Contrary to popular belief, COVID has not cancelled Christmas — not if the ever-resilient restaurants and bars across the nation have anything to do with it. From New York to New Orleans, bartenders have brimming cups of holiday cheer filled and ready.
As is the case every year at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, the classic Milwaukee bar will serve its renowned Tom & Jerry (think a hot egg nog) and fruity Christmas Punch. However, in an unexpected silver lining fostered by the seating restrictions imposed by the ongoing pandemic, the punch will also be sold from a truck at the Zocolo Food Park. “This will be the first time that I know of where the Christmas Punch is served outside of Bryant’s,” says owner John Dye. “We are fortunate to have the opportunity and it should prove to be a festive outdoor experience.” The truck park will also feature ten heated greenhouses for guests.
Bryant’s sister bar, At Random, will also be outfitted with greenhouses. (Dye calls them “cocktail huts.”) In those huts, customers can choose from a variety of At Random’s classic ice-cream drinks, as well as hot drinks and a few special holiday cocktails. Plus, if the timing is right, the bar’s new custom tiki mug should be put in use right before the holidays.
For a very different sort of holiday quaff experience, head a couple hourse south to Kumiko in Chicago. The rarified Japanese-oriented bar and restaurant will be offering clarified milk punch flights, Grasshopper cocktails featuring Japanese ingredients like sanshō and shōchū, and the Kosumo, a cocktail for a cause. The drink is composed of citrus vodka, Koval cranberry gin, Cointreau, nihonshu, and lemon. For each bottled cocktail sold, Remy Cointreau will donate $2 to the Independent Restaurant Coalition through December. There are also custom giftbaskets (folks can call or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a consultation). And should you not want to leave home for your tipple, Kimiko has a plan. The bar is selling unique holiday versions of its virtual cocktail classes. (Menu to be announced soon.)
For a very different sort of holiday quaff experience, head a couple hourse south to Kumiko in Chicago. The rarified Japanese-oriented bar and restaurant will be offering clarified milk punch flights, Grasshopper cocktails featuring Japanese ingredients like sanshō and shōchū, and the Kosumo, a cocktail for a cause. The drink is composed of Citrus Vodka, Koval Cranberry Gin, Cointreau, Nihonshu, and Lemon. For each bottled cocktail sold, Remy Cointreau will donate $2 to the Independent Restaurant Coalition through December. There are also custom giftbaskets (email email@example.com for a consultation). And should you not want to leave home, Kimiko has a plan. The bar is selling unique holiday versions of its virtual cocktail classes.
Also in Chicago, Virtue Restaurant and Bar in the Hyde Park neighborhood is offering a festive Cranberry Mule to go. Made of vodka, lime, ginger beer and, of course, cranberry, $18 will get you two cocktails. Looking ahead, Virtue is also selling a New Year’s Eve Celebration package which included two of the best things in life: fried chicken and Champagne.
Nog and nog
Cure, the preeminent modern cocktail bar in New Orleans, will be whipping up bowls of Delta Eggnog for the season. What makes the milky treat a “Delta” eggnog? A good dose of Hoodoo chicory liqueur, made by the Cathead Distillery, as well as some Old Soul Bourbon, made by the same Mississippi outfit.
Hunky Dory, the Brooklyn cocktail bar and restaurant, has a nog of its own, and it is just as unique. Called the Banana-Nog, it is made with banana-infused rum, oat milk, pineau de charentes, and cinnamon. The drink will be served both hot or cold and can be enjoyed in one of Hunky’s new and voluminous outdoor tents, each of which will be decked out in a different yuletide theme.
Irish coffee, of course
Of course, few drinks are better suited to brisk weather than an Irish Coffee, and few bars do Irish Coffee better than Dead Rabbit. The Financial District watering hole has made a science of the drink, selling hundreds a day. And luckily, they are now set to travel. An Irish Coffee Kit ($100, with whisky) will get you two branded glasses, Dead Rabbit’s own house coffee, demerara sugar, whole nutmeg and a grater, a custom jigger and a shaker. You just provide the cream.
Dutch Kills, across the East River in Long Island City, Queens, has something similar among their take-away drink options. Called the Clover Leaf, it’s made of Irish whiskey, espresso, demerara syrup. Setting it apart from a standard Irish Coffee is the whipped cream, which is derived from both crème de menthe and crème de cacao. Think of it as an hot Irish Grasshopper.
Also in New York, the Harlem cocktail bar Sugar Monk will offer to-go cocktails will unmistakably on-message names, including the Pear Tree (Grey Goose Pear vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, yuzu, egg whites, and Sugar Monk’s house-made spice master bitters) and Santa’s True (Ransom Old Tom Gin, PX Sherry, Grand Marnier, Sugar Monk orange bitters, and chocolate bitters).
And trusty Attaboy, one of the celebrated cocktail dens in the nation, is selling a hot version of its signature cocktail, the Penicillin. That, in itself, seems like a gift to the world.
As is the case every year, there will be dozens of pop-up “Miracle” Christmas bars in cities across the nation, all members of a New York-based franchise that started up a few years ago. The Manhattan branch is particularly poignant this year, as it’s a temporary embodiment of Mace, the East Village bar that started the Miracle dynasty. It will be housed in the former 8th Street home of Existing Conditions.
Both Existing Conditions and Mace, two of the top cocktail bars in New York, were felled by the pandemic. To briefly relive them, go toast their honor with a Fruitcake Flip (available for outdoor seatings and to-go only). Made of brandy, Jamaican overproof rum, amaretto, cherry bitters, eggs tequila, herbal mint liqueur, crème de cacao blanc, mezcal, serrano, coconut, and pineapple juice, it’s bound to taste better than any actual fruitcake you’ve ever had.
Robert Simonson writes about cocktails, spirits and bars for The New York Times. He is the author of four books on cocktails, most recently “The Martini Cocktail,” which won a Spirited Award in 2020 and was nominated for a James Beard and an IACP Award. Follow him on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.