We sipped some fabulous beverages in 2012 (alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike). Some of these drinks listed were invented in New York City, while others were just popularized here. All, however, are worth a try, especially at an equally iconic bar, restaurant, or, yes, soda fountain. By Jessica Allen.
Legend has it that the Manhattan was invented at a banquet held by Winston Churchill’s mom at the Manhattan Club in the 1870s. This is a drink with a fair amount of variety, although the key ingredients are whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Any cocktail bar worth its stirring straws can probably make one (and, unlike a cosmo, ordering a Manhattan won’t get you any dirty looks), but we like the Manhattan at Saxon + Parole best. Why? Because it’s served on tap. Bourbon, vermouth, and made-on-site leather bitters are premixed and batched into a keg; the concoction then gets tapped into a mixing glass, stirred with ice, and served in a cocktail glass. Its orange zest comes fashioned in a bow, the overflow in a little sidecar.
Egg creams contain neither eggs nor cream. Instead, a true New York egg cream is actually a mixture of milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer, a concoction that’s both frothy and fizzy. On its awning, Gem Spa, a newsstand in the East Village, claims to serve “New York’s Best” among its rows of magazines and cigarettes. And, of course, you can’t argue with an awning. Order a chocolate or vanilla egg cream from the person behind the cash register and out comes a cup of tradition. Gem Spa acquired its present name in the 1950s, but started serving egg creams and selling candy long, long before that. Allen Ginsberg wrote about it; Jean-Michel Basquiat painted it; The New York Dolls posed in front of it.
Dr. Brown’s began as a health tonic to help strengthen and nurture immigrant children on the Lower East Side circa 1870. The first drink combined celery seeds and sugar—hence the name “Cel-Ray.” Today you can buy Dr. Brown’s in black cherry, root beer, and cream soda at grocery stores and restaurants around town. We prefer ours with a side of pastrami on rye at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, a lunch counter on Fifth Avenue, whose slogan is “raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929.” Sippers be warned: the veggie-based beverage is a bitter, acquired taste. Cel-Ray isn’t for everybody, but neither is pastrami on rye. Some people prefer the egg salad.
The exact origins of this popular brunch drink are unclear: the bloody mary may have been invented in Paris, or it may have been invented in New York. Whether you buy into King Cole Bar’s claims to have discovered the mix of tomato juice, vodka, salt, pepper, lemon, and Worcestershire sauce, which they called “the Red Snapper,” in 1934, the bartenders here certainly make a mean one, using the original recipe and homemade ingredients, and serve it with macadamia nuts on an elegant, curved oak bar beneath “Old King Cole,” a mural by Maxfield Parrish. Apparently the painting has a secret that that will only be revealed by the staff after much begging or, maybe, a good tip.
As with an egg cream, an ice cream float takes you back to New York’s past, when horses roamed the streets and floppy newsboy caps were worn un-ironically. The brother-sister team behind the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain tapped into the nostalgia by painstakingly restoring an actual 1920s-era soda fountain in Carroll Gardens (check out its mosaic-tile floors and pressed-tin ceiling). Here, it’s OK to not only refer to the people making the sodas and sundaes behind the counter as “jerks,” but downright encouraged. Just take a look at their t-shirts. Ice cream floats on offer include the Purple Cow (grape soda and vanilla ice cream) and Autumn Spice (ginger soda and pumpkin ice cream), or you can dream up your own.