Top-Shelf Masters

Illustration by Mark Nerys

Grub Street editor Alan Sytsma has been sharpening his critical knives as a guest judge this season on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), so we asked him to give the same treatment to the city’s newest bespoke-cocktail bars. He placed identical orders for three custom cocktails at Mulberry Project, Forty Four at Royalton, Weather Up Tribeca, the Lambs Club, and Rum House, then let the bartenders go to work. Here, the winners in the gin-, rum-, and whiskey-cocktail categories.

Order No. 1: “Something ginny and floral like a martini, but not girlie.”

Winner: Weather Up Tribeca, 159 Duane St., nr. W. Broadway; 212-766-3202

“They didn’t win any originality points for their take on the Aviation ($14), a classic cocktail with gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and crème de violette. But this was still an excellently made drink, with just enough maraschino—which, in the wrong hands, can make a cocktail taste like cough syrup—to soften the tartness of the lemon juice. ”

Order No. 2: “Something with rum. Maybe a little tiki-ish, but not too sugary.”

Winner: Mulberry Project, 149 Mulberry St., nr. Grand St.; 646-448-4536

“All the drinks here were similar—fresh produce mixed with a spirit, served on the rocks—but it’s easy to look past the sameness when the results are as interesting as the grape-and-Thai-chile daiquiri ($14). The bartender used Captain Morgan, of all things, as the base, but its strong vanilla taste actually rounded out the spicy, fruity notes of the drink. Surprisingly outstanding.”

Order No. 3: “A whiskey drink that’s refreshing and a little more involved than a bourbon smash or a mint julep.”

Winner: Rum House, 228 W. 47th St., nr. Broadway; 646-490-6924

“Whoa! The other bars just trotted out variations on whiskey sours, but here I was handed a bourbon muddled with orange wedges and cherries, Ramazzotti amaro, Angostura bitters, and grated cinnamon and orange zest ($12). The Ramazzotti was really nicely balanced with the drink’s sweetness. The bitter herbiness of the whole thing prevented the cinnamon from taking the cocktail into winter-drink territory. Right on the verge of flavor overload, but in a good way.

Top-Shelf Masters