Mint Juleps Meet Manhattan
If you’ve watched even just one running of the Kentucky Derby, you’ve likely noticed that the 140-year-old race is accompanied by an all-day buildup, but when the gates open, it only lasts about two minutes. Sure, there are undercard races at Churchill Downs leading up to the first leg of the Triple Crown, but the main event is the only race that garners any significant attention. Because of that, many see the Derby as a grand social event—and of course it is—with plenty of emphasis on high fashion and strong Southern cocktails. On this last subject, the mint julep reigns supreme, and you need not be in Louisville, Ky., to take part in the festivities.
New York City might not host the Derby, but you’d never know it from the level of excitement that percolates through the city during the first weekend in May. Many well-renowned and respected drinking establishments take creative approaches to the classic Southern libation, and most leave them on their cocktail menus long after the Derby has concluded. The race may only last a couple minutes, but sipping on sweet Southern tradition can last all spring.
Who’s Your Daddy?
With one of the largest bourbon collections in the United States, Daddy-O in the West Village is an obvious choice for a great mint julep, but the bar’s multiple televisions and cheese-and-jalapeño-covered Tater Tots make it an even better venue for actually watching the race. The owner, Phil Casaceli, has been throwing a packed-house Derby party since 2008; and if you’re going for the Derby, you’ll want to be drinking his Ginger-Mint Julep, which features Jim Beam Black 8-year-old bourbon, fresh muddled mint, granulated sugar, and ginger-infused simple syrup.
Not Your Usual Julep
We admit that the most challenging aspect of making mint juleps at home is getting sufficiently crushed ice; the rest is pretty straightforward. At the Gilroy on the Upper East Side, the take on the classic cocktail might have a straightforward name (the Gilroy Julep), but it comes with a twist. Almost three ounces of Woodford Reserve bourbon (infused with cacao nibs and mint) serves as the base. From there, the bartenders add Bols banana liqueur, demerara syrup, angostura bitters, and fresh mint. And much like the appointments at the newly opened Gilroy, the namesake julep is decadent.
Kickin’ It Up a Notch
Tucked beneath Red Farm, a dim sum haven in the West Village, sits the newly renovated Decoy bar. Shawn Chen, the head bartender, revamped his cocktail menu to match the fresh digs, and his Mile High Julep is filled with new ingredients as well. “We love working with new spirits,” he says. “Tincup American whiskey is a new bourbon-style spirit with a high rye content, making it bolder and a bit spicier than usual.” Using that as his base, Chen adds a touch of Ancho Reyes chile liqueur and a house-made ginger syrup. The result is a spicy spin on the Kentucky classic.
A Tropical Touch
When the Pineapple Julep lands on the Clover Club’s menu in the spring, the occasion marks a reason to celebrate. Though it features Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon, the julep is really known (and named) for its sweet and bright pineapple syrup. (It also includes, of course, fresh mint.) You can savor this julep well into the spring, but you’d be better served stopping by the Clover Club on Derby day, since the establishment throws a killer Derby party. Better get a big hat, a new dress, or a seersucker suit, and remember to pace yourself—the party continues well into the night.
If you’re a New Yorker, you know that there’s a running list of spots in Times Square where you can go to effectively escape Times Square. Bar 54 is one of them. Located on the 54th floor of the Hyatt, the bar offers unparalleled views and a delectable Georgia Smash to sip while enjoying the chaos below. The drink—a variation on a bourbon smash recipe—calls for Maker’s Mark and is essentially a mint julep with muddled lemon. It was created by the bar legend Dale DeGroff; in addition to the bourbon and muddled lemon, it delivers mint, crème de pêche, and simple syrup.