Enter June: a romantic little wine bar that opened up in the dead of winter, just in time to warm our hearts with natural wine, stiff drinks and inventive small plates. The wine list is heavy on the Loire Valley, with some very respectable choices coming from Spain, Italy, and New York. A selection of esoteric apertifs (butternut squash vermouth, anyone?), digestifs, beer and cocktails round out the drink options. To soak up your libations, slow-baked carrots and cassoulet do the trick. Get there early because the secret is out: June is the best bar in the neighborhood.
Talia Ralph: Threes Brewing
This is my new favorite place to drink lifechanging beer brewed right on the premises. From their saisons to their pale ales, every single brew has a great, smile-cracking name (will it be the Internal Contradictions for you, or perhaps the Voluntary Exile?) and even better flavor profile and balance (one beer, the Arboretum, promises grapefruit and fresh-cut grass notes in one sip). Throw in a super-charming staff and some of the best restaurant pop-ups you could hope for (Roberta’s and Rucola have taken over the kitchen this winter; now the Sussman brothers are churning out killer Mediterranean food from their as-yet-unnamed future restaurant) and you’ve got the best thing to happen to Gowanus since Brooklyn Boulders (which is just around the corner and a great place to get in a pre-beer workout). Did I mention live bluegrass, tons of space to spread out and a back patio for when this snow and cold finally leave us alone? I’ll see you there.
Caroline Lange: Bearded Lady
Come May, I’ll be moving to Crown Heights, and I’m already excited about this funky, retro-inspired spot (hello, leatherette seats!) being my corner bar. It has a menu of $10-or-so cocktails, including some gingery ones (my favorite), and though I’m not an oyster slurper, I can still appreciate that you can get ’em for a buck each during their happy hour.
Ariel Lauren Wilson: Wassail
If you were at Good Cider, then you got a special preview of Wassail: the city’s first cider-only bar set to open on the Lower East Side any day now. They weren’t serving up any booze at the event, but they did share a sample of their menu. I wish I could tell you what it was like, but the house was so packed that many vendors hustled to keep up with demand; whatever Wassail dished up, there wasn’t enough to go around by the time I got to their table. What I do know is that they couldn’t be opening at a better time. The mob-style turnout for the event, along with the proliferation of cider makers in the state in recent years, is promising evidence that New Yorkers seem ready to revive what was once our country’s staple beverage. I’m hopeful and looking forward to tasting Wassail’s beverage list that includes 80-100 ciders from around the world alongside perry, aperitif cider, pommeau, calvados and ice cider. Could it be more appropriate that “wassail” as a verb refers to a tradition of signing and drinking to the health of cider-producing trees?
Gabrielle Langholtz: El Malecon
I used to get a coffee at the Dominican destination el Malecon every Friday morning; it was strong enough to last me all week. Yesterday I had the sad duty of taking a friend to her cancer appointments at Presbyterian Hospital. While I waited, el Malecon beckoned, and I attempted to drown my sorrows in their platanos, perfectly pickled purple onions and that incomparable cup of coffee, almost strong enough to cure cancer. If only.
I think one of the coolest things that has come out of the modern cocktail movement is seasonality, and there are more bars working with fresh ingredients now than you can shake a fiddle fern at. I am really excited to check out the whopping 64 new cocktails on the menu at the awesome Dead Rabbit created by Jillian Vose, as well as getting to Xavier Herit’s gorgeous little sippy hide-away, Wallflower in the West Village, to see what he’s got in store for spring. And when I’m out east, I’m all about Greenport’s Brix & Rye and Fort Defiance-alum Evan Bucholz’s thoughtful way with spirits behind the bar.
Carrington Morris: Otha’s
Anyone nostalgic for dearly departed Verb Café’s powerful coffee would do well to head toward the J train, where from an unassuming brick storefront in the shadow of the tracks Otha’s is serving up quality Brooklyn Roasting Co. brews. Verb regulars will be happy to see familiar faces as partners and one-time Verb employees Phil Sean and Reyes Rodriguez have brought many of their former fellow baristi on board. The politely punk space also rocks a surprising and tasty light menu: Alongside newly requisite haute-cuisine doughnuts are gems like a grits bowl (poached cage-free egg, stone-ground cheddar grits, slab bacon and lacinato kale), a grilled cheese (fig jam and jack cheddar on sourdough), egg sandwich (with ham/bacon/chorizo and avocado/arugula/tomato/onion options) salad (golden beets, kale, soy nuts, barley and feta with lemon vinaigrette) and more, all modifiably vegan and vegetarian. Fortified as needed, you’ll emerge from the shadows to find the sun shining on you just a little bit brighter.