Cocktail Avenue

EvelynKim DavisEvelyn Drinkery, Avenue C

When I moved to the Avenue C neighborhood more than a decade ago, cocktail choices were pretty much limited to a mojito at Esposito’s, or a cosmopolitan at the world music lounge Lava Gina. Now that the city has bartenders muddling, and measuring, and chipping blocks of designer ice, from Chelsea to the Lower East Side, and from Bushwick to the Bronx, Alphabet City (as nobody calls it any more) hasn’t been left behind.

The East Village’s most vaunted drinks may be made at Death & Co. on East 6th Street, but with The Third Man finally open, in the former Lava Gina (and Vibrations) space, Avenue C now boasts an impressive battery of cocktail bars.

Louis 649 is a step or two off the Avenue, on East 9th Street, just past Brix Wine Store. It’s a veteran of some eight years standing, although when it first opened its concentration was on live jazz, and its drink selection limited. Somewhere along the way it reinvented itself as a serious cocktail bar, offering a long list of vintage potions, like the “Last Word” as well as its own creations, all made by bartenders willing to go off-menu and improvise–a cocktail-lover’s dream.

Louis 649Kim DavisLouis 649

The Summit Bar has been around a few years too. A young crowd hugs the long, curved, black bar; the music pumps; but staff will studiously pour tinctures and infusions to make the “John Lee Hooker” (whisky, lemon and bitters, topped with Lagunitas “Hop Stoopid” ale), or the “Born and Raised” (honey bush tea-infused Scotch, sweet vermouth, agave, and orange bitters).

I recall the last night of Micky’s Blue Room at 171 Avenue C, with Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith band blasting chords in the back room. Micky’s is long gone, and its successor Teneleven closed earlier this year. Haunting the two room space now is Evelyn Drinkery. Smooth jazz has taken over in the back room; rich and potent concoctions up front. I tried a Fort Watson, which–with oloroso sherry as well as Bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, and bitters–was a stirring elaboration on a Manhattan.

You know a place is serious about its cocktails when the menu has separate sections for juleps, Collins drinks, and punches.

Born and Raised at SummitKim DavisA “Born and Raised” at the Summit.

I used to climb the stairs at 700 East 9th Street, on the corner of Avenue C, to hear pop and folk doodlings by local musicians. The place was called Banjo Jim’s, and there was a piano, and it was casual to a fault. Early this year, it morphed into The Wayland–a huge hit of a cocktail bar, catering to a much smarter clientele. When I visited, crisp white shirts were wall-to-wall.

Daily cocktail specials might include a tribute to the former tenant, “I Hear Banjos – encore!” (Apple pie moonshine, rye whiskey, house apple-spice bitters, applewood smoke). In the summer, it took over the Bite Me Best pizza joint next door, and extended its food menu.

The Third ManKim DavisThe Third Man

Latest to join the party is The Third Man, which opened just before Christmas. From Edi Frauneder and Wolfgang Ban, who brought Austrian small plates to the avenue at Edi and the Wolf (and also run midtown’s Seasonal), the design of the bar is said to be partly inspired by the Carol Reed movie of the same name.

Those of us who remember the movie might find this a little fanciful. In fact, the decor faithfully reproduces the cozy, woodsy, Tyrolean look of Edi and the Wolf, just a block away. Not that serious drinkers will care too much about 1940s Vienna they get their fists around the “Art nouveau drinks muddled with light flair”. If anything, they’ll be recalling Avenue C in the days when you bought cocktail ingredients through a plastic hatch at a liquor store, and took them home with you for mixing.