There are many who lament the disappearance of New York City’s iconic restaurants, bars, and storefronts as owners succumb to high rent and operating costs. But there are still places where the city of yesterday is waiting to be discovered. Notable are the legendary cocktail bars evoking a bygone era where some of the world’s most famous cocktails were invented.
Some locations showcase their timeworn shabbiness like a badge of honor whereas others still gleam with the elegance and luster that made the gathering spot famous in the first place. These are the locations where the romantics in love with the nostalgic allure of yesterday still gather to discuss politics and culture while sipping a cocktail in the same way guests have done for decades.
Here are six of New York’s most iconic bars and recipes for the iconic cocktails that are served at each one.
The White Horse Tavern: Sidecar
The White Horse Tavern bills itself as one of America’s oldest bars and it’s hard to argue with a place that opened in Greenwich Village in 1880. The interior has changed very little in the tavern’s nearly 150-year history but the clientele certainly has. Today, The White Horse Tavern is a destination for tourists and rowdy college students but it was once the gathering place of famous writers who engaged in heated debates with fellow writers and artists while imbibing on classics like Manhattans and Sidecars. A few of the tavern’s most famous patrons include Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Jack Keroac, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jim Morrison. The vibe might have changed over the years but the decor certainly hasn’t and neither has the recipe for the sidecar which remains one of its most popular cocktails. Get the recipe.
Fraunces Tavern: Hot Buttered Rum
George Washington is arguably Fraunces Tavern’s most famous patron. His drink of choice was hot buttered rum which kept him and his soldiers warm during the bitterly cold winter months of the American Revolution. It is said that the nation’s first president once made 13 toasts in a row with his favored cocktail but that could merely be a legend passed down through the centuries as a way to bolster the popularity of the tavern.
What is known for sure is that the original tavern was established in 1719 and was not only a favorite watering hole of the President, it also served as his headquarters where he negotiated for peace with the British and established the federal offices for the early republic. Today, Fraunces Tavern is a cornerstone of the American Whiskey Trail and a popular tourist site that also boasts a museum. The tavern has changed drastically over the years but what hasn’t changed is the hot buttered rum recipe that’s still served to the history buffs who gather there. Get the recipe.
Ear Inn: Dark & Stormy
The building housing the Ear Inn was built in 1770 but the tavern itself didn’t have a name until new owners named it in 1977. Not having a name didn’t deter imbibers from gathering at the tavern since its doors opened in 1817. The building is called the James Brown House, after an aid to George Washington who assisted him during the American Revolution. By the mid-1800s, Thomas Cooke was selling homemade whiskey and homebrew to the sailors who made the pub their favorite watering hole. In the early 1900s it became a restaurant that refused to stop serving alcohol during the era of Prohibition, transforming itself once again into one of the city’s most famous speakeasies. Today, the bar still serves the Dark & Stormy, a favorite of locals and visitors since The Ear Inn’s notorious speakeasy days. Get the recipe.
Knickerbocker Hotel: Martini
The Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City’s Time Square neighborhood was once one of the city’s most beloved gathering places for an elite group of businessmen including the Carnegies and Rockefellers. The hotel cost $3.3 million dollars to construct, a hefty sum in 1906 when it opened its doors to the wealthy patrons who stayed in its 556 rooms and enjoyed cocktails at its bar.
It is said that the martini was invented at The Knickerbocker when in 1912, bartender Martini de Arma di Taggia combined gin and vermouth together, a combination that became the cocktail of choice for one of the bar’s most famous patrons, John D. Rockefeller. Since Rockefeller was known to abstain from alcohol, this part of the story is more myth than fact but the creation of the martini at The Knickerbocker holds more credence. Get the recipe.
Mulberry Street Bar: Manhattan
If you’re a “Sopranos,” “Law & Order,” or “Donnie Brascoe” fan, this is the bar for you. Scenes from each one have been filmed at this iconic restaurant in Little Italy that has changed very little since it first opened its doors in 1908. Frank Sinatra was a patron of this bar that still boasts its original subway tile floor, ornately carved bar, and punched tin ceiling. Today, the bar has lost some of its original allure with the addition of plasma screens to please its game-loving patrons, but it’s still a place to revel in the nostalgia of a bygone time when the Manhattan was served in the same way it still is today. Get the recipe.
King Cole Bar: Bloody Mary (a.k.a. The Red Snapper)
The King Cole Bar in the Midtown’s opulent St. Regis Hotel opened its doors in 1904 and boasts an eclectic list of famous clientele including Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali, John Lennon, and Joe DiMaggio who all enjoyed cocktails at the Old King Cole bar, named after the expansive mural above the bar painted by the artist Maxfield Parish.
Perhaps even more famous than the bar’s location is the cocktail that was invented there in 1934, the Red Snapper, more commonly known as The Bloody Mary. It was created by bartender Fernand Petiot when one of his wealthy Russian patrons, Serge Obolensky, asked him to recreate a cocktail based upon a tomato and vodka combination he enjoyed in Paris called The Bloody Mary.
The name itself was too edgy for the highbrow bar but the original combination of tomato and vodka stuck, as did the ingredients Petiot added to make it spicier: Worcestershire sauce, lemon, salt, and pepper. Get the recipe.