Get a taste of the world at these globally focused bars
Some say that food is a shorthand for travel; anyone who loves a good drink is probably inclined to say this extends to alcohol too. From Japan to Germany and from Mexico back to America, here are four bars specializing in beverages that are points of national pride.
Zum Schneider (Ave. C at 7th St.)
German beer gardens are nothing new to New York City; every part throughout town from FiDi to Greenpoint seems to have its own drinking den filled with long wood tables and beamed ceilings. But in Alphabet City, Zum Schneider feels a bit more of a true Bavarian hideaway than the massive halls that typically comprise this bar category. It’s cozy inside with brick walls and elevated wooden tables, and street-side tables outdoors come covered in checkered tablecloths shaded by big blue beer umbrellas. There are some 15 German beers on tap, available in three sizes, and 10 more in bottles—and the food menu is strictly German, with salty brats, baked camembert for the table, and hot potato pancakes providing perfect fodder to keep the beers coming. On an end-of-summer evening, what sounds better than sitting outside with a couple rounds of frothy doppelbocks?
Sakagura (43rd St. nr. Third Ave.)
For the past two decades, Sakagura has been one of New York’s—and America’s— premier saké institutions, intent on giving patrons an unrivaled selection of rice wine of all types, from fruity to sparkling to extra-dry. More than 200 bottles from distilleries around Japan ll the color-coded menu, navigated more easily than one would expect thanks to its tips on which pair best with which tapas from the kitchen—and the friendly, well-informed staff is eagerly on-hand to enlighten you further. For the most inquisitive drinkers, saké tasting events are arranged from time to time as well. But perhaps the best part of Sakagura is that it’s set underneath an office high-rise just blocks from Grand Central and designed with Japanese screens and blond wood, making it truly feel a world away.
La Biblioteca (Third Ave. nr. 40th St.)
Just south of Sakagura in Murray Hill and similarly underground, La Biblioteca is Mexican restaurateur extraordinaire Richard Sandoval’s love letter to tequila. It’s a dark, seductive take on a library¬ with long wooden tables lit by low lamps, black leather banquets, worn rugs, and walls of backlit cages displaying the more than 400 different agave spirits, which come from well-known producers and under- the-radar family distilleries alike. Four hundred choices may sound overwhelming, but the menu luckily gives a well-edited description to each bottle—“lemon / spearmint / white pepper” to the Tierras blanco; “caramel / wood / vanilla” to the three-year Chinaco Negro. Chances are high you’ll find one with nuances that enchant you as much as those of a favorite single malt or fine wine (that is Sandoval’s goal, after all), and when you do, consider the savvy investment of buying the whole bottle. What you don’t finish in one night can be stored in a locker for up to six months and retrieved with your personal library card. (Third Ave. nr. 40th St.)
St. Cloud (Broadway at 42nd St.)
It’s said that in 1912, the bartender of the Knickerbocker Hotel, Martini di Arma di Taggia, stirred just two ingredients—gin and dry vermouth—with ice, strained it into a glass, and served it to John D. Rockefeller, who so loved the drink that he introduced it to all of his high-society friends. It didn’t take long for it to then trickle down to become one of America’s defining drinks. It may all just be a tall tale, but even so, one thing’s for sure: the hotel still makes the best martini in town. Dazzlingly re-opened last year after major renovations, the hotel now boasts a rooftop bar, St. Cloud, whose views over Times Square are the perfect backdrop for sipping The Knickerbocker Martini, a jazzed-up version of the original with sweet and dry vermouth, orange and citrus bitters, and Tanqueray 10. The purists, of course, can still request Rockefeller’s recipe.