Downstairs Big Corn Island
2016 was a tough year for many. But as cocktail culture is one aspect of life that actually improved in ‘16, we’re here to suggest that discerning tippling, not heavy drinking, is the better course of action. Herewith some evidence.
Creative riffs on old standards came to our attention at two distinctive watering holes: glassy and up-on-the-roof Paramour and dark and speakeasy-like Downstairs. At Paramour, bartender Misael Gonzalez’s take on the James Bond standard The Vesper
relied on careful selection of each component. For the gin he used honey-based Barr Hill, for the vodka it was Zubrowka, a Polish variation scented with buffalo grass, and in place of vermouth, the more highly aromatized Cocchi Americano. To take the experiment further, Gonzalez shook one version a la Bond and stirred another. The shaken was more dilute but sharper, the stirred version rounder. A toss-up.
Bartenders Houston Eaves and Myles Worrell at Downstairs have put together a menu-within-a-menu that’s focused on corn, and the “best-of” award here might well go to the entire concept; it’s hard to pick a single drink from a lineup that includes the cheeky Fuck Monsanto and its non-GMO bourbon take on the Old Fashioned. But as a reward for making a Tiki drink that also takes a political stance, let’s bestow the honors on orchid-bedecked Big Corn Island
and its non-Nicaraguan rums, corn milk, tepache and Campari.
Juniper Tar, rebooted by Chris Erck and Benjamin Krick, also pleased with several new drinks, but let’s call the winner the ballsy Burning in Effigy
which manages to make assertive elements such as tequila, Chartreuse, Ancho Reyes and crème de cacao play nice together. Chile-based Ancho Reyes appeared again in a creation, the Heart of Gold
, by Nick Kenna at George’s Keep. The gold here is a reference to turmeric-infused tequila that’s also paired with grapefruit, a topping of ginger beer and a misting of hibiscus tincture. Think super-Paloma.
We look to tested ‘tenders such as Kenna for continual invention, but new talents emerged in 2016 as well. One such was Omar Cormier at The Brooklynite. He’s largely responsible for a new menu that includes several drinks that read as too complex to work — but actually do. To pick a fave, let’s say Borrowed Time
, marrying gin, aloe liqueur, thyme cordial, Japanese plum wine, vermouth and a torched lime wheel. It’s subtle and beautifully balanced. No, really.
For me, some of the best drinks of the year came by purely situational happenstance. For instance, my co-conSPIRITor on this list made a fabulous ode to Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven
at Dorcol with squid ink.
My favorite beer cocktail of the year came by way of Beer Fest, where Crazy Barrel delighted us with over-the-top micheladas
, such as the one below:
Because who knew I needed carne seca in my michi?
Halloween weekend was bolstered by tequila oyster shooters
at Shuck Shack, which I'm definitely counting as a cocktail. Briny, clean and tomato-y, the shooters were fuel for the rest of the evening's shenanigans.
Finally, Stephanie Di Muria flexed her cocktail skills at Rumble with occasional cocktail menus themed around films. Though I missed the Bad Kids Club menu with drinks inspired by teen flicks, I did make it in for a Coen Brothers list. The frozen Duderino (below) for the Lebowski
fanboys was restrained and playful, while the Hail, Caesar
contained house-made bloody mix and St. George green chile vodka to bold, but balanced results.