Only in its third year, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic already has made a significant mark as one of the top city-based cocktail and spirits fiestas now blossoming across the country — the world, even. Those who attend get plenty of attention from spirits companies, see lots of the top cocktail-centric bars, visit with old friends, make new ones and generally swan about New York looking for the latest and the hottest cocktail trend.
So, as usual, let me be contrarian. If you are coming, you’ll likely visit Pegu, Clover Club, Employees Only and others that are now established stops on the world's bar crawl. You’ll check out the specialty places: Amor y Amargo, Painkiller, Lanikai, Bathtub Gin. You’ll want to see the new: the bar at the NoMad Hotel, Saxon + Parole, the Daily. But I’m here to say that New York’s drinking soul is pretty broad and expansive, and there are more than a few places unlikely to be on the cocktail connoisseur’s list you should consider checking out. Too bad you can’t visit Bill’s Gay Nineties, as it closed in March, but that’s New York — the old is slave to the new. Here are five drinking and dining establishments this New Yorker thinks are worth visiting by any booze professional:
McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 E. 7th St.: The last quintessential Old New York bar left standing, McSorley’s became nationally known when it was the last bar still refusing to serve women in the 1970s. These days, there are plenty of women who frequent the joint and admire its sawdust floor rusticity, grouchy bartenders and mugs (you get two no matter what you order) of their light and dark beer. Find a seat against the wall, and watch the world go by from inside one of the country’s saloon landmarks.
Peter McManus Café, 152 Seventh Ave.: The Irish-American saloon with tin ceiling and tile floor was perfected in Manhattan, despite what you might have heard in Boston. While Peter McManus doesn’t lay claim to being special in that regard, it has continually served cops and firefighters, "Saturday Night Live" cast members and the average Chelsea citizen since 1936 and is said to be the oldest family-run bar in town. There are many sub-categories of the Irish bar in New York — old-man bar, hockey bar, new-fangled 30-tap bar — but Peter McManus is as close to a neighborhood Irish bar as you can get these days on the Rock.
Angel’s Share, 6 Stuyvesant St., 2nd floor: This quiet upstairs bar in the East Village doesn’t get its due, probably because it’s mostly been known as a place to find rare whiskies, especially Scotch. But since Shingo Gokan took home the Bacardi Global Legacy competition prize last winter, a little more attention is in order, if for no other reason than to try his Speak Low, lovingly prepared with Match green tea powder. Tiny, no-standing and reservations recommended, but worth the trouble.
Club Macanudo, 26 E. 63rd St.: No more smoky saloons in New York — at least not legally — except for at Club Macanudo, where cigars still rule because of the building’s owners (General Cigar) and some obscure rule that allows them and their guests to light ‘em up. The club features leather chairs, a great whiskey and cognac selection and lots of cigars from which to choose, although you can bring your own.
Russian Vodka Room, 265 W. 52nd St.: “Vodka bar? What will my friends think?” They’ll think you have no prejudices about an entirely valid drinking style based on the introductory spirit that pays the bills. Blinis and caviar galore as well as shots of housemade infusions — garlic, pepper, dill and horseradish — work wonders, but raspberry, ginger, peach and pomegranate, as well as the usual, mostly Eastern European and Russian vodkas are just as likely to reign here. Go ahead: You know you want to.