Where to Find the Best Hot Cocktails in New York City
From a famous Irish coffee to our favorite hot toddy, here's how to get through those cold winter nights
We’ve had a relatively mild winter in New York City this year, but there have still been opportunities aplenty to warm our bodies and spirits with something hot and boozy. The holidays may be over, but you don’t need to feel festive to enjoy a mulled wine or hot toddy — just cold.
For Robert Voris, general manager of Fort Defiance in Red Hook, the cozy feeling that comes from indulging in a hot cocktail on a frigid day — the feeling he got the first time he took a sip of the restaurant’s famous Irish coffee — is unforgettable.
“I have a sense memory of the first time I had it,” he tells InsideHook. “I wasn’t working at Fort Defiance yet. I was coming in for lunch. We’re in a kind of isolated part of Brooklyn. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the subway. I had just missed the bus, so I had to make that walk and it was about 11 degrees that day. And Red Hook is right on the water, so there’s a lot of wind and it was just super raw. I got to the restaurant and I sat down at the bar and my buddy John, who was a bartender here at the time, just looked at me and he was like, ‘Would you like an Irish coffee?’ And I said, ‘It’s 2:00 in the afternoon, so I shouldn’t. But yeah, go ahead.’ I hadn’t had it before, and that moment of the cold cream touching your lips and then the hot liquid coming through that, it just … I’m getting chills just remembering that moment.”
Of course, while a chill in the air makes a hot drink feel more satisfying, it’s not necessary. Voris says customers come in to Fort Defiance seeking out their Irish coffee year-round.
“We’ll get people in the height of summer who are essentially waiting for the sun to start to drop in the sky so that they can be like, ‘It’s five degrees cooler than it was 15 minutes ago, let me get an Irish coffee,’” he says with a laugh.
Despite their obvious appeal, finding a bar or restaurant with a hot-cocktail menu — let alone a good one — is easier said than done, thanks in part to the logistical nightmare that comes with preparing them.
“It’s because they’re a pain in the ass,” Voris says. “We’re actually really well set up to do hot cocktails because we’re an all-day affair. Behind our bar is where our coffee station is, so you’re able to ask the bartender to do all of the steps necessary to make a hot drink, whereas any restaurants that I worked at before, the coffee station is totally separate from the bar. So if you’re a bartender and you get a hot drink, you’ve either got to go get the hot ingredients, bring them back to your bar, and then start assembling the drink, or you’ve got to wait for the barista to bring those ingredients and then you start making the drink. And in the meantime, all the other drinks that you have are sort of piling up.”
“If you’ve got a hot drink, then you’ve got to time it appropriately so the hot drink doesn’t get cold, but the cold drink doesn’t get warm,” he continues. “And it’s just a pain in the ass. So the fact that we’re set up to make those things easily just by the bartender themselves, I think is really the difference for why we’re as good at it as we are.”
When it it’s done right, though, there’s nothing like a hot cocktail.
“When it’s well done, you really don’t feel the alcohol,” he explains. “There’s a way in which the heat — I don’t want to say ‘absorbs’ because that’s obviously chemically not right — but you feel warm in this extra way because you get the little head rush of the alcohol, but you don’t feel like you just took a shot of something and you have a burn in your throat. You just get the nice warming sensation in your chest from the hot beverage, but you also get the rush of the alcohol.”
With that in mind, here are five of your best bets in NYC when you’re in the mood for something boozy to warm your belly. Cheers!
Japanese Hot Toddy at ROKC
3452 Broadway, Manhattan
Nothing goes better on a cold winter’s night that a steaming hot bowl of ramen, and if you’re at ROKC (which stands for Ramen, Oysters, Kitchen, Cocktails) in Harlem, you can take that soothing meal to the next level by pairing it with this Japanese twist on the hot toddy. It’s simple — using only Japanese whiskey, hot water, honey and yuzu — but effective.
Hot Buttered Rum at B-Side
204 Ave. B, Manhattan
Hot buttered rum is a classic this time of year, and B-Side’s is the best in the city. If you’re in the mood for something a little heavy with hints of caramel, you can’t go wrong with this combination of butter, brown sugar, hot water and rum, topped with whipped cream, a cinnamon stick and spices. If you’re feeling fancy, upgrade from the house rum to Myers’s dark rum for $1.
Hot Amari at Olmsted
659 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn
We’ve already told you why you should be incorporating an amaro into your after-dinner traditions, so why not make it a hot one? Olmsted’s hot amari is a blend of Gran Classico, Cynar 70 (an artichoke liqueur with sweet and nutty flavors), Strega (a slightly sweet, saffron-based digestif) and Contratto Aperitif (an orange bitter similar to Aperol). It’ll warm you up and settle your stomach at the same time.
Irish Coffee at Fort Defiance
365 Van Brunt St., Brooklyn
The secret to Fort Defiance’s Irish coffee isn’t the ingredients. (“It’s not like we use some super fancy whiskey or do something abnormal with our coffee,” Voris says. “It is Irish whiskey and coffee.”) However, what sets it apart is the careful attention to detail in its preparation. “We put boiling hot water in the glass and then float the tin of whiskey with a splash of simple syrup in that glass so that the whiskey won’t separate from the coffee when they’re combined,” he explains. “Pour coffee, add the two together, and then all this while we’re shaking the heavy cream so that the liquid and the solids separate as much as possible. And then pour that over the top … The cream is separated from the coffee entirely, but the coffee and the whiskey are not separated, so when you take a sip you get all three at the same time, but the cream is still cold and the coffee is as hot as the whiskey.”
The Bear Trap at Dutch Kills
27-24 Jackson Ave., Queens
What’s better than a hot apple cider? A hot apple cider with bourbon, honey, spiced butter and cinnamon. One sip, and you’ll start pricing out log cabin retreats. But if you’re in the mood for something more classic, this Long Island City speakeasy also offers an Irish coffee, a hot toddy and a hot buttered rum.