Comforting Cocktails: A Night of Neighborhood Bars

Red Hook Bait & Tackle
Red Hook Bait & Tackle

Buying a cocktail in New York City is kind of like paying rent: sometimes we're paying for quality, but we're always paying for location. And while I have nothing against dolling up for a night of fancy cocktails, in a city buzzing with speakeasy options it's important to understand how to search for good drinks when you don't feel like making a big to-do. While most cocktail bars that serve intricate concoctions use top notch ingredients, it's equally, if not more crucial to pay mind to what's going into a “simple cocktail.” Good ingredients and careful preparation make for a good drink, esoteric ingredients be damned. You need not attend a hip mixology bar to enjoy a night of quality drinking. So I've taken the liberty of listing a few unexpected places to nab refreshments in NYC and how to find similar dives. All quality and price efficiency, no pretension or judgment. Forget the trendiest review and rely on these tips and a hint of your best spidey sense.

1) Try a fresh, local bar, like Rich Lane.

Rich Lane is a hybrid: part neighborhood joint, part cocktail extravaganza. The tea-lit décor maintains ambiance while still giving off the casual vibe of the local watering hole. Despite the decadent drinks served, bartender Brett explains that Rich Lane aims to be, “as unpretentious as possible without sacrificing quality cocktails.” And sacrifice they don't. It boasts a rotational list of cocktails that call upon everything from mainstream to local spirits, and mixing staples like basil and mint. I went with the Sky Saw: El Buho mezcalAntiguo tequila, grapefruit, lemon, and cucumber. Why simple ingredients as opposed to fancy botanicals? “We don't want to turn anybody off,” Brett says. Thumbs up. And for ten dollars, your Sky Saw costs as much as highball somewhere else in Williamsburg.

595 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

(347) 422-0617

2) Try a regulars only bar, like Kingsbridge's The Local

El Buho Mezcal at Richlane
El Buho Mezcal at Richlane

I'll admit, there's something daunting about sitting with six sports-watching Irish men at a pub in The Bronx, especially if you're wearing a dotted-Swiss dress. But there's also something weirdly comforting about it. A little macho talk is a lot less intimidating than hipster-speak, as far as I'm concerned. Local bars are swell for a few reasons. While the lack of no-frills cocktails might be a turn-off for the cocktail- infatuated, I'll guarantee you this much: if you order an Old Fashioned, it will be one carefully made Old Fashioned. A classic cocktail might seem easy on the surface, but that doesn't mean extra care won't make it exponentially better. And yes, your Old Fashioned might be served in a martini glass. And yes, there might be three maraschino cherries parked at the bottom. But your drink will be solid and you won't have to impress anyone. Bonus about The Local, you can dash out to withdraw cash in a pinch, buy yourself a cubano sandwich and a Mamita coconut ice, and return to pay your tab without making enemies with the bartender. The whole evening (food, drink, commute) can be done in under thirteen dollars. Cheers!

171 W 231st St, Bronx, NY 10463 (347) 427-4779

3) Try a place near the train, like Astoria Brewhouse

I found Astoria Brewhouse because it's near the N/Q stop on 31st Street, where I was getting out to meet a friend. They served me a good twist on an Irish coffee, adding a dash of hazelnut liqueur. Forgetting what

The Local
The Local

exactly I'd consumed, I checked out Astoria Brewhouse online. Whaddya know, it's one of those websites that sings to you! Kiss my aaass, sang the Astoria Brewhouse website, kiss my ass-aa-suh. I laughed because the clubby music didn't mesh with AB's friendly service and no-nonsense, pub-fair-meets-Irish-drinks menu. I know a lot of stations are in the middle of nowhere and thus not close to any bars. However, busy train stations usually have good drop-shop bars nearby, because people need a stiff drink after (or before) a long commute.

28-50 31st St, Queens, NY 11102 (718) 728-0050

4) End the night with a beer and Just the right amount of kitsch

“What's your best cocktail?” I ask Matt, the bartender atRed Hook's Bait & Tackle. It's one of the first days of “summer weather” and I've shlepped my sweaty body up to the bar.

“Beer,” he responds.

Amidst flashy neon lights and taxidermied animals sits a full liquor selection, but I take the man's advice. Something about staring at a stuffed fox (my spirit animal, I'm convinced) while gulping down Captain

Captain Lawrence Kolsch at Bait & Tackle
Captain Lawrence Kolsch at Bait & Tackle

Lawrence Kolsch feels romantic. Let me be clear: I dig understated kitsch. Bars that push agendas are no fun to me. I want to enjoy the wackiness, but I don't want it force fed to me. B&T gets everything right: intriguing props, helpful staff, and a simple yet lovely selection of beers. A bit of quirk mixed with a knowledgable bartender and a fine brew is the perfect dessert to an evening of cocktails. Bonus: A tenner will more than suffice.

320 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231 (718) 451-4665

So, the next time you're in NYC and looking to pinch pennies and pretension, remember that simplicity doesn't beget shoddiness. Not every dive bar is a speakeasy in disguise, but there's plenty between shots of Jameson and drinks shrouded in mystery and mispronunciation.