As complex cocktails using bolder spirits have come to dominate the boozy zeitgeist in the last decade or so, vodka has become the favorite punching bag of the cocktail cognoscenti. In fact, the most influential craft bar of the millennium, Milk & Honey, refused to serve vodka at all—which is what makes Suffolk Arms, the newly opened bar on New York City’s Lower East Side, so refreshing.
Suffolk Arms—co-owned by Giuseppe Gonzalez, an alum from Pegu Club, Dutch Kills, Flatiron Lounge, and Golden Cadillac—has dedicated an entire section of its drink menu to vodka. The vodka cocktails are tasty enough, fancy enough, and have a suitably impressive provenance (the creator of each cocktail is credited in the menu) to sway even the most hardened booze snob. The drink called the “Porn Star,” for instance, employs passionfruit in the recipe, plus a passionfruit wedge floating on top, to lend a pucker-faced tartness to the affair, all offset by a chaser of pink bubbly served alongside. Other standouts include the Grapefruit Cooler—a stunning citrus drink anchored by grapefruit vodka and enlivened by mint, honey, and Angostura bitters—and the late Dick Bradsell’s legendary Espresso Martini that is an amalgamation of vodka, espresso, and coffee liqueur.
Of course, Suffolk Arms also offers a deep and satisfying list of nonvodka cocktails, starting with a now-classic drink that Gonzalez put on the map several years ago: the bitters-heavy Trinidad Sour. Signature cocktails include the Duke of Suffolk, a hot gin-and-tea concoction served with cream and sugar; the Magic Julep, with Fernet standing in for bourbon; and the Tough Room, an unlikely but magical fusion of Guinness and a whiskey sour. The drink menu’s “Something Like Classics” category features well-traveled cocktails that haven’t quite penetrated imbibers’ consciousness in general, including the Jungle Bird (blackstrap rum, lime, Campari, and pineapple juice) and what’s touted as the world’s oldest blue drink, the Soyers Highball (Portobello Road gin and a fruity syrup with blue food coloring).
The Suffolk Arms kitchen is helmed by Alex Garcia, who has his own bar and restaurant, A.G. Kitchen, located on the Upper West Side. The fare at Suffolk Arms ranges from smoked fish from Russ & Daughters and juicy burgers to fresh guacamole and Asian dumplings—prepared with the same level of quality as the cocktails.
For a bar that has been years in the planning, the vibe of Suffolk Arms is surprisingly unpretentious. Its wood paneling is simple rather than ornate, and the booths and barstools are more comfortable than stylish. While the drinks elevate Suffolk Arms to a destination spot for the high art of the cocktail, the feel here is neighborhood-bar casual. The lone visual hook is the dozens of simple pencil drawings of iconic New Yorkers covering the walls, from Jane Jacobs and Jam Master Jay to Ed Koch and Julie Reiner. The one attribute all of the subjects share in common is their having made an indelible mark on the city—a feat which Suffolk Arms seems likely to do as well. (suffolkarms.com)