Mint Juleps are a unique libation often found clutched in the hands of those watching horses race by at the Kentucky Derby. Although quite a simple recipe, it has become hugely popular, and when created in different ways, can be better served some places than others. It’s intended to be sipped (ideally in a silver-plated cup or a large rocks glass), not slurped, and the following New York City bars do it right.
510 Hudson St (at W 10th St)
New York, NY 10014
Named the World’s Best Bar at the 2011 Tales of the Cocktail, and among the country’s top 10 bars by Esquire Magazine, you know you’re going to get a good, classic Mint Julep here. Bartender and co-owner Dushan Zaric and his staff treat their drinks seriously, but want you to have a rollicking good time with few of the stiff rules governing many of the classic cocktail lounges and speakeasies in the city. Zaric enjoys serving the cocktail throughout the spring and summer when mint is freshest and ice tastes great. He muddles the mint gently, then stirs in the bourbon. Ice is added (bitters optional) to marry all the flavors with panache.
Forty Four Bar
44 W 44th St (between 5th and 6th Aves)
New York, NY 10036
One of the challenges with a julep is the elevated sugar levels often found in the drink. Bartender Justin Delasko, at the swank Forty Four Bar tucked inside the Royalton Hotel, has crafted a sweet-and-spicy mint julep riff called the Ginger Julep that clocks in at a slender 131 calories. He muddles thin-sliced ginger “coins” and lemon wedges with the mint and syrup in a julep mug, then pours in a skoosh-less bourbon over the whole thing. You won’t even notice it’s missing.
Related: Best 5 NYC Bars For Ginger Cocktails
210 Spring Street (at Renwick)
New York, NY 10013
Bartender Jason LaGarenne can whip you up a solid traditional Mint Julep at this trendy, if isolated, west SoHo nightclub. With warmer weather, though, you may seek something a little lighter than bourbon. For his Kanon Colonel, LaGarenne swaps out the brown spirit for Kanon Organic Vodka out of Sweden. Served up over crushed ice in a chilled, silver-plated mug, it’s an excellent Derby Day or summer sipper while dancing the night away to Kanye.
32 E 21st St (between Park and 5th Aves)
New York, NY 10010
Southern-themed bars and restaurants are an increasingly popular trend across the city. At this Flatiron space, which H2 Hospitality Group opened last fall, the new head chef Reagan Angelle’s goal is to update traditional Southern fare (fried green tomatoes rest on a salad of fennel, citrus and goat cheese). Beverage director Lajarius Hollins provides a bit of history and Southern touches like bitters, anise and moonshine to classic signature drinks. Here, the Mint Julep (which Hollins dates to around 1803) is a blend of Bulleit Bourbon, fresh mint and Georgia honey syrup for added depth.
339 East 75th St (at 1st Ave)
New York, NY 10021
When Jason Littrel and Marshall Altier brought their JBird bar menu uptown, the Upper East Side received a much-needed cocktail upgrade. The laid-back space is perfect for savoring Chef Ricky Garayua’s small bites and exploring a cocktail menu organized by category (“Swizzles, Juleps and Fixes,” “Aromatized Cocktails,” etc). The Prescription Julep dates to an 1857 issue of Harper’s Monthly, and combines rye whiskey, 1st Cru Cognac, fresh mint, demerara sugar (a rich brown sugar) and a float of Jamaican Rum. This elegant, complex and powerful concoction is served up in a silver plate julep cup and is designed to bring a smile to your face. You don’t like it? Let the bartenders know after the first couple sips, and they’ll happily make you something else.
120 W 49th St (between 6th and 7th)
New York, NY 10020
This popular Midtown seafood restaurant is offering a special julep riff for Derby Day. The Heartland Julep features Michter’s American Whiskey, Sicilian pistachio liqueur, pineapple and lime juice, mint and a splash of house-made chipotle syrup for a rich and savory, complex drink. Proceeds through May 5 benefit the American Red Cross efforts to aid victims of the recent tornados in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. And of course, the bartenders are always happy to mix up a classic Mint Julep (here they add a little lemon juice to balance all that sweetness, and serve it up in a highball glass).
Related: NYC’s Top 6 Botanical Cocktails
Robert Haynes-Peterson is an editor and freelance writer living in New York. He is certified by the American Sommelier Association through its 24-week Vinification and Viticulture program, and the government of Mexico through its Master Mezcalier program (continuing). His work can be found at Examiner.com.