If you’re a whisky lover, New York City is one of the greatest places to visit to quench your thirst. However, it’s a really big town, and those Top 10 lists never tell you how to plan your itinerary so you can get the most bang for your buck, or in this case, whiskey for your cup. Below is how to win at the New York whiskey game if you only have a couple of days in town.
First, though, a few pro tips:
- Wear comfortable shoes. While there’s plenty of ways to get around, you’ll cover a surprising amount of distance on foot without even realizing it. You’ll have a terrible time if your feet hurt from Day One.
- Dress up a little. Jeans are acceptable for both men and women, but shorts are a big don’t. You’re visiting at least two of the more elegant rooms in the city. Put on a decent top, too.
- Hydrate often, and then hydrate again. Besides, we have some of the best tap water in the land!
- Eat breakfast, even if it’s just a pushcart muffin and coffee. You’ll need the fuel for this adventure.
- Budget wisely. It would be easy to blow your entire savings on the very first bar you visit. Decide how much you want to spend at each location. Definitely leave something in the coffers for a unicorn whiskey you might find in the wild.
- Tip your servers well. At least 20% of your bill. Yes, even if you shelled out for something really pricey. Oh, and your cab drivers too.
Day One – if you’ve made it here, don’t just go anywhere
You’ll need to line your stomach with a good lunch. The Dead Rabbit just nabbed the No. 1 spot in the World’s 50 Best Bars of 2016, so it can get packed in the evenings. However, it’s a real oasis at breakfast and lunchtime in the sawdust-covered downstairs Tap Room for well above average Irish pub grub, what is considered the city’s best Irish coffee and probably the most comprehensive Irish whiskey collection in town amongst its vast offerings.
Most of the whiskey bars are closed until the late afternoon, therefore it might be time to do some shopping. Since you’re sticking to the downtown area today, head to Astor Wine & Spirits in the village to check out their impressive collection, which includes some rare bottles and great buys on independent cask releases.
If it’s still too early to head for your evening in Tribeca (more on that in a bit), walk a short distance in the East Village to take a load off at Fool’s Gold, which has a stellar bourbon collection, beer selection and casual bites.
After four, you can make your way to Brandy Library in Tribeca, inarguably one of the most luxurious rooms to sip in. Sink into one of the comfy chairs or loveseats, gaze longingly at the surrounding shelves of bottles and dive into the by-the-glass whisky list, which includes everything from the casual $10 and less dram to some of the most rare, sought after whiskies of the world. Don’t be shy about asking for recommendations from the staff spirits sommelier, and definitely order at least one round of the addictive gougères (light cheese puffs). They’re also very adept at cocktails if the mood strikes.
Although Brandy Library serves food and it’s very good, it’s also rather dainty. For something more hearty, Walker’s Pub is just a kitty-corner away. This amiable joint is very popular with the locals for its casual beers, wines and solid pub food (best option is a burger.) However, it also happens to have an unbelievably vast whisky selection, particularly Scotch. There’s no list. You have to spy it on the bar with your little eyes, and it’s spread throughout the back bar, but it’s all there for the sipping, and they’re open late.
That’s a lot for one day, however, if you have it in you, you have a tough nightcap decision to make right now. Depending on the time, you could hop in a cab to American Whiskey for a taste of some native spirit (open till midnight during the week and till 2am weekends), or head to the West Village to Daddy-O, which is always open late and offers a wide selection of every category of whiskey. The latter choice is especially ideal if you are still feeling peckish and want to soak things up with some tater tots. If you don’t make it to either, you can always visit them the next day since they both also serve a full lunch.
Day Two – don’t let little town blues melt you away
How’s your head today? Hope you’re ready to carpe de whisky again, because there’s more exploration to be done uptown. Theater district favorite St. Andrews is an excellent choice for either lunch or dinner (though beware the pre-theater rush between 6 – 7:45). Serving a full menu of Scottish fare, their whisky selection is heavy on the Scotch and single malt bent. It’s also one of the few places in the Big Apple to find some of the more obscure U.K. beer.
Today’s shopping expedition should take place at Park Avenue Liquor. Much like Astor, they are a mecca for limited edition releases and rare bottlings, though the well-curated selection differs enough to make it a worthwhile exploration if searching to complete a collection or try something new.
Heading back downtown slightly, it’s time to visit the Flatiron neighborhood with a stop at Maysville. The back bar is its own stunning work of art with whiskey bottles arranged on open shelves to the ceiling, running almost the entire length of the expansive main room. If you’re tired of pub grub, the Southern-rooted food menu (open for lunch and dinner and brunch on weekends) is a delicious mix of healthier options and upscale comfort food.
Just a few doors down, step into the other worldliness of the Flatiron Room, which is a throwback to Gotham’s bygone era of clubby rococo style, hospitable comfort and whisky for miles. They too offer an impressive collection in every global category to sip by the glass or flight, with well-executed cocktails and bites. Regulars enjoy it so much that they have their own personal bottles locked in cabinets with their bottle keep program, which is an excellent way to enjoy a limited offering and share (or not) at will. Live, retro jazzy music takes place on the small stage throughout the week.
That’s why they call it “The City That Never Sleeps,” right?
If you’re up for it, it’s time to catch a cab up to Caledonia for your nightcap. Yes, another Scotch-focused bar (they do offer a few fun things on the list from elsewhere), though this intimate, late night setting feels more like a true Scottish local in the homeland. The pork belly Scotch egg is an excellent choice to satisfy your midnight cravings – hey, it’s almost breakfast time again after all.
Such a big city, so little time. I would be remiss not to suggest a well worthwhile excursion to Brooklyn, particularly Williamsburg, where one of the great whisky bars in the city resides. Noorman’s Kil not only boasts a massive world selection of drams, they have many obscure selections that make it worth the schlep. Come for the whisky, stay for the grilled cheese sandwich menu.
And since you came all this way, might as well pop into The Whiskey Brooklyn too. It has sister bars in Manhattan, but this one is the most fun. It can be a bit of a party scene at times, so for a quieter option, head to the off-the-radar OTB bar for a fine selection, particularly from indie brands, creative cocktails and excellent bites. It’s also a great place to hang out while you’re waiting for a table at Peter Luger across the street, or if you require a digestif after all that steak.
Amanda Schuster is a freelance writer, marketer and consultant and the Editor in Chief of online drinks site The Alcohol Professor. With advanced training in both wine and spririts, she likes to think of herself as "bi-spiritual." She also makes jewelry and strives to find at least one weekday afternoon...