As it is in television, with the fall comes a whole new season of cocktails and hip new bars to check out in New York. From Aldo Sohm, the master sommelier at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Le Bernardin, comes his self-titled wine bar in Midtown West, then you have Japanese craft cocktails at The Ludlow Inn by the crew from Angel’s Share and, in Brooklyn, there’s a stunning, 9,000-square-foot beer hall called Berg’n to get your suds on. And that’s just a fraction of the fresh options. To help narrow it down — and throw some old-school favorites in there — we asked Leo Robitschek of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Eleven Madison Park, William Elliott of Maison Premiere and Joe Campanale of the L’Artusi family to tell us where to drink and what seasonal libations to look for right now. If what they predict proves true, the warming flavors of ginger, plenty of apple and pear creations, and a sweet burst of concord grape will pop up on menus in bars across the city.
Robitschek, a Venezuelan native, joined the bar team at Eleven Madison Park in 2005 and, in 2009, he was made head bartender. Given the establishment’s excellent cocktail list that continues to wow guests, the move was a good one on chef and co-owner Daniel Humm‘s part. And, lucky for guests who just want to stop in on the fly, you can always make your way to the bar and sample Robitschek’s work without committing to a four-hour feast.
What makes the perfect fall cocktail?
I love cocktails that can inspire a story. Maybe the drink has flavors that bring back a memory. The concord grapes might have you thinking of your grandma who used to serve you grape juice when you would come over on Sunday afternoons. Maybe sipping on eggnog transports you to a weekend with friends in a rustic cabin. Or, it could be that you’re inspired to make those memories happen. At the very least, the cocktail should make enough of an impression that you have a story to tell the next day.
What are you looking forward to showcasing at the bar this fall?
Fall is one of my favorite seasons for cocktails. There are so many different kinds of fruits to play with and our guests are in the mood for a wider array of experiences than during any other season. They might be looking for something warming, something hot or something a little bit spicy or cozy. I’m really inspired by concord grapes that are in their prime form this time of year. They’re sweet but also a bit tangy. And their flavor is a magical throwback to the grape juice most of us drank as kids. I also love working with pears and apples. Those two fruits work brilliantly with so many spirits. I feel like my options are limitless. But my favorite thing that I look forward to about the fall is our housemade eggnog. It’s like every night is Christmas.
Any new bars or old favorites you plan on hanging out in this season?
Few things I enjoy doing more this time of year than sipping a hot cocktail at Booker and Dax. That’s a place I can settle into for the long haul. Dear Irving is a new cocktail bar that’s open and, suffice it to say, I’m making a point of really getting to know what it is that they do over there. Maybe getting to know it a little too well.
Heading the bar program at Maison Premiere, Williamsburg’s darling New Orleans-inspired seafood place, Elliott routinely whips up dangerous absinthe-based cocktails and drinks that pair wonderfully with plates of oysters. Stop in and see this well-dressed gentleman work as you sample superb beverages and a bevy of simply prepared fish and lobster dishes.
What is your favorite drink and oyster pairing for the fall?
Many people rightly abide by the classic pairing, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine and gulpable white wine from the Loire Valley. I think cocktails can pair also, though they must be dry and bracing. My own standby is champagne, followed by a navy-strength gin martini with Cocchi Americano, and then the rest of the champagne.
What are you looking forward to putting on your fall drinks menu?
Seasonality in cocktailing is a funny thing. I think the key is to choose spirits and modifiers that hint at the cooling temperatures, like eau-de-vie of a stone fruit like mirabelle plums, or a cooling bitter gentian syrup that eases the headiness of an Alpine-herbed génépi [which is an aperitif similar to absinthe]. We have a near-mystical concoction involving absinthe verte, a seven-spice chai syrup, yogurt and toasted pistachio. It’s called Casablanca. This new menu is particularly exciting for us because we are highlighting some of our favorite producers and distillers, like the winemaker Kevin Descomes, Emile Pernot and Ed Hamilton’s rums. [It’s also exciting] because autumn in New York might be our favorite time of year.
When it comes to drinking, are there any old favorites or anything new to get excited about?
Donna is a beautiful and hospitable bar a few blocks away from us in Brooklyn. We have many friends there, but the crowd is also friendly, and the drinks are beautiful and eminently drinkable. The hospitality at The NoMad [Bar] never fails to shape one’s night, and is such a great rendering of what an American hotel bar can be.
For more than six years, this Queens native has lead the beverage program for Epicurean Management Company (dell’anima, L’Artusi, Anfora and L’Apicio), which he co-owns. But Campanale got his real push into the professional world of wine as the sommelier at Mario Batali’s Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca when he was just a scant 23-years-old. Today his menus often consist of beautiful wines and seasonal cocktails chosen by himself and his team of bartenders.
What are you concocting for the fall cocktail menu?
I am using a lot of apples, pears, grapes, pumpkins, chestnuts and tons of fall ingredients. Some examples on the menus from our talented bartenders include the Aristocrat, with Martin Miller’s gin, pear juice, ginger syrup, fig syrup; The Beast, with pumpkin-infused vodka, apple cider, ginger; and the Quintessential, with Laird’s apple brandy, Bonal, apple-cinnamon syrup and Angostura bitters.
Any ingredients that are hot right now?
Rum is all over the place. I love it. I think it’s because tiki is making a strong comeback.
What is your favorite place to drink outside of your restaurants?
Mostly home with my girlfriend. I also love Amor y Amargo.