Wouldn't it be nice to celebrate the end of Dry January–the monthlong break from booze coming to a close this weekend–not with a string of mediocre drinks, but with one great cocktail?
Luckily, Harlem has an increasingly wide array of intimate bars where you can sip on a truly well-crafted drink. From south to north, here are five to check out this Saturday–or any day you need an escape from the ordinary.
Central Harlem 2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd between 112th and 113th Sts
Now a Harlem classic–it's been in the neighborhood for over a decade–this intimate, bi-level bar is both sophisticated and chill. Its name is a nod to the Five Points address where a famed 19th-century black-owned dance hall once stood, and drinks like the Sazerac add to the earlier-era feel. The expert bartenders whip up all kinds of intriguing-sounding craft cocktails, like the Angel's Shoulder and The Color Purple, which you can enjoy against a backdrop of intricate wallpaper and wrought-iron details.
East Harlem 332 E 116th St between First and Second Aves
With its dim, speakeasy vibe, this East Harlem bar specializing in lovingly hand-crafted cocktails truly feels like a secret. But you don't need a special password to get in–the address will suffice. Once you've settled in at the bar or one of the handful of tables, choose from the compact-but-creative drinks menu that includes signature cocktails such as the Uptown Royale (Rye, Averna, Curacao, bubbles) as well as classics like the Sidecar and the Dark & Stormy. There's plenty of leeway here: the bartender will be happy to make you something special, just let him know the flavors you prefer.
Central Harlem 2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd btwn W 123rd and W 124th Sts
Just a few blocks from The Apollo, this swanky new bar feels like something out of E. Simms Campbell's famous map of 1930s Harlem–think plush velvet chairs and jungle-themed wallpaper paired with dim lighting and jazz. Here, though, yesteryear's cigarette haze has been replaced with something much more modern: the smoke of burning herbs such as rosemary. The drinks, too, are 21st century. The bartenders take exotic ingredients–Singani 63, a Bolivian brandy, appears in the Blue Moon–then add exquisite details using state-of-the-art tools; a mini blow torch sets alight garnishes such as cinnamon sticks.
Hamilton Heights 3452 Broadway between 140th and 141st Sts
There's a very good reason to head to this underground space on an otherwise quiet stretch of upper Broadway: It serves some of the most imaginative, meticulously-crafted cocktails you'll ever try. Inspired by the Tokyo cocktail scene, the Japanese crew behind this popular destination create exquisite drinks served in lightbulbs and beautiful glassware that will make you ooh and aah (they're also veterans of the downtown boîte Angel's Share). Start with a classic Negroni or Pisco Sour, then move on to something more unexpected, like the Grapefruit cocktail, a mix of mezcal, elderflower, grapefruit, and lime–presented with a burning stick of palo santo in a Mexican sugar skull mug.
Hamilton Heights 3604 Broadway between 148th and 149th Sts
A fun, late-'70s suburban basement vibe envelops you at the Honeywell, extending to a poster of a bathing suit-clad Tom Selleck in the bathroom. In keeping with the theme, many of the bar's wild, original drinks come in tall tiki mugs or are set aflame before they're served. Still, don't let the decor fool you: this is one of the best cocktail bars around. Try to sit directly in front of head bartender Marcio Ramos (he's the cocktail genius behind a lot of the concoctions) and order the off-menu Funkadelic, which arrives in a lava lamp.
Top photo: Sugar Monk