Orders for warming cocktails are predictable at a certain time of year. But that time is usually December.
Not in 2020, at least in New York City. “We have been inundated by requests for hot cocktails since Labor Day,” said Linden Pride, an owner of the Manhattan bars Dante and Dante West Village.
As the pandemic has ushered in year-round outdoor seating at restaurants and bars, any chill in the air is immediately felt by the customer, whose mind may quickly leap to thoughts of hot toddies.
Bars that have never listed a hot drink on their menu, like Grand Army, in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and Amor y Amargo, in the East Village, now have at least one. Those that already served warming drinks are increasing their offerings.
“Once we found out about the permanent seating outside, we said, ‘OK, we need to expand what we’re doing for the cooler months,’” said Julie Reiner, an owner of Clover Club and Leyenda, in Brooklyn.
Clover Club has four selections (and warm cider doughnuts to accompany them), and Death & Co., in the East Village, has two new hot options at present and plans to add more. Dante may have the longest list of all, with seven libations designed to take the chill off, including a Blue Blazer, a 19th-century flaming whiskey drink that is tossed back and forth between two vessels at the customer’s table.
Many of these drinks are modeled on time-honored favorites like the hot toddy, Irish coffee, mulled wine, hot cider and glogg. But craft cocktail bars known for their culinary wiles have employed unusual ingredients for an assist. The toddy at Hunky Dory, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, includes sherry and turmeric syrup. The one at Death & Co., called the Super Cult Toddy, has a base of Japanese whisky infused with dashi kombu. At Amor y Amargo, the Bald Mountain cocktail uses Punch Fantasia, an obscure Italian liqueur. And the Lovefingers drink at Grand Army is built on Alma de Trabanco, an unusual new quinquina from Spain that is made with natural unfiltered cider.
“We’re trying to give people unique spins on things that make you feel you’re wrapping in a blanket of comfort,” said Brendan Biggins, the beverage director at Grand Army.
Having intriguing hot cocktails at the ready will be an important tool in keeping business up as the days grow shorter. Some indoor seating is now available, but many patrons remain cautious and prefer to dine outside.
Hot drinks don’t stay hot for long outdoors, so preventive measures must be taken. Dante will serve some drinks in a thermos. And because Clover Club isn’t using its full bar these days, it has room indoors for additional induction burners for prepping batched cocktails and hot pots in which to quickly heat up drinks.
On a recent evening, Siro Valente, who works in advertising, was at Clover Club sampling the ponche de mezcal, a version of a traditional hot drink served in Mexico during the holidays. “This is a little early for it. But we wanted to try it, and actually really liked it,” he said. “I think the hot drinks will definitely help us staying out here.”
At a nearby table, Tonya Thornton, a personal trainer, had ordered the glogg. “Winter comes, and I’m looking forward to a hot toddy,” she said. “October works, since we have to be outside.”
Shannon Tebay, the head bartender at Death & Co., said the current thirst for toddies is just the latest twist in Covid-era drinking. “If we’re going to make people still feel motivated to eat and drink outdoors, we have to do whatever it takes to make them comfortable.”