Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Cocktails: NYC vs. SF



After PDT, we hightailed it over to the western frontier of Manhattan in the Meatpacking District to Passerby, the bar owned by my good friend, fellow writer (for the New York Times and of the excellent book about bartending Cosmopolitan), and spirits geek Toby Cecchini (that’s a picture of him there at the end of his bar). Toby is considered a mainstay of the New York cocktail world—and he can walk that walk, although deep down he has little patience for cocktails and would almost always prefer a good glass of single malt scotch. Which is exactly what I do when I visit him. Unfortunately, this visit lasted a little too long and involved a little too much whisky. (Good English was smart to leave over an hour before I did), leaving me with only two hours of sleep before my 6 a.m. call for the airport.

I didn’t even mention my visits to New York bars such as the Flatiron Lounge and Death and Co., but both help to reify for me the character of the cocktail revolution in the NYC. So, the differences between New York and San Francisco, when it comes to the haute cocktail?

First, they have more destinations, but that’s not surprising since they boast 10 times the population. But there are other differences too. New York cocktail places feel a bit more formal, refined and structured. Here in SF, the bars might be a little sloppier and more free form, but also a little looser in feel and more relaxed. I think the drinks themselves reflect the same distinctions. New York’s cocktails are more spirits-focused, blending great bottles in interesting ways. San Francisco drinks seem more focused on fresh ingredients, just-squeezed citrus and generally more fruit and vegetables, which is why you have people like Todd Smith of Bourbon & Branch and Duggan McDonnell of Cantina stopping by the farmer’s markets on their way to work.

Vive la difference! Both cities are great for what they do.