There are Plenty of Great Drinks to Sip in the City that Never Sleeps
As one of the first cities hit, and arguably hit hardest, by the pandemic, it was important that we visited New York to see how the city and its on-premise scene has rebounded. That’s why the Liquid Insights Tour, Southern Glazer’s extensive, coast-to-coast educational initiative that explores and identifies the latest trends in mixology and wine, would not be complete without taking a bite out of the Big Apple.
We made sure to visit Manhattan, as well as the most-populated borough in the city, Brooklyn, to see each of their unique perspectives. Like other large cities, operators are navigating a balancing act – doing business while more consumers are working from home at the same time residents are moving in/back and renting or buying real estate at pre-pandemic levels. Having Allen Katz, our Director of Mixology & Spirits Education and owner of New York Distilling Company, join me as our local expert and guide paved the way for an amazing tour.
After visiting 15 locations across casual, fine dining and neighborhood cocktail bars, one underlying theme emerged: innovation with restraint. This was expressed in a wide range of ways. First, presentations were largely simple and/or elegant, versus elaborate and contrived. There were more vegetal, herbal and spiced accents utilized here in cocktails, as well as chamomile tea infused or otherwise incorporated into syrups, citrus, spirits, and vermouths. These accents were also leveraged through herbal, bitter and spiced liquors (like Falernum) as seen in other markets. Regardless of the ingredient, these flavors were typically nuanced and not explosive in flavor, keeping the cocktails in balance. Sherry in all its forms were used in cocktails a lot more in New York than other cities we’ve visited. This great ingredient allowed bartenders to add unique delicate flavors and acidity, without adding a lot more alcohol content. Simple and delicious frozen cocktails were seen here more than other markets – although this may have been due to the time of year. The most-innovative solution was using mid-sized Nutribullet® blenders behind the bar to make two to three drinks at a time, with easier clean-up and less noise than a larger blender.
As in our other Liquid Insights Tour stops, espresso and cold brew cocktails were in full force. Premium and elegant non-alcohol cocktails were commonplace and elevated in price – with several places line-pricing alcohol and non-alcohol offerings in some cases as high as $17 per drink. This was the first market we saw sparkling tea and non-alcohol sparkling wine and still wine used in non-alcohol drinks. Canned CBD cocktails were seen at one highly innovative venue on their expansive non-alcoholic offering section (priced $11-$13 by the way).
On the wine front, we largely saw restraint in the number of by-the-glass options. In terms of sparkling, as in other markets, it continues to gain placement “share” on menus leveraging prosecco, brut from the U.S. or Spain, and cremat or Champagne from France. One stunning fine dining location had a reserve Champagne sold by the glass for $75 and was selling enough through sommelier suggestive selling to not require special preservation. Half bottles were also featured often for that consumer or table of two looking for two glasses of exceptional (and fresh) wine. While wine pricing tended to be elevated ($20+ by-the-glass very common), we did see one exceptional neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn that priced its wine slightly lower than its cocktails to drive velocity.
Like the other cities we’ve visited so far, cultural integration and influence in cocktail and wine programs in New York is very apparent. However, the most exciting thing about our time in New York was that it confirmed how resilient the city, and especially its hospitality industry, continues to be. In fact, that’s been true across all our visits and I’m proud Southern Glazer’s can be a part of helping our restaurant and bar community continue to recover in this post-pandemic world.