Before, after—and notably, during—Prohibition, New York occupied the center of American cocktail culture. In this 3-hour New York cocktail tour we'll join a sociologist or spirits journalist as we trace the history of the American cocktail and visit some of the best cocktail bars in NYC from Midtown Manhattan to the Flatiron District, while looking at the larger social themes that have shaped drinking in America. We'll also consider the aesthetics of the cocktail, including the bars where certain drinks were invented, the barware, and boutique ingredients that created the idea of a cocktail culture. We'll conclude with a tasting presided over by one of New York City’s most accomplished bartenders.
New York Cocktail Tour - a History Lesson
Our adventure begins with an old school saloon referred to by the New York Times as "the Vatican of saloons", where we'll get an immediate feel for old New York and its drinking culture. From there, we'll proceed to an iconic hotel bar, where we'll discuss the rise of the great American hotel bars in the early 20th century, which served as incubators for some the world’s most famous cocktails. We'll learn quickly that fact and fiction elide frequently in cocktail history. The St. Regis’s King Cole Bar, for instance, claims that their French bartender Fernand Petiot invented the Red Snapper, known today as the Bloody Mary, in 1934. But Harry’s New York Bar, in Paris, also claims inventing the drink. We'll look at how these claims and counterclaims build the idea of the cocktail over time.
Our walk will continue down Fifth Avenue where we may visit one of New York's most famous and upscale speakeasies. We'll talk about the rise and development of these illicit drinking establishment during Prohibition. If we have time and there's interest, we may visit a second vintage bar, dating from the 1920s but named for the 1890s, a brilliant illustration of how nostalgia and a sense of history has informed cocktail making and consuming at critical junctures of the story.
Downtown Cocktail Hour
At this point, we’ll take the subway downtown, to a part of the city that straddles two eras of cocktail culture: the Flatiron district, where Jerry Thomas, one of history’s most famous bartenders, did his some of his best drink slinging. (We’ll point out a former building that housed one of his bars.) Here we will continue our discussion of the past and the history of cocktails, but also look at the renaissance and revival of classical drinks in the city today. We may also visit a major cocktail supply store—run by one of the most important cocktail historians and enthusiasts in New York, we'll peruse his library and museum, which stocks rare and antique cocktail books and barware.
Finally, with the story of the cocktail firmly laid out, we'll retire to one of the revival speakeasies nearby for a cocktail tasting with a contemporary mixologist. Here, our guide will annotate our experience, ordering a mix of unusual but historically accurate cocktails, while we enjoy the ambiance of one of New York's most esteemed drinking establishments. It will be the experiential cap to a very rich exploration of the American cocktail through history.
Where do we meet? Where does the walk end?
Generally speaking, the walk begins in Midtown, near Central Park, and ends in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. Your confirmation email will have the exact meeting point details along with a map, and 24 hour phone number for any last minute issues.
What if it’s raining?
Tours operate rain or shine, but in the case of inclement weather, your guide will modify the tour so more time is spent indoors. It never hurts to have an umbrella on hand.
Is this a walking intensive tour?
We do cover extensive territory on this walk, some of it by public transport. Please contact us with any questions; we can advise if this tour will be appropriate for you, and are also happy to design a private, customized tour for visitors with mobility concerns.
Is this tour good for kids or teenagers?
Due to the subject matter, we really do not suggest this tour for anyone under 21.