New York City’s best bartenders don’t have a lot of time off. But when they do get a chance to go out, they know the best bars, the best places to eat, and all the late-night spots. In VinePair’s Night Out series, we speak with some of the top bartenders in the city to learn what they do when they aren’t hard at work. Consider this your guide to the perfect night out.
It’s been just over a year since Felix Salazar helped open Pocion in Upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. With Salazar’s help, the vegan cocktail bar has elevated the drinks scene in an area better known for places like Malecon, a superlative Dominican rotisserie spot, than dimly lit mixology dens.
At Pocion, Salazar makes bitters and tinctures in-house and crafts inspired drinks that draw on his personal history and the culture of the neighborhood. If he had only one night in New York, here’s how he would spend it.
Where to start your night
“One of my favorite places to go is Kobricks,” Salazar says. “They’re a coffee company with their own little bar, and it’s good for a glass of wine or coffee.” It’s a stop perfect for the weekends thanks to its location in the Meatpacking, but it’s also “kind of a safe haven for the people who work in the industry to just to go in there and escape the week.”
Where to go for dinner
“Maison Premiere is probably my favorite bar in the city,” Salazar says. “I always try to make it at least a few times a year for oyster happy hour. I definitely get 12 oysters to start, and then go for a second round.” Also not to be missed: the lobster roll. It’s well worth the price.
Another spot that Salazar doesn’t think gets enough love is Des Nuda in the East Village, a Peruvian-style cevicheria. It’s a small spot with a long bar and great wine. “Every time I go I’ll get ceviche with the Cava,” Salazar says.
But if you’re looking for a spot for a nice dinner? Salazar recommends Buddakan in Chelsea Market. Buddakan was one of the first restaurants in the new Meatpacking District, and it remains a staple. Salazar’s favorite menu items include the edamame dumplings, the tuna spring rolls, the lamb chops, the short rib, and the cauliflower. The list changes, but “you have to try the edamame dumplings,” Salazar insists.
Where to go for late-night drinks
“I used to go to Bathtub Gin after work — 1, 2 in the morning,” Salazar tells me. Go earlier in the week when there’s not so many people there.
“I always try something I haven’t tried before, but I [eventually] always end up drinking the classics, man,” Salazar says. “I [order] an Old Fashioned or a Negroni, and then I’ll go straight to bourbon or Scotch just to finish the night.”
Where to go if you’re Uptown
ROKC in Harlem, Salazar tells me, is the best cocktail bar above 125th Street. Their cocktails are simple — most have four ingredients or fewer — yet unique. Take the Truffle, for example, a cocktail made with vodka, truffle honey, Muscat wine, and grapefruit. “When I opened this place [Pocion],” Salazar says, “I tried to make a lot of complex things. ROKC influenced me to bring it down a notch, make it easier for yourself. You can still have a great product with four ingredients.”
As for Pocion, it’s a game changer for what Washington Heights is. “I grew up here,” Salazar says. “I’ve been here for 25 years, and the main reason that I came to work uptown is because I couldn’t have an Old Fashioned or a decent Negroni. I was like, ‘man, I need to start changing the bar demographic in my neighborhood.’ If I’m feeling that way, I’m sure there’s a lot of other people that want to enjoy a nice cocktail.”
Key to a night out in New York
“The beginning of the week or a Sunday — those are the best nights at a bar in New York, because the staff is going to dedicate the most time to you,” Salazar says. By all means go out on Fridays and Saturdays and live it up, but for the best bar experience, go when the bartenders have time for you.