Amid the bitter cold of February, lush burgundy wines and warming whiskeys can be most appealing. But some NYC bars go further than that, with handcrafted cocktail menus offering hot drinks, running the gamut from timeless classics to aromatic inventions, as bold and zesty as New Yorkers themselves.
THE AVIARY NYC
Perched on the Mandarin Hotel’s 35th floor, The Aviary NYC boasts views of Central Park and the bordering Manhattan skyline. This concept bar from Chicago opened its Columbus Circle location in 2017, offering the same approach to inventive libations and small-plate pairings that originally placed its flagship on every cocktail connoisseur’s radar. Here, you can relive the days of old New York with a pre-Prohibition-inspired concoction, or opt for the “Dealer’s Choice,” a drink which The Aviary’s skilled bartenders will tailor to your personal preferences, be they sweet or dry; they’ll even consider your favorite cities and films to craft a drink that complements your very essence. Consider The Aviary an experience rather than a cocktail bar, and come prepared to experiment with the art of imbibing.
THE RUM HOUSE
Hunker down in this old-world drinking den complete with rich wood paneling and luxe red hues. Conveniently nestled in Times Square’s epicenter, The Rum House is ideal for a pre-theater tipple or an intimate nightcap, but it also doubles as a buzzing jazz bar with its finger on the pulse of Manhattan’s vintage heartbeat. As the name suggests, The Rum House specializes in premium, spiced and aged rum-based libations alongside classic cocktails like the Moscow Mule (vodka, lime and house-made ginger beer) and the Old Fashioned (bourbon or rye with orange and Angostura bitters). On a cold winter’s night, the Hot Toddy (served year-round) might be just the ticket: While the standard Hot Toddy is made with whiskey these days, the earliest American versions of the drink were made with rum, which is how The Rum House serves it (naturally). Also on tap might be seasonal mulled wine or cider.
BLACK MOUNTAIN WINE HOUSE
The Adirondack chairs and lumber piles on the porch tip you off: An inviting rustic charm awaits at Brooklyn’s Black Mountain Wine House. Beyond its remarkable cabinlike wooden facade, this unpretentious space achieves a delightful country atmosphere facilitated by authentic farmhouse accents and a working fireplace in the back of an intimate saloon akin to a lodge. But it’s the hot mulled red wine—perfectly sweetened with “exotic spices” and garnished with a submerged cinnamon stick—that may just be the antidote to winter. On the menu, a selection of international cheeses, as well as small plates of simple, flavorful ingredients, pair harmoniously with an expansive list of wines and beers. Other winter drink specialties include the “Cold Autumner,” made with red wine, sherry, spiced cranberry and pink peppercorns; and the “Shider,” a seasonal concoction of sherry, apple cider and ginger beer.
What was once an industrial no-go zone has turned into one of New York City’s most cultured destinations. We’re talking about the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, where an impressive fleet of must-try bars and restaurants have emerged in short order. Think of Dutch Kills as a microcosm of the thriving community it calls home. Located on a quiet street, you will spot a nondescript facade but inside is a seriously spacious saloon, where friendly bartenders sling a slew of hot cocktails, from electrifying Irish coffee and the sweet “Dirty Banana” (rum, banana liqueur, house-made orgeat syrup, espresso, sweet whipped cream) to soothing Hot Toddies and smooth buttered rum. But it’s the bar’s own “Bear Trap,” made with bourbon, apple cider, honey, butter and cinnamon that proves a local favorite.
THE DEAD RABBIT GROCERY
With the familiar charm of an Irish pub and the stylish energy of an NYC lounge, The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog is a celebrated spot boasting virtuosic cocktails and well over 100 varieties of Irish whiskey. Perhaps this is why the brainchild of two friends from Belfast was voted the “World’s Best Bar” in 2016. Through an extensive menu of libations, The Dead Rabbit tells the tale of Lower Manhattan circa 1850—a time in which an Irish-American criminal gang, the Dead Rabbits, ruled these very streets. With mixed drinks bearing names like “Trigger Happy,” “Wheeler Dealer” and “Shoot From the Hip,” each cocktail is a nod to the bar’s vintage surroundings. The bar also exhibits photographs and mementos to foster the tavern’s unmistakable air of no-fuss authenticity. But the star of the show is arguably its legendary Irish coffee. Made with Clontarf Irish Whiskey, one sip will obliterate those winter chills.
Don’t let the inconspicuousness of Middle Branch, housed within an unmarked Murray Hill townhouse, deter you. This hidden gem occupies a former antiques shop, operating as a bi-level, speakeasy-style watering hole. A pressed tin ceiling and exposed brick walls foster a vintage ambiance, elevated further by enviable views of the Empire State Building from a wrought-iron balcony on the bar’s second floor. Cozy up in this intimate space with a classic mulled wine; or opt for a bespoke concoction such as the “Warm Embrace,’’ made with whiskey, ginger liqueur, apple cider, lemon juice and cinnamon apple spice tea, or a “Ginger and Spice,” complete with a red wine and allspice liqueur, brandied cherries and a cinnamon stick. Founded by the late cocktail maven Sasha Petraske (Petraske was one of the earliest champions of “bartender’s choice” items now found on many cocktail menus), Middle Branch showcases the refined side of Murray Hill. And like all the other places mentioned here, it’ll help you forget all about winter.