IN THE PAST YEAR or so, punches have become the hottest social ticket in New York’s ever-changing craft cocktail scene. When David Wondrich, author of “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl,” began researching the history of the alcoholic punchbowl a couple of years ago, he also began throwing punch parties around the city, educating the already-educated drinker in the deceptive complexities of a well-made and well-balanced punch (it takes more than bottles of vodka, cranberry juice and Seven-Up to craft a decent punch). Selena Ricks, of The Dizzy Fizz blog, also started hosting punch parties at some of the city’s cooler Brooklyn and Manhattan establishments (often as fundraisers for global crises), and it wasn’t long before the practice expanded throughout the city.
Previously considered expensive, perishable and sometimes déclassé by the cocktailerati, punches now are on the menus of many of the better cocktail lounges, speakeasies and craft cocktail joints around the city. Classic punches, made popular in the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s, before cocktails, consisted initially of a “marinade” of citrus peel and sugar, strong booze, citrus juice and water. They were (and are) designed to be shared: a sportingly social alternative to the sometimes isolating beer or bourbon at the bar. As the potent bowls evolved, all manner of juices, sparkling wines and other ingredients were added. New York’s bartenders are today adding their own twists to hot and cold, sweet and savory, innovative and classic punches.
Below, a brief round-up of bars that most consistently serve punch, and where to find them. Plus a couple of recipes.
Cienfuegos (95 Ave. A at E. Sixth Street cienfuegosny.com): The grandaddy (at a year old) of punch-centric bars in Manhattan, the drinks here are complex, flavorful, and ridiculously well balanced. A punch menu (each available in individual, two-person and six-person servings ranging from $14 to $78).
The Silver Sangaree (Famous Grouse Scotch, Malbec wine, Cherry Heering, Tawny Port, Lemon, Allspice Dram, Egg White, Nutmeg) is a rich, wintery concoction that riffs on the classic Blood and Sand cocktail, while the Dandy Berry (Beefeater Gin, Cointreau, Lemon, Simple Syrup, Cranberry Bitters, Cava sparkling wine) is light, citrusy and perfect for warming spring weather.
In addition to delectable punches, you’ll find Cuba-inspired small plates at this casual, colorful, Latin-inflected space. Cuban sandwiches, tamales and more can be ordered at Carteles, the sandwich shop. Or savor a more sophisticated sit-down menu (and a different, yet equally creative rum-centric cocktail/punch menu) at the newly opened El Cobre on the first floor.
The Drink (228 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn thedrinkbrooklyn.com): This casual, nautical-themed bar in south Williamsburg emphasizes punches over cocktails (though of course, you can find beer, cider, cocktails and straight-up booze no problem). The cozy space evokes maritime New England, and evoke coastal nostalgia as you throw back nautically-named concoctions like The Narwhal. An emphasis on local ingredients and unusual Belgian beers gives it Billyburg cred, while the co-owners’ experiences on and near the sea (and in some of the city’s best bars, like Dram) add piratical authenticity. Arrrr!
The backyard garden will be increasingly inviting as the weather warms.
1534 (20 Prince St between Elizabeth and Mott jacquesNYC.com/1534): The French Colonial-inspired boite in the subterranean space below Jacques opened with a smattering of punches. This spring, the elegant bar formalized its punch offering with a new menu. Available as individual cocktails or social punches, the menu is is divided into themes reflecting former colonial holdings of the Gallic Empire (The Americas, Africa, French Polynesia and Indochina), with ingredients reflecting the themes (at least a little). Punches are served in three sizes of vintage tea kettles: 2-3 friends ($35), 4-6 ($65) and 10 ($130). Among the specialties, the Tirailleurs Punch (Africa), a refreshing blend of ZU Bison Grass vodka, Aperol, Ras-el Hanout Spice-infused apple cider and fresh lemon juice. Or opt for the Society Island Cooler Punch (French Polynesia), a near-classic blend of aged rum, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, demerara syrup, ginger juice and grated nutmeg. Unlike many, more staid cocktail dens, the “rules” here emphasis fun, flirting and social interaction.
Lani Kai (525 Broome St at Sullivan lanikainy.com): Julie Reiner’s (Clover Club, Flatiron Lounge) paean to her hometown of Honolulu is not short on Tiki and Island-inspired cocktails. The vibe of the small plates menu and the floral decorations let you know you’re in for a tropical getaway. Despite the plethora of drinks-with-big-straws, punch fans will also find Julie’s riffs on classics (she was crafting punches at Clover Club well before the current craze). The Lani Kai Planters Punch ($52) combines Jamaican rum, raisin-infused aged rum, lime juice, demerara sugar and Angostura bitters for a little Pacific/Atlantic showdown. The Gold Coast Punch ($65) features aged rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, allspice and Champagne. Share with a friend, and savor with bites like duck potstickers or a large Red Snapper Luau Platter.
Death and Co (433 East 6th St between 1st and A deathandcompany.com/lounge): One of the grandfathers of the Craft Cocktail scene in New York, Death and Co has long had a handful of strong, savory punches on their menu. Co-founder Brian Miller and current head bartender Thomas Waugh both love them their punches. Find the unmarked doors, put your name on the list (if it’s crowded, they only allow as many people as there are seats) and enjoy the stylish, convivial atmosphere in a low-light environment that encourages languorous imbibing. Punches arrive in mismatched, white porcelain bowls with large silver ladles. Each $42 concoction will serve four to six guests (six will want a second bowl). For spring, the Valley of Kings Punch, with tea-infused Pisco, lime juice, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice and Champagne is a vibrant, nicely balanced drink with a hint of tannins. Admire the large, house-cut ice.
The Oaxacan Punch
(by Tad Carducci)
37.5 oz Averna Amaro
22.5 oz Sombra Mezcal
15 oz Grapefruit Juice
15 oz Lemon Juice
7.5 oz Agave Nectar
45 oz Ginger Beer
7.5 oz Cold Water
Combine the ingredients in a punch bowl and float grapefruit and lemon slices on top. The final drink is a balance of smoky, savory, astringent and sweet, with just a hint of freshness. Serves 30.
Thirsty for more? Check out National Spirits Examiner or NY Drinks Examiner.
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