So you’ve never knocked back a Pegu Club cocktail (very dry London gin, orange curacao, several kinds of bitters, fresh lime juice), the beverage of choice of British officers near Rangoon, Burma, circa 1892? Then get yourself to the Pegu Club, in Soho, where the latest retro cocktail craze sweeping the city is in full bloom. The bar offers 25 varieties of gin and a whole roster of ancient, anthropologically correct cocktails, plus much better bar food (the profoundly tasty “Sloppy Duck” sandwich, for example—deviled eggs mixed with smoked trout, curried mayonnaise, and a hint of chutney) than they ever served in Queen Victoria’s day. The Ginger Smash is still this boozehound’s favorite old-style libation at Employees Only, and if I’m still sober enough to eat, I’ll order a platter of the surprisingly decent steak tartare, mixed with precise amounts of chopped filet, raw egg, and truffle-infused capers. For maximum pleasure, dine at the bar, where you can observe the dashing, retro bartenders, dressed in their spotless mixologist smocks, though don’t go on weekends, when the bridge-and-tunnel crowds invade and the whole joint descends into chaos.
You need a reservation to gain entrance to the small, impossibly chic Lower East Side bar Milk and Honey, although it’s worth it to get a taste of the Moscow Mule, made with real muddled ginger. It’s also worth braving the crowd at that other chaotically hip downtown establishment, Freemans, if only for a sip of the Yankee mint julep (made with rye instead of bourbon and poured over crushed ice in a frosty silver cup), or the great rum-infused Dark and Stormy (mixed, on the evening I sampled it, with a swizzle stick plucked from a real swizzle tree in Martinique).
The maestro of the cutting-edge cocktail is Jose “Juice” Miranda, who serves inventively lethal concoctions like the green, frothy Tequila Pepino (Suazo gold, cucumber juice and foam, and sugar water) at the bar at Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50. But if you wish to mingle with members of the boozy literary set, the place is Graydon Carter’s clubby new hangout, The Waverly Inn. The only vaguely bookish type I spotted in the tiny, troll-size bar was the disgraced fake memoirist James Frey, loitering hesitantly in one corner of the room. But twelve bucks buys a decent whiskey sour, or an even better iced Negroni, and if you can’t abide the upscale British boarding-school food on the menu (lamb chops, chicken potpies), you can always gobble fistfuls of the salty, compulsively edible deep-fried chickpeas, served in little copper pots at the bar.