Your NYC Cinco De Mayo Playbook
Back in 2006, before I called New York City home, I was here for a visit and on a quest for the perfect margarita. The much-lauded La Esquina had just opened its doors, and I was determined to find a way in. As I learned, gaining entrance to the Mexican speakeasy in Nolita first required the discovery of its well-hidden main door. From there, thirsty pilgrims needed to descend a set of stairs that took them beneath a corner taco stand and then traverse a busy kitchen. Yes, it required some effort, but the house margaritas and dozens of tequilas on the menu were well worth it.
Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Style Since then, La Esquina has continued to delight its patrons, but there are many people who still have difficulty finding their way inside. Fortunately, over the last decade, the city has blossomed with numerous caverns devoted to tequila, mezcal, and Mexican cocktails, many of which are much easier to find. Here are five that won’t disappoint you this Cinco de Mayo.
Flights to Mexico
You could spend hours in Mayahuel and never keep track of how many bottles of mezcal and various tequilas line the walls. The founders—Philip Ward and Ravi DeRossi, who is also a co-owner of Death and Co. (keep reading)—have pooled their efforts to construct a shrine to the Mexican nectar of the gods. The establishment’s sampling of a variety of three rare and potent tequilas (cheekily named the “Flight to Mexico”) is worth the trip, but the cocktail menu also packs a punch, which should come as no surprise, given the proprietors’ connection to Death and Co.
Death by Agave
Since its inception in 2006, Death and Co. has remained one of the leading cocktail establishments in the country. It’s also become a sort of mixology university—many alums who once graced the bar at 433 E. 6th Street have since spread the art to new establishments in the city and beyond. Though it’s evolved in the last eight years, Death and Co. continues to foster the tradition of cocktail as art. It has devoted an entire section of its menu to agave, where seven complex cocktails pay homage to Mexico’s native spirits. We wanted to highlight just one, but we couldn’t pick a favorite.
When it comes to Mexican-inspired cocktails, the folks at Yerba Buena on Perry Street (and their sister outpost in the East Village) aren’t messing around. Unusual spirits, cordials, and liqueurs like poblano chile–infused Combier, jalapeño-infused Cointreau, and cumin liqueur are commonplace, but they share the spotlight with fresh ingredients like pineapple, watermelon, and agave nectar. When these components are paired with premium mezcals, rums, and gins, cocktails bursting with flavors are born.
With a Spanish name meaning “Chinatown,” Barrio Chino would seem an odd choice to earn our praise as a Cinco de Mayo celebratory standout. But when you consider that this intimate drinking den is tucked away on Broome Street, in a section of the city where Mexican and Chinese communities intertwine, the name—and its ambience—makes more sense. While there are plenty of tequilas to choose from, we suggest one of the jalapeño- or habanero-infused variations, which are certain to take your night to the next level.
Spicing Up the Night
This speakeasy’s name, Amor y Amargo—which means “love and bitters” in Spanish—is probably the establishment’s most noticeable Latin characteristic. That being said, there are close to a half dozen Cinco de Mayo–appropriate libations on the menu, including My Old Piano—a drink that the bartenders describe as “smoky and spiced.” It features rye whiskey and mezcal, pairs them with Carpano Antica and Kümmel, and is finished with apple bitters.