Where an Irish Whiskey Founder Drinks When He’s in NYC
Alex Conyngham of Slane shares his favorite bars, some with an Irish connection, others with world-class whiskey collections, or both
Alex Conyngham didn’t have a typical childhood. For starters, he grew up in a castle — Slane Castle — his family’s ancestral home since the early 1700s, located 30 miles north of Dublin. Then there’s one of his formative childhood memories: when Ireland’s most famous band, U2, moved in to record their album, The Unforgettable Fire, in the drawing room. Alex remembers sneaking downstairs with his siblings in the early morning hours to play with the band’s instruments, throwing them all out of tune.
Encounters like this don’t seem so far-fetched once you find out that, in 1981, when Alex was six, his father Henry launched what quickly became Ireland’s premier rock and roll festival, the Slane Castle Concerts (known simply as Slane to the Irish), on the property’s sprawling front yard. In the years that followed, Alex’s youth was punctuated annually with visits from rock royalty and tens of thousands of revelers outside his bedroom window. The concerts have seen the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica and, of course, U2 take the stage, and have welcomed over one million people in its 40 year history. Most recently, this past June, Slane took a modern turn with Harry Styles headlining the show.
Fast forwarding into adulthood, Alex attended university in Cape Town where he earned an MBA, moved to Australia where he worked as a brand ambassador for Jameson Irish Whiskey, then returned home to Ireland and later became a founding member of the Irish Whiskey Association. It wasn’t until 2017 that Alex’s career in whiskey really took shape, when he became co-founder and director of Slane Irish Whiskey, a venture created in partnership with Jack Daniel’s parent company. Together with Brown-Forman, Alex helped craft the Slane brand (heavily infused with Slane Castle’s rock and roll ethos), their signature blend (a triple-distilled, triple-casked whiskey aged in virgin oak, seasoned oak and sherry casks), and their distillery (housed in beautiful, old stone barns and stables on the castle grounds).
These days, Slane Castle is no longer the family home. It’s a venue for various endeavors like weddings and dining, plus nightly accommodations. Alex, however, remains close. He, along with his wife and children, live on Rock Farm Slane, a 90-acre organic farm on the estate. Here, his entrepreneurial spirit is also evident with the property playing host to several glamping sties and its very own burgeoning music festival called Otherside. But still, whiskey remains at the forefront, with the farm annually producing 2,000 tons of spring barley that’s used as the base of the distillate for Slane expressions.
When Alex isn’t riding a tractor or leading a bartender training session at the distillery, he can be found traveling the world as the face of Slane Irish Whiskey. Naturally, this work has brought him countless times to one of the world’s biggest and best bar cities, New York. And naturally, as a city famous for its Irish heritage and Irish Bars, we were curious to know where Alex the Irishman and whiskey aficionado drinks while in town.
Alex Conyngham’s 7 Favorite Bars in New York City
While Alex could lead a pub crawl around Dublin with his eyes closed, he knows his way around NYC too. Here’s his list of go-to watering holes, which include a combination of tried-and-true classics and neighborhood spots that won’t disappoint.
“This is a comfortable, go-to spot in the West Village with an old-school interior that instantly makes you feel at home (I love the light that comes through the huge window at the front). They have one of the best Irish whiskey collections in New York City, an impressive list of global whiskeys, and an exceptional burger. My go-to order is almost always Slane’s core expression, which I sip neat with the burger juices running down my chin. Their bartenders also have a strong knowledge of world whiskeys and they love a good challenge so I’ll typically sit at the bar. Plus, if I’m having a cocktail, they’ll always ask the right questions to get you to the perfect drink. All around, it’s a very laid-back spot, but the service is second to none.”
“What I love about Analogue is that it really is a laid-back, informal bar with a relaxed atmosphere and top-class cocktails. While that’s not a totally uncommon combination, not many bars nail it well, and Analogue really pulls it off. Their menu leads with traditional and modern classics like the Espresso Martini and the Spritz, but they put a very nice twist on them all. I love classic, three-ingredient cocktails and the Analogue team executes those to a very high standard. They have an endless list of global whiskeys, including a big selection of Irish whiskeys to try, and the bartenders are knowledgeable on each of the categories. My go-to drink is definitely the Tipperary, the classic Irish three-ingredient cocktail. If you’re hungry, their Potato Pave with duck fat potatoes and asparagus is a fantastic pairing.”
“McSorley’s Old Ale House needs no introduction. It’s not just a bar, it’s an experience and an East Village institution that has been there for almost 170 years. A nice break from whiskey and cocktails, they only serve two drinks here — either dark or light ales served in a traditional tin tankard. For the full experience, order the cheese and cracker plate, which is a humble offering of saltine crackers straight from the pack alongside squares of cheddar. I’ve had some wonderful conversations with great friends here and the owners have done an excellent job of retaining its authentic history. And as someone who has the responsibility of taking care of heritage that dates back to the early 1700s, it is lovely to see a place that has worked so hard on doing the same. Nothing has changed in here since it opened, and so it shouldn’t.”
“I’ve been traveling to New York with Slane for a few years now and Swift is always a must. They serve a stellar pint of Guinness and host great live, traditional Irish music sessions with rock and roll played in between. The bartenders here know their Irish whiskey exceptionally well and they really respect the category. If you’re lucky enough to meet Robbie behind the bar, he’ll mix you a fantastic cocktail and will always be wearing a cracking rock-and-roll T-shirt from his very respectable collection. My go-to order here has to be Guinness, because it really is that good, paired with a sausage roll (real comfort food). I also enjoy taking my Mum here whenever she’s in town because it’s just like a home away from home.”
“The Blue Note Jazz Club opened in 1981, which was also the year of the first Slane rock concert. This is an interesting one for me because Slane’s roots are in music, so I feel there’s a quirky parallel here whenever I step inside. The Blue Note is the place for jazz, but it’s a good place to hear other types of music as well. I think live music venues need to be nurtured and this one is an icon — it draws great performers but you never know who you’re going to see there because famous members of the audience often take the stage on any given night. My favorite cocktail here is the Whiskey on the Rockey’s (Irish whisky with Rockey’s Botanical Liqueur) paired with the classic New York Strip Steak.”
“This bar has done so much for Irish whiskey in New York City. It’s the place for a really elevated cocktail experience, along with an intriguing interior and delicious food. It also holds a very special place for me because we launched Slane Whiskey here in 2017. Also in 2017, we brought a bit of the Dead Rabbit magic back to Ireland when the bar’s founders, Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon (who I really admire for all they’ve achieved in their careers), came over to bartend for us during that year’s Slane concert, which was headlined by Guns N’ Roses. In terms of my order, The Dead Rabbit team knows their craft so well that I leave it up to them to decide on my cocktail, but I can never resist one of their Scotch eggs!”
“Fraunces Tavern is one of the oldest bars in New York City and it’s full of character and heritage. One of my favorite times to visit is during winter because you can go for a walk along the waterfront in Battery Park, enjoy the lovely view of the Statue of Liberty in the distance, then slip into the welcoming warmth of the tavern. Pair their killer Irish Coffee (which tastes even better when you’ve just come in from the cold) with the Slow Roasted Chicken Pot Pie in their beautiful, wood-paneled main dining area and you’ve got the perfect winter meal. It’s also worth sneaking into the Dingle Whiskey Bar, which is a lovely snug inside the tavern with an impressive collection of over 500 different Irish whiskeys. And while they also have an excellent live music schedule in the Piano Bar Upstairs, for me, it’s all about the good conversation here.”
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