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Food + Drink

The Best Cocktails in NYC According to BlackTail Bartender Jesse Vida

With so many standout cocktail spots in NYC, narrowing down where to go can seem like a daunting task. So who better to ask than Jesse Vida, head bartender/bar manager at buzzy, Cuban-inspired BlackTail, voted 2017's Best New American Cocktail Bar? Originally hailing from San Francisco, Vida cut his teeth at several of New York’s best bars, including Dutch Kills, Booker and Dax, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and, most recently, the Dead Rabbit. When not traveling to New Orleans, London, Iceland, and beyond for consulting gigs and cocktail competitions, Vida hangs out at other New York bars to deepen his knowledge of NYC's ever-evolving cocktail scene. Here he shares his favorite cocktails and where to find them.

An avid Italophile, Laura is always on the hunt for the next great travel trends, luxury hotels, best places to eat and drink, and hidden gems. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications. She also co-wrote "New York: Hidden Bars and Restaurants," an award-winning guide to the city's speakeasy scene.

See recent posts by Laura Itzkowitz

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The Rum & Cola at BlackTail

This is no ordinary rum and coke. Inspired by Cuba, the inventive Rum & Cola at Vida's bar BlackTail is “a modern twist on the classic Cuba Libre, drier with champagne and an easy drink that fills the heart with rum and bubbles.” Vida makes it with Bahamian rum, Fernet Branca, cola syrup, aromatic bitters, and brut champagne—a combination that showcases BlackTail’s penchant for taking tried-and-true classics to the next level.

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Irish Coffee at The Dead Rabbit

The Irish Coffee at Vida's former haunt is “simply the best version of this drink I’ve ever had. Period.” It should come as no surprise—Dead Rabbit owners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry hail from Ireland and keep an extensive selection of Irish whiskeys on hand. At first glance, this watering hole in the Financial District may look like a boisterous dive bar, but climb the stairs to the Parlour for a more genteel experience with an insanely extensive cocktail list formatted like a graphic novel.

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Gun Metal Blue at Porchlight

Vida calls this electric-hued concoction at Danny Meyers' southern-inspired cocktail lounge in West Chelsea “a tasty, Mezcal-forward shaken cocktail that embraces blue curaçao in a fun and balanced way.” While Porchlight's location on 11th Avenue is a bit out of the way, the down-home spot is a great place to go after gallery hopping or exploring the High Line. The food is delicious, too—get the fried shrimp po' boy or bison burger with a side of Zapp's chips.

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Cucumber at The Pool

The Cucumber is “a great cocktail all around," according to Vida. "It’s always tough to balance a drink with that much absinthe, and the cucumber is a brilliant pairing with anise.” It might also be New York’s most 'grammable cocktail, thanks to the meticulously placed cucumber rounds lining the coupe. Tom Waugh, The Pool's head bartender, earned a reputation as one of New York’s most talented bartenders at Maison Premiere before joining the Major Food Group, which opened this bar in the old Four Seasons space inside Midtown’s landmark Seagram Building. This is definitely the kind of place where you want to dress up to fit in.

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Dark & Stormy at Attaboy

According to Vida, the Dark & Stormy at the trailblazing speakeasy Attaboy is “a must-order." Go right when they open at 6 p.m. to get a booth or bar stool before the place fills up, or better yet, make it your last stop of the night. A popular hangout for industry insiders, this is the place where you’re likely to meet some of the city’s most talented bartenders hanging out after their shifts.

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Queens Park Swizzle at Dutch Kills

"The Queens Park Swizzle is one of the best cocktails out there," says Vida who likens it to a richer take on a mojito with a float of bitters. The unmarked bar tucked away in an industrial part of Long Island City is worth the trek for its warm, tavern-like atmosphere and killer cocktails. Now run by mixologist Richard Boccato, Dutch Kills was one of the original bars in the Milk & Honey family of speakeasies founded by the late legendary bartender Sasha Petraske.

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Invisible Gin at Fresh Kills

“My favorite classic cocktail that no one knows, "says Vida, "gin, lemon, pineapple, apricot, ginger, and soda--doesn’t that sound nice?” New Brooklyn bar Fresh Kills offers the same great cocktail quality as its Queens-based sister property Dutch Kills but with a more modern vibe and convenient location in Williamsburg.

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Mace at Mace

Mace does unexpected flavor pairings better than anywhere else I’ve been,” Vida confides. The menu is based on spices and its namesake drink— a funky combination of Aperol, aquavit, beet juice, orange acid, and coconut cordial—is a prime example of their creativity. The East Village spot was founded by Parisian bartender Nico de Soto, who started at the Experimental Cocktail Club. At Mace, he shakes and stirs cocktails you can’t get anywhere else, incorporating obscure ingredients like Peruvian chicha morada and infusing spirits with exotic herbs like moringa leaves.

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