flask at the Coachman

Thanks to bar manager John Codd and bar master Erik Adkins (Slanted Door, Hard Water), The Coachman is one of the great new bars in SF where each drink is expertly made, based off of obscure, historic recipes and the Scotch and rum selections are strong… as is the food from Charles Phan and team.

2. ABV

Todd Smith (founding bartender of Bourbon & Branch, currently also The Hideout), Ryan Fitzgerald (formerly Beretta and brand ambassador for Del Maguey Mezcal) and Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud (Dalva/The Hideout owner) have opened what is easily the new drink (and food) industry hangout, welcoming everyone with a smile, quality cocktails across a range of spirits and creative bar food from one of our Zagat 30 Under 30 chefs this year, Kevin Cimino.

3. Trou Normand 

Cocktails at Dirty Habit

Cocktails at Dirty Habit

Trou Normand feels like Paris meets NY in SoMa with house charcuterie that makes all others seem lackluster. The elegant, high ceiling bar — from Bar Agricole owner Thad Vogler and crew — is all about house selected barrels of Armagnac, Cognac and Calvados and refined cocktails made with these French spirits (and beyond).

4. The Interval at the Long Now Foundation’s Salon

The pioneering Long Now Salon has one of the coolest bars in this (or any) city, complete with salon talks and a library to restart civilization with. Thanks to Bar Manager Jennifer Colliau (the mastermind behind some of the best cocktail modifiers out there, Small Hand Foods), multiple menus-within-a-menu are pioneering, including a Drinking Around the World menu highlighting drinking customs from many countries.

5. Dirty Habit

Cocktails from Danny Louie at Chino in the Mission

Cocktails from Danny Louie at Chino in the Mission

Upscale Fifth Floor transformed to Dirty Habit as of May 1st, thankfully with the same team in effect: chef David Bazirgan, pastry chef Francis Ang, master sommelier Emily Wines, sommelier Jose Maria Aguirre and lead bartender Brian Means. The space was completely remodeled and the sleek outdoor patio with rectangular rock fireplace is one of the coolest downtown hangout/gathering spots. But most importantly, besides memorable food, Means’ cocktails — and an extensive selection of whiskies and rarities — still make it a strong bar.

6. Chino

Danny Louie (formerly of the Alembic) has long been one of SF’s great bartenders and now he has a menu to showcase his talent and playful use of Asian spirits like baijiu, Asian teas, boba (think boba slushie cocktails) and all manner of spirits and ingredients in his creative, fun cocktail menu that is the draw at the new Chino.

7. Lolo

Lolo's playing card cocktail menu

Lolo’s playing card cocktail menu

A new location and first time bar for longtime Mission creative-Mexican gem, Loló (also with a new sister Peruvian-Mexican restaurant, Loló​ Cevicheria), resulted in a solid initial cocktail menu. But at the end of summer, bartenders David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez stepped up the game with Trick Dog-esque artistry: a cocktail menu lineup of playing cards from Tablero Loteria, a Mexican card game reminiscent of bingo. Call it most improved within a couple months of opening.

8. Arguello

Alongside gratifying Mexican dishes from none other than Traci Des Jardins, Arguello opened in the historic (and just remodeled) Officers’ Club in the Presidio this October with an agave spirits list (tequila- and mezcal-heavy, as well as less common agave spirits sotol and bacanora) and excellent cocktails from Enrique Sanchez (formerly of Puerto 27, La Mar Cebicheria). His ever-balanced, delicious cocktails are even better invigorated by fresh air within the white walls of the restaurant’s outdoor patio surrounded by majestic cypress and eucalyptus trees.

9. Smokestack

Urchin Bistrot cocktails

Urchin Bistrot cocktails

Opened in May in the Dogpatch, Smokestack is an ever-bustling source for BBQ and Magnolia beers (since the owner is Dave McLean of Magnolia). But bar manager Eric Quilty’s cocktails are a real draw, adding an elegant-yet-approachable touch to beer and ‘cue in the wood-lined, hip space.

10. Urchin Bistrot

One of the new bars I most want to hang out at is Urchin Bistrot. The restaurant serves excellent modern French bistro fare at reasonable prices and the France-and-beyond wine list is sophisticated yet approachable. But cocktails from former Comal bartender Rafael Jimenez Rivera are also a draw, sometimes highlighting French aperitif liqueurs and Italian amaro. There often seems to be a seat at the bar and a warm welcome, making the space feel like the best neighborhood bars/restaurants of Europe.

Best New Bars in the East Bay & Napa

Longitude, Oakland

Longitude in Oakland

Longitude in Oakland

Longitude opened this summer in downtown Oakland, an oasis of tropical design with elegant Tiki and rum cocktails partnered with pupu platters. Behind covered windows wrapped in vintage maps lies an otherworldly space that feels like Africa-meets-Polynesia circa 1930s, with plenty of green, bamboo, palms, mounted wall masks and artwork — much of it collected personally by owner Suzanne Long — from Indonesia to Africa. A fantastic exotica soundtrack transports in Polynesian-Tiki style with refined, rum-centric cocktails.

La Taberna, Napa

Though The Farmer & the Fox and Archetype are both Napa Valley newcomers doing quality cocktails, La Taberna, in downtown Napa, feels like what was missing from all of Wine Country. With a chalkboard of changing tapas in a sleek downtown Napa space, most tapas are merely $4-7 — and absolutely delicious. Craft beer, wine — both local and international — a sherry by-the-glass list seals the deal with a few transporting (takes me back to Spain) low proof cocktails utilizing sherry, port and the like. The quality is high and the price is right.

Honorable Mentions: Hapa Ramen, Kin Khao, The European, Gaspar Brasserie, Charles Phan’s South, Pathos in Berkeley
Beer Bars: Hopwater Distribution, Smokestack, Brewcade, Liquid Gold, Lost & Found in Oakland
Wine Bars: While there were a number of notable newcomers this year, like these three, this year, it was all about Les Clos.

Faith & Flower

Faith & Flower

6 Best Bar Experiences, USA

Bar Jackalope, Los Angeles

Bar Jackalope

Bar Jackalope

After my recent mind-blowing travels around Japan, I more than appreciate the concept and inspiration behind Bar Jackalope, opened in January, hidden in the back of Seven Grand. Though there are so many ways it doesn’t (and couldn’t) compare to Japan, including the rarity and affordability of the whisk(e)y selection, it is still a blessedly unpretentious, mellow, intimate spot despite the speakeasy nature — with a broad whisk(e)y selection and a cigar porch to boot.

Bestia, Los Angeles

Bestia cocktails

Bestia cocktails

Bestia has been at the top of every kind of restaurant list since it opened in 2012 and is still one of the hardest reservations to secure in town. Despite almost deafening noise when the place is full, I found the bar (first come, first served, though I recommend getting there before they open) not overwhelmingly loud, with full food menu available and the bar staff knowledgeable, in line with the best restaurants here at home or around the world. The white wine and Riesling-heavy (yes!) wine list is impeccable (thanks to wine director Maxwell Leer) and the well-executed cocktails were created by LA bar great Julian Cox.

Faith & Flower, Los Angeles

Faith & Flower's bar

Faith & Flower’s bar

Michael Lay’s (former bar manager at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey) refined cocktails are one of the key strengths of Faith & Flower, open in downtown LA this Spring. It’s one of the more striking dining rooms and bars in LA (a city with plenty of notable spaces): lush with greens, leather booths, velvet, crystal chandeliers, feather fans and, as at 1833, featuring absinthe and amaro carts, historic drinks with modern focus and a robust spirits collection.

Square Root, New Orleans

Square Root

Square Root

Square Root is easily the most exciting newcomer to New Orleans on the dining side — and the same holds true for its upstairs bar/lounge. The lovely space in a historic building boasts a balcony and a wrap-around bar from which bartenders turn out impeccable cocktails, dishes and bites akin to the creative quality I love at their parent restaurant, Root.

Barnacle, Seattle

Barnacle

Barnacle

Easily the most consistent quartet of restaurants in Seattle are those from Renee Erickson that have been consistently amazing, three of them taking up my top Seattle dining recommends. Alongside daily changing seafood small plates blissfully heavy on sardines, oysters and the like, sitting at one long counter in an intimate space hidden upstairs across the hall from the Walrus and the Carpenter, Barnacle is even more a pleasure because of its Italian amaro selection in simple but well-executed cocktails, like a bracingly bitter-refreshing Chinato cocktail, mixing the ultra-bitter Amaro Sibilla with Italian Chinotto soda. More on my top Seattle bar recommends here.

Saxon+Parole, NYC

Saxon + Parole has been one of my favorite NY bars for years since Naren Young used to oversee the program. It remains a favorite in its current days and the best visit of all the many bars I hit during yet another return to my teenage years home of the suburbs of NYC. Under the able hands of Masa Urushido, a gracious bar manager who came from some of Tokyo’s top bars in 2008, seasonal cocktails in particular are stunners, deftly utilizing produce, herbs and spices.

Gen Yamamoto's unforgettable bar

Gen Yamamoto’s unforgettable bar

10 Best Bar Experiences, Global

1. Bar Benfiddich, Tokyo, Japan

Bar Ben Fiddich

Bar Ben Fiddich

Bar Benfiddich is utterly transporting, feeling like a colonial tavern from the 1700s hidden upstairs in an office building, all rustic wood and brick, dim with a Colonial-era painting illuminated behind the bar. Best of all, bar master Benfiddich is a wizard with cocktails and making his own spirits, steeping botanicals on the spot from an ancient book of distilling with recipes he’ll point out to you. Alongside an impressive absinthe collection, he also makes his own absinthe — and if you ask for his house root beer, be prepared to be wowed.

2. Gen Yamamoto, Tokyo, Japan

Gen Yamamoto's austere bar

Gen Yamamoto behind his austere bar

Another “wow” experience is the intimate Gen Yamamoto, run by the masterful Gen Yamamoto himself. Gen keeps an austere yet approachable bar of a mere few, rare bottles in a minimalist room marked by a wide, hand-carved, knotty bar from which one watches Gen work. Cocktails can be ordered individually or as 4-6 course tasting menus, featuring rare spirits from gin to sake and the impressive array of Japanese produce in season at its peak, thoughtfully matched with each spirit. Think luscious, massive Hokkaido Niagara grapes with sparkling Nigiri Sake Dassai 50.

3. Zoetrope, Tokyo, Japan

Zoetrope's unreal selection of Ichiro malts back to the 1980s

Zoetrope’s unreal selection of Ichiro malts back to the 1980s

One of the most uniquely brilliant bar experiences — and whisky collections — in the world, is Zoetrope.  The emphasis is on Japanese whiskies, including all those impossible-to-find Chichibu card series bottlings from the ‘80s, shockingly available by the pour or half pour — and at reasonable prices (no more than $20 a pour). But you’ll also find a number of Scotches and American whiskies. The owner is a huge movie buff so films play on a back screen while his 3000+ film score soundtracks loop. It’s one of the most wonderfully unique bar experiences in the world.

4. Calvador, Kyoto, Japan

Drinking Calvados from 1869 at Calvador

Drinking Calvados from 1869 at Calvador

Japan offers one “best in the world” bar experience after another and Bar Calvador is truly one of the greats in the world. For Calvados (French apple brandy) lovers, it’s unreal. The biggest Calvados collection in the world, over 300 bottles and counting, is housed in a tiny, 2nd floor bar with no more than the symbol an apple as any indication it exists from the street. Bar manager Hiroyuki Takayama is a global Calvados ambassador and offers pours from 50, even 80 year old Calvados… or stunning rarities like an 1869 Calvados. It’s an incredible way to get “schooled” on the great brandy of Normandy.

5. Y & M Kisling, Tokyo, Japan

My first night in Tokyo was sheer magic, thanks to legendary Y & M Kisling (pictured top). Hidden on a 7th floor in Ginza, the dark wood-lined bar glows with a 1930s elegance, jazz softly playing in the background, bartenders in cream-colored jackets and the ever-impeccable collection of Japanese barware and glassware, perfectly stirred or shaken cocktails and the house drink, Kaikan Fizz (created by head bartender Mitsugi Yoshida, who has bartended for over 55 years). Served in a highball glass, it’s frothy and bright, mixing gin, whole milk, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, shaken and topped off with soda water. The experience is so transporting you feel as if you’re both in another world and another time.

6. The Envoy, Hong Kong, China

Adorable yinyuang owl mug at The Envoy

Adorable yinyuang owl mug at The Envoy

The Envoy may be the most exciting of Hong Kong’s newcomers, thanks to bar manager Amanda Wan and star Hong Kong barman Antonio Lai (also behind the bars Origin and Quinary). Soft opening this summer in the gorgeous Pottinger hotel up a cobblestone Central street, The Envoy is tucked upstairs on the third floor, a chic wonderland of elegant wallpaper, alcoves, a long bar — including a corner reservations-only bar within full view of a centrifuge and other house equipment — and a white light-strewn patio. The magic of the space translates to the playful drinks (think a blood bag beet and genever cocktail — delicious despite how it sounds) and tea cocktails embracing the all-important British-Chinese afternoon tea ritual, celebrated here with creative bites.

7. Yoram Sake, Kyoto, Japan

Yoram Sake

Yoram Sake

In the US, there are those rare, incredible sake tastings, like an experience of pairings with sushi from sake sommelier Stuart Morris at Pabu in SF, where you can taste sakes ranging funky and mushroom-y, to pine-y and aromatic. And then there’s Yoram Sake, a once-in-a-lifetime sake bar run by Yoram Ofer, an Israeli sake master who also exports sake to the US and beyond. The quiet, intimate bar is merely a few seats (are you seeing a common theme here in Japan?) and the rarities run from elegant, young sakes to 20-30 year aged sakes that invoke stewed onions and beef jus. It’s an almost sacred experience immediately elevating love of sake to another level.

8. Campbelltoun Loch, Tokyo, Japan

Campbeltoun Loch

Campbeltoun Loch

Harder to find and without a website (yes, the spelling of the name is correct), this tiny bar is not much bigger than a closet but equipped with many rare Japanese whisky and Scotch bottles behind (and lined across) the bar. The kindly owner walks you through treasures like old bottles of now-defunct Karuizawa Japanese whisky and 1980’s Mars Single Malt from the Shinsyu Distillery.

9. Cafe De Dokter, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Cafe De Doktor

Cafe De Doktor

Amsterdam boasts a number of unforgettable dive bars: intimate, historic spots bursting with character, and in the case of Cafe de Dokter, dust. The dust has never been cleaned on bric-a-brac lining the walls of this dim haven enhanced by mellow jazz tunes and a laid back bartender. The bar was founded by a surgeon in 1798, has been run by the same family for generations, and is wonderfully creepy with old clocks, birdcages, ventriloquist doll, a hanging doctor’s bag. It’s about all the atmosphere, not the drinks (hence the “dive” label), so a good pour of whisky is the ideal way to go. You won’t find the like of it anywhere else in the world.

10. Duddell’s, Hong Kong, China

Duddell's

Marek Vojcarcik creations at Duddell’s

In a town rife with cool outdoor patios, Duddell’s may be one of the coolest. The expansive, open air lounge upstairs from the two Michelin-starred restaurant opens out onto a large patio lined with tropical foliage, vintage lawn furniture and tables, surrounded by skyscrapers. The artful, British-influenced menu from salon manager Marek Vojcarcik highlights cocktail classics (like a twist on a Gibson with Tanqueray gin, dry vermouth and a garnish of baby pickles) and creative house drinks like Opium, a Scotch-based drink laced with peach, lime and poppy seed milk.

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Jan
01
2015

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Devil's Acre, new in North Beach

Devil’s Acre, new in North Beach

My Top Drink Articles: December 15-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Special Features & Year-in-Review

My Year in Dining & Drink article

398 Cocktails

398 Cocktails

Cocktails

The 14 Top New Cocktail Bars of the Year

Devil’s Acre, a new/old timey elxir source, soda fountain & cocktail bar in North Beach

What to Eat & Drink at Chris Cosentino’s new Cockscomb

State Bird sister restaurant The Progress opens next door

What to eat & drink at Union Square’s new 398

3 things to know about STEM, the new Mission Bay restaurant with edible gardens & Bay views

Hot Drink: a notable barrel aged cocktail at Per Diem

Wine, Beer, Spirits to Purchase

What to order at downtown’s new SOMA Eats & Bottle Shop

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Dec
01
2014

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Crystal Jade cocktails

Crystal Jade cocktails

My Top Drink Articles: November 16-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Wine

3 new SF wine bars you should know

Cocktails

Hapa Ramen opens its first brick-and-mortar – with cocktails – in the Mission

Crystal Jade opens its first location outside Asia – cocktails with Embarcadero views from a spacious patio

Just what Napa needed: La Taberna, an all day destination for Spanish food and sherry, wine, Madeira

Creative cocktails in Napa Valley: The Farmer & the Fox in St. Helena

Hapa Ramen cocktails

Hapa Ramen cocktails

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Oct
15
2014

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Burritt Room + Tavern's Chameleon on the new fall menu

Burritt Room + Tavern’s Chameleon on the new fall menu

My Top Drink Articles: October 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Wine

All-day dream cafe, LES CLOS, opens from Saison sommelier Mark Bright, serving impeccable French food & wines

Cocktails

CHARLIE PALMER’s BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN: New Chef’s Table with cocktail pairings

MARLOWE reopens in the former Coco500 space, now with cocktails

ALTA’s new cocktail & food pairing menu, new fall cocktails, house root beer and house made spirits

PATHOS, Berkeley’s Greek dining, wine and cocktail destination

Best Thing We Drank: New Fall Cocktails at BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN

Beer

MONK’s KETTLE REOPENS with sidewalk seating and new draft system

SF CRAFT BEER Festival

Alta's Conquistador on the fall menu

Alta’s Conquistador on the fall menu

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Oct
01
2014

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New cocktails at La Urbana in celebration of their 1 year anniversary

New cocktails at La Urbana in celebration of their 1 year anniversary

My Top Drink Articles: September 16-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Whisk(e)y

Seminars not to miss and legendary whisk(e)y figures at this year’s WHISKYFEST on October 3

Cocktails

2 new OAKLAND COCKTAIL destinations, from Tiki-meets-Africa to an art deco Uptown hangout

New cocktails to celebrate LA URBANA’s one year anniversary

Top cocktails on HAKKASAN’s new fall menu

Mezcal and tequila collection & cocktails at AGAVE MEXICAN in a HEALDSBURG strip mall

Not your average football drinks: COCKTAILS at the 49er’s new LEVI STADIUM

Trendspotting: refreshing FLIP COCKTAILS

HECHO opens in the Castro with Mexican-American food (with a Tex Mex slant) & tequila/mezcal cocktails

Beer

SCHROEDER’S OKTOBERFEST Events

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Sep
15
2014

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Lolo's new playing card cocktail menu

Lolo’s new playing card cocktail menu

My Top Drink Articles: September 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Cocktails

LOLO’s artistic new PLAYING CARD COCKTAIL MENU

NOPA’s two cocktail menus within a cocktail menu

Cocktails on the new TRICK DOG MENU

Cocktailing in ALAMEDA

Spirits

ST. GEORGE RELEASES 3 NEW SPIRITS for Fall

Juice

My new cold press juice favorite, UPTOWN JUICE

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Sep
01
2014

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Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye and beer cocktail

Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye, cherry and beer cocktail

My Top Drink Articles: August 16-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Cocktails/Spirits

The TOP 5 BEER COCKTAILS to Drink Now, from SF to Oakland and Napa

The NEW COCKTAIL MENU at OAKLAND’s RAMEN SHOP

WINE & COCKTAIL Highlights at THE COMMISSARY in the Presidio

Cider

DEVOTO ORCHARDS CIDER from family-run apple orchards in SEBASTOPOL

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Sep
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, in all its magical color

New York: My 8 Top NY Cocktails of 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Golden Caddilac

Golden Cadillac

Working on a video project this Spring for Tastemade, I was asked to hand-select food and drink destinations to include in a Top 100 round-up of NY spots. This meant I was able to return to a number of my older favorites, like Amor y Amargo (my favorite amaro bar where, this time around, I enjoyed their iced coffee weekend brunch cocktail menu), Raines Law Room, Mayahuel, Cienfuegos, Brandy Library, Saxon + Parole and The Daily (the latter two of which I get into further below). Fine cocktails and spirits were had at each of these locations. Of course, I packed in some newer spots, too.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos

Sadly, the Golden Cadillac closed after my visit, though it hadn’t been open long. I appreciated the cheeky fun of the bar’s improved 70s cocktails, like a Golden Cadillac mixing Galliano, coconut cream, creme de cacao and orange bitters, or a Disco Daiquiri using almond milk instead of coconut milk (not to mention seeing great bartenders behind the bar, like Mathew Resler formerly of Empellon and Lulu Martinez, formerly of also-closed Painkiller. The East Village space will reopen as Boilermaker next month, involving none other than SF’s Erick Castro, who opened Rickhouse and the highly-lauded Polite Provisions in San Diego.

In the meantime, here are my 8 best cocktails in NYC this year (past years here), plus commentary on a couple newer cocktails bars.

ZZ Clam Bar's gorgeous vintage glassware

ZZ Clam Bar’s gorgeous vintage glassware

1. SAXON + PAROLE, NoHo

Masa Urushido

Masa Urushido

Saxon + Parole has been one of my favorite NY bars for years since Naren Young used to oversee the program. It remains a favorite in its current days under the able hands of Masa Urushido, a gracious bar manager who came from some of Tokyo’s top bars to NYC in 2008.

Raisin & Rum

Rum & Raisin

His seasonal cocktails can be stunners. This spring, I was wowed by a Spring Daiquiri ($14) combining Cana Brava rum, sugar snap peas, a house lemon-thyme cordial, lemon and tarragon salt. Topped with fresh pea pods, it tastes blissfully of crisp peas, backed with rum’s spice and sweetness, perked up with thyme and lemon. Another standout on the creamy end of the spectrum is Rum & Raisin ($14), a blend of Appleton Reserve rum, Greek yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon and Perrier to cut the lushness with a bit of effervescence.

Spring Daiquiri

Spring Daiquiri

The Daily-Virginia Miller

“Nacho” Jimenez

2. THE DAILY, Nolita

One of the great bar managers from the couple hundred NYC cocktail bars I’ve been to over the years is Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, at The Daily, who crafts well-balanced drinks in a seductive, mellow urban respite of a space featuring straightforward, daily changing cocktails and bites.

There’s one cocktail daily in each category, like bottled, “on the rocks” and aperitif. Returning this visit, a standout was a bottled La Perla for two ($26), served in a Daily flask (pictured below), a tequila, pear, sherry recipe from SF local, Jacques Bezuidenhout.

3. MOTHER’S RUIN, Nolita

Mother's Ruin's carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin’s carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin is a bartender/industry favorite and one of New York’s good-time hangouts where you’re greeted with a smile, elevated slushie and beer cocktails, and particularly during the day, a laid back, restorative vibe. Recently, Rabbit Done Died was the bracing slushie churning in their slushie machine, a combination of gin, carrot, lemon, cucumber and bitters, reminiscent of a Pimm’s Cup but icier and bolder. Fun was also had with a tequila and Cholula hot sauce cocktail partnered with a can of Tecate beer.

The Daily's bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

The Daily’s bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

4. ZZ CLAM BAR, Greenwich Village

Produce lining ZZ's bar

Produce lining ZZ’s bar

ZZ Clam Bar, a 12-seat, reservations-only seafood and cocktail bar is an intimate oasis in The Village that sings of island breezes and upscale Tiki culture circa 1940s with its romantic setting, soundtrack of lounge, exotica and other musical treats. Sounds like my dream spot, right? In many ways it is. Opened Summer 2013 by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of neighboring Carbone, it is, like that red sauce Italian haven, vastly overpriced. It can easily cost a few hundred dollars here for dinner and cocktails, the latter of which are $20 each (more on the food here).

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

ZZ’s sole bartender didn’t seem interested in engaging or explaining the cocktails we tried, despite the fact that we have many friends in common as he came from SF and The Alembic (where he used to work and where I bartended for a few months – I did not present any of this information but should not have had to to receive quality service). Even a bit of genuine engagement would have made the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic experience commensurate with merely 12 diners and the fine dining price tag. Thankfully, service was warm from our waiter, which should be a given from all staff.

It’s hard to say $300+ is worth it for a non-fine dining experience where portions are tiny, although in making reservations, one could request a couple seats against the wall and go just for drinks and a bite or two. At the same time, ZZ is such a one-of-a-kind spot that imparts romance in its size and decor, worth experiencing if you can afford it and desire something different, as those of us do who dine and drink at hundreds of places annually around the world. While we’ve seen seafood crudo and raw fish menus before, ZZ’s interpretations are imaginative and the cocktails maintain tropical flair, each visually striking in gorgeous vintage glassware.

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

I tasted six cocktails, intrigued by combinations like Plymouth gin, creamy with pistachio and honey, tart with kumquat, or a reposado tequila-based concoction mixed with squash, thyme and allspice. I crave this type of creative, culinary experimentation in cocktails. While some combinations worked better than others, I truly appreciate drinks with a vision beyond the usual. Kudos also for an anejo tequila cocktail implementing butter, pineapple and ras al hanout spices, and another with crème de menthe, apple brandy, mandarin orange and mole bitters.

5. BETONY, Midtown West

Betony's lush interior

Betony’s lush interior

Betony is an upscale Midtown restaurant that comes with a price tag as high as its gorgeously chic décor would suggest. Cocktails run $15-17 but are elegantly made with the type of sophistication one might expect from an Eleven Madison Park alum, namely GM Eamon Rockey. Betony is known for their lovely, regularly changing Milk Punch ($17 – read more about this in Robert Simonson’s NY Times article published around the time of my visit).

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Their Milk Punch during my visit had a Del Maguey Vida Mezcal base, combined with a Moroccan spearmint, cocoa nib tea and lemon. Another impressive drink was Coco Chanel, inspired by Chanel No. 5 perfume and made in collaboration with a master perfumer across the street. Though the drink seems to have evolved (note this earlier iteration in Town & Country), when I tried it, Rockey combined Cocchi Americano, lemon oleo saccharum, a dry French rosé wine and a spritz of rose water. The aforementioned master perfumier created a mixture including bergamot, roses, jasmine and citrus, which was rubbed on the garnish of mint leaves for enhanced aromatics.

My take on two newer bars:

2nd FLOOR on CLINTON, Lower East Side

2nd Ave's chilled out space

2nd Ave’s chilled out space

I was immediately smitten with the 2nd Floor on Clinton space for its removed, mellow vibe hidden upstairs in a Lower East Side space filled with mismatched couches and a lived-in, Victorian living room feel. The vibe (not the look) reminds me of the relaxed, non-trendy “speakeasy” days of Angel’s Share back in the 90s or the early days at the original Milk & Honey. One hopes the word doesn’t get out and make the space obnoxious or impossible to get in to.

d

Blessed Thistle cocktail

Too bad the cocktails ($15) don’t quite keep up with the romantic space. Despite how intriguing they sound, the cocktails I tried from listed “mixologists” Ektoras Binikos and Sarah Miller seemed to lack focus coming across “muddled” or confused, with no distinct flavor, like the Mistral (Martin Miller’s gin, Averna, verjus, sage and yuzu), or Blessed Thistle, a combination of Michter’s Sour Mash, Cardamaro, honey liqueur, lemon, Meyer lemon zest, Dutch’s colonial and cardamom bitters.

NITECAP, Lower East Side

Nitecap

Nitecap

David Kaplan and Alex Day are big names in the cocktail world, opening NYC’s Death & Company and more recently Honeycut in Los Angeles. They opened their intimate basement bar, Nitecap, just a couple weeks before I was in NYC in April so I caught it in early weeks. With brick walls and plum leather banquettes, the dim space is seductive and appealing. I just missed head bartender Natasha David, but tasted a few cocktails on their playfully-designed menu. They were pleasant though soft cocktails where the alcohol was barely a whisper (making some drinks feel more for the spirits novice rather than the aficionado). Service was aloof and unengaged, making it less fun than Portland’s Pepe Le Moko, which also opened this spring in Portland with a similar basement vibe and look though it is decidedly more fun. Kudos, however, for Nitecap’s late night, early ‘90s hip hop soundtrack.

Saxon + Parole cocktails

Saxon + Parole cocktails

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