13 Restaurant Cocktails That Don’t Suck

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The NoMad Bar's Charlie Watts: aged rhum agricole, Guyanaese rum, Batavia Arrack, black pepper, apricot, lemon, and pineapple.
The NoMad Bar's Charlie Watts: aged rhum agricole, Guyanaese rum, Batavia Arrack, black pepper, apricot, lemon, and pineapple. Photo: Melissa Hom

Are “house” cocktails at restaurants really so terrible? This week, Times critic Pete Wells says yes: They’re overwrought, too complicated to be made by inexperienced bartenders, and generally just nowhere near as enjoyable as the classics. “Some are rudely sour, or pointlessly bitter, or ickily sweet, or phonily complicated,” Wells writes, “or just too reminiscent of a spoonful of Robitussin with a hangnail of lemon peel floating on top.” And even though the critic doesn’t name names, he’s got a point. If you want a fancy cocktail, you’re usually much better off going to a bar that specializes in just that sort of thing instead of a restaurant that’s possibly just trying to inflate your bill. And yet, it’s not like all restaurant cocktails suck. In fact, plenty of places around town devote the necessary resources — excellent ingredients and equipment and a well-trained staff — to turn out fantastic drinks. Here are more than a dozen signature cocktails at restaurants around New York that you can order with confidence, knowing you (almost) certainly won’t be disappointed.

Dr. Dave’s ‘Scrip Pad
Where: Alder
What: Rye, yuzu, amaro, and smoked maple
Price: $14 (also available as a “short” for $7)
Yuzu and whiskey sound like they’d be an unusual pairing, but the Japanese citrus is the perfect complement for the spicy rye.

Calabrian Ransom
Where: Franny’s
What: Ransom Old Tom gin, Del Capo amaro, honey, and lemon
Price: $13
It’s a staple on the Brooklyn pizzeria’s ever-changing drink menu, and for good reason. The cocktail is sweet without being cloying, strong but not deadly, and overall just very nicely balanced.

Bottle-Aged Negroni
Where: Marta
What: Beefeater gin, Campari, and Dolin Rouge
Price: $14
Yes, it’s a Negroni, and “bottle-aging” doesn’t seem to do much to change its familiar flavor profile. But so what? It’s still a great drink, and it gets extra points for an excellent presentation.

Applejack Sazerac
Where: Prime Meats
What: Apple brandy, maple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and absinthe rinse
Price: $10
All of Prime Meats’ drinks are more or less outstanding, but on a cold night, this drink — plus a whole lot of meat — will feel super comforting.

Rosita
Where: Bar Primi
What: Blanco tequila, Campari, sweet and dry vermouth, Angostura bitters
Price: $12
Adam Platt’s a big fan of this particular drink. Another fine option: the very-Italian Sbagliato, which is a Negroni with the gin swapped out in favor of Prosecco. It’s excellent.

The Grand Prix
Where: Dirty French
What: Grain Japanese whiskey, coconut vermouth, ras el hanout spices, and aromatic bitters
Price: $16
If you can’t break through the crowds at Dirty French, you can also order this drink in the Ludlow Hotel’s handsome lobby bar.

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The Grand Prix
Where: Dirty French
What: Grain Japanese whiskey, coconut vermouth, ras el hanout spices, and aromatic bitters
Price: $16
If you can’t break through the crowds at Dirty French, you can also order this drink in the Ludlow Hotel’s handsome lobby bar.

The Grand Prix.Photo: Melissa Hom

Quinnside the Actors Studio
Where: Fedora
What: Pear gin, mezcal, bianco vermouth, and lemon
Price: $13
Fedora’s bar director, Brian Bartels, always has a cocktail named after his friend Quinn on the menu, and this one’s perfect for the fall weather.

The Oldest Profession
Where: wd~50
What: Rum, elderflower, shiso, and clarified grapefruit
Price: $15
As it marches toward its close next month, it’s worth noting that wd~50 has always offered some truly innovative cocktails. This one is simpler tasting than its out-there ingredient list indicates. It’s sweet and refreshing and an excellent preamble for Wylie Dufresne’s tasting menu.

Ol’ Dirty Bâtard
Where: Bâtard
What: Jim Beam rye, Punt e Mes vermouth, Cocchi Rosa, and mole bitters
Price: $12
The name alone is pretty fantastic, but the actual drink, which is maybe best described as a dirty Manhattan, delivers — big time.

Charlie Watts
Where: The Bar at NoMad
What: Aged rhum agricole, Guyanaese rum, Batavia Arrack, black pepper, apricot, lemon, and pineapple
Price: $16
All of bar master Leo Robitschek’s drinks are excellent, whether you’re at Eleven Madison Park (great bar seating!), the NoMad, or this new publike NoMad Bar. If you really want to make a night of it, you can always order a Cocktail Explosion.

Bronze Monkey
Where: Aquavit
What: Monkey Shoulder blended Scotch, Nocino walnut liqueur, and True Believer sparkling cider
Price: $16
The combination sounds like it won’t work, but mixed together, the flavors sing.

Julia’s Blush
Where: Cherche Midi
What: Campari, Citadelle Gin, lemon juice, and agave
Price: $15
Aesthetically, this drink matches the restaurant’s pink theme. The agave is unexpected with the gin, which is nice — like a refined French aperitif version of a Negroni.

Tamarind Whiskey Sour
Where: Pok Pok Ny
What: Tamarind, fresh lime juice, palm sugar, and bourbon on the rocks
Price: $12
Now, you can’t go wrong with any of the drinks here, but this has become a classic New York cocktail.

Related: 14 Restaurants Where It’s Better to Sit at the Bar

13 Restaurant Cocktails That Don’t Suck