In this Instagram age, there’s certainly no shortage of beautiful cocktails to be found, which are primed and ready for their close-ups. We wandered the streets of the city looking for some lovelies to share, and then we talked to the mixologists who dreamed them up about the details of the drinks and the social-media accounts they look at to bolster their own creativity.
Casanova: Scampi, Flatiron
In the winter, everyone loves whiskey, so Kayla Hasbrook uses it to augment the Fernet-Branca in her Casanova, a stiff and refreshing cocktail that’s become the restaurant’s most popular libation. Featuring Fernet-Branca, cardamaro, bourbon, and averna liqueur, the drink is perfect for anyone ready to begin exploring amaro flavors. “We use just enough Fernet-Branca to elevate the bitters and blend with the cardamaro,” Hasbrook says.
Topped with an intricate citrus peel garnish, the Casanova exudes class — so much so that Hasbrook says it’s hard for her to serve just one. “When one goes out and someone sees orange over a rich brown cocktail, they want one. Presentation, color — it all works together.” Hasbrook’s favorite cocktail account belongs to @deathandcompany, the bar that quite literally wrote the book on craft cocktails. “They show it all: the beauty, the simplicity, the intricacies of their drinks,” she says. “Their account is a great learning tool. They’re talking about how they make their drinks and why — not just showing off.”
From the Ground Up: The Bar Downstairs, Midtown
The best cocktails are transportive — they can put you in an entirely new frame of mind. And although Bar Downstairs occupies a dimly lit cellar off of Manhattan’s busy 5th Avenue, the summery From the Ground Up is like a direct flight to the beach: aged rum, a generous splash of Fernet-Branca, lime, strawberry, and bitters all mingle with crushed ice beneath a towering sprig of mint. Think of it as a dignified daiquiri: This isn’t a cannonball, it’s a perfect jackknife dive.
“It’s a question we get a lot: What can you make with Fernet-Branca?” bartender Fernando Sousa says. “We wanted something citrus-forward but with complexity. We added strawberry and Fernet-Branca, which play so nicely together. It reminds me of old-style candies.” Visually, the crushed ice and mint are Sousa’s favorite aspects of From the Ground Up. “It immediately takes you out of the office and off to the pool.”
In between shifts, Sousa looks to Instagram for cocktail and mixology inspiration, following accounts like @cocktailchemistry, whose elaborate garnishes and powdered glasses take shaking and stirring to the next level.
Oh the Places You’ll Go: Wolf & Deer, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
“I make more of these than any other drink,” Kelsey Blanchard says. For years, Oh the Places You’ll Go has been a cornerstone of the menu at Brooklyn’s Wolf & Deer. The drink is an equal-parts creation made with Fernet-Branca, bourbon, ginger syrup, and lemon. The result is a balanced, tangy riff on a Manhattan. “Because Fernet-Branca has such a specific flavor, even when you use less of it, you can still feel it. But this is so evenly pitched, it’s great,” Blanchard says.
In terms of what makes the drink ready for Instagram, Blanchard says it’s all about the shake. “The only way I mix is hard, and a lot of people are convinced that there’s egg white in this cocktail, because of the foam. But that’s the makeup of the ingredients — when shaken really hard they give you that nice foam. And then the mint — you want it right in your nose as you’re taking a drink.” Part of that visual beauty may come from Blanchard’s Instagram inspiration, which includes the ice cream drinks of @prohibitioncreamery.
Force Ghost: Boilermaker, East Village
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Force Ghost is a whiskey drink, but the new cocktail is actually a vodka lover’s treat. Crafted by head bartender Sam Gauthier, the highball-style drink brings together Fernet-Branca, elderflower liqueur, vodka, citrus, and soda water in a frosty glass. And it’s topped with a next-level garnish: Gauthier finishes each Force Ghost with a sprig of fresh rosemary that gets blowtorched barside. Afterward, you’re encouraged to breathe in the smoke and then dunk the scorched herbs into the glass.
This creation goes down easy, with a heady floral taste, and recalls the fresh air of spring. Gauthier gets his garnish inspiration from feeds like @nightjar, a London bar known for their unbelievable garnishing work. “They’re insane,” Gauthier says. “On a totally different level.”
But the bartender is plenty proud of his own Force Ghost, which will definitely be showing up in the feeds of many an East Village drinker. “The smoke is great for the aroma, and the fire is a nice lead-up, but once this cocktail is sitting in front of you, it’s all about the color,” Gauthier says. “I love how the light refracts off the amber hue, which comes right from the Fernet-Branca.”
The Pirate Booty: Drexler’s, Alphabet City
Get ready for The Pirate Booty in the East Village: a tangy drink that features a trove of spiced rum, Fernet-Branca, citrus, and egg whites. “We call it a rum sour,” bartender Sebastian Medina says after putting on the finishing touches, drizzling angostura bitters across a cap of egg white foam to give the drink its signature “pirate hook.” The design is easily the cocktail’s most photogenic quality, but the taste is the star of the show.
“The rum and Fernet-Branca give you such a nice flavor. It’s not sweet, it’s not sour. It’s its own thing,” Medina says. The visual craft that goes into Medina’s drinks are visible on Drexler’s own Instagram, which is full of vibrant images of drinks being brainstormed, workshopped, and made to order.
Cabana Boy Dreams: Mother’s Ruin, Bowery
In the cold months, you can either revel or dream, and this cocktail is firmly in the latter camp, looking longingly ahead to the warm weather. At Mother’s Ruin, bartender Maria Nabi’s Cabana Boy Dreams is a swizzle-style drink that’s all eye candy. A gorgeous pink color and bright fruit-and-mint garnish makes it easy to spot from across the bar, while inside, the cocktail seethes with Fernet-Branca, rum, ginger, and citrus.
“Right now people are a little stir crazy about the weather, so this is a little getaway in a glass,” Nabi says. A veteran of the American cocktail scene, Nabi regularly keeps tabs on feeds like @violethourchicago, a Chicago bar across the street from the sister company where she used to sling drinks. For those hoping to document and post their own Cabana Boy Dreams, Nabi acknowledges that it’s all about the topping with this drink. “There’s a big bonnet on top of the cocktail, all this fruit and mint. We start drinking with our eyes: Before you even know what’s in a drink, you see it across the bar and know you want it,” she says.