Thursday, May 13, 2010

the lower east side cocktail bar crawl

It's no secret that I love indulging in the not-so-occasional drink. What not everyone may realize though is that I hardly ever drink with the goal of getting plastered. Drinking to me is a lot like eating. I enjoy savoring the flavors and textures in my cocktails, beer and wine, much like I would a beautifully seared piece of foie gras or some succulent fresh uni.

So it's always a treat when Zoe and I go on our artisanal cocktail bar crawls. Zoe has been dipping into the city's cocktail scene for years, and it's because of her that I've had some of the best spirits and cocktails that New York has to offer. For this chilly Tuesday evening, she suggested starting at Painkillers, a New York-style tiki bar from the guys behind Dutch Kills in Long Island City.  I got off the F train at Delancey and walked a few blocks down the dodgy south side. I was starting to think that I'd gone the wrong way, when I finally hit this unmistakeable sign:

I slipped through the front door and found myself in a green-hued tiki den decorated with Polynesian masks, subway-style graffiti, and bamboo. I said hello to a friend Enzo, who happened to be bartending, and then Zoe and I made our way to a booth in the back to get started on the tiki goodness. We were sold on the Miami Vice ($14, see image above), a combo of strawberry daiquiri and piña colada served in a tall glass (we were assured it was like getting 1.5 of a drink, which was pretty accurate). It was refreshing and I loved that it was blended perfectly smooth. I would've liked it better if the strawberry, pineapple and coconut flavors were more evident. It's only been open for a bit more than a week and we were the first people to order the Miami Vice, so I'm sure it'll be pretty perfect in a few months' time. Check out this little video tour done by Thrillist to see what a New York-style tiki bar looks like. 

We couldn't really go through the menu thoroughly since we had other places to visit, so we left after one drink. I'd like to come back and try one of their flights though. From Painkiller on Essex, we walked over to Milk & Honey on Eldridge, passing what looked to me like the daycare center from hell. Chucky's hiding in there, I'm pretty sure.

Disturbing isn't it? Soon after, we got to our favorite New York speakeasy, Milk & Honey. Since realizing that egg whites can do wonderful things to cocktails, I've been hooked, so tonight I asked for something incorporating my favorite ingredient. There were a number of ingredients in there, including whisky, peach nectars, and both the egg white and yolk. It was yummy, creamy and packed quite a punch, but we both agreed we've had better drinks there before. Or are we just getting too spoiled?

After Milk & Honey, we were ready for some food. Thank goodness there's a cuban sandwich shop underneath Cienfuegos called Carteles. It's a good thing we ate there, too, because the cuban sandwich upstairs is about 2 bucks more expensive, and I'd rather save my moolah for the booze. This baby will set you back just $8.50 ...

This was the first time I'd ever had a Cuban sandwich, and I have to say I love how Cubans are not content with just one form of pork in their sandwich. Nope, there's roast pork and ham. Plus two kinds of cheese: Swiss and Provolone. Then, a smear of garlicky mustard and crunchy pickles. And the bonus of heavenly homemade plantain chips. Delish! After we'd had our fill, we ventured upstairs to Cienfuegos, a Cuban-inspired rum bar, which was pretty crowded for a Tuesday night. I guess that's the effect of a New York Times writeup. The drinks here are mostly punches, but Zoe and I both ordered the Vinales, which turned out to be the best drink of the night. How could it be anything but tropical paradise with these ingredients: coconut ice cream, tamarind, pineapple juice, Angostura bitters, Barbancourt, fresh lime juice, Fernet Branca, Jarritos Tamarindo, and nutmeg sprinkles. My only qualm was that it took forever and a day to get our drink. I think they were understaffed, not realizing that they would get slammed on a Tuesday night.

I'd love to come back for another visit once they've worked out the kinks. Check out another video from Thrillist, this time on Cienfuegos.

It was definitely a great way to spend a Tuesday night. Can't wait for the next crawl with Zoe!

Painkillers is located at 49 Essex Street, New York, NY.
Cienfuegos is located at 95 Avenue A, New York, NY.

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