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This story was published before Summer 2021, when we launched our new digital experience.

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The speakeasy is dead.

Or so say some New York bartenders, who care more about the quality of a drink and a customer’s experience than rules and reservation policies. Savoring a well-balanced cocktail no longer requires knowing what doorbell to ring or which password to utter, though that doesn’t mean the experience is any less special. Bartenders don’t want you to be intimidated—they want you to cross the threshold thirsty and with an open mind.

“There are no wrong answers,” says Zachary Zoltan Sharaga of Louis 649 in the East Village’s Alphabet City neighborhood. “People are afraid of being wrong, but tell us what you like—flavors, spirits, spice—and we’ll get you the right drink.”

In cocktail bars throughout Manhattan, bartenders are battling the stigma of a judgmental and unwelcoming culture with well-made drinks—whether shaken or stirred—served with a warm smile.

“Things got too serious there for a while,” says Steve Schneider, bar manager at Employees Only in the West Village. Now, however, the pretension has waned and cocktail culture is being rebranded. Bartenders are getting back to the basics of hospitality. They shake up drinks on a first come, first serve basis (which means almost no need to make reservations months in advance). They welcome questions, offering tastes of spirits and crafting bespoke cocktails according to preferences—whatever those preferences may be. The rules of seasonality are blurring, too, as creative minds redefine what we crave no matter the temperature outside.


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