On the Rocks is one of my favorite bars in New York. At first glance, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it; it’s your standard long and narrow railroad-style space, with barely enough room to squeeze past the bar on your way to the bathroom. But then you start to notice the things that make it special. There are two seats facing the front window, the perfect place to have some privacy in a crowd. There’s a tiny room past the bar, the perfect place to gather a small group of friends that’s still too large to line up at the counter. And most importantly, there’s the shelf of whiskey. Filling practically the entire back wall, there are no duplicates; each one of those hundreds of bottles is something different and magical. Then the bartender hands you a binder where you can flip, flip, flip through lists of whiskeys from all over the world. The staff is knowledgeable and eager to educate, so be prepared to ask some questions about the whiskey list. If you ask nicely, they might even let you try it before you buy it.
They don’t have a cocktail list, per se, but the bartenders are skilled and accommodating, and they’ll make you any cocktail you want with any whiskey you want, adjusting the price based on the cost of the dram. But this place isn’t about the frills, so keep it classic: Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Sazeracs. You’ll be happy you did.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll end up there on a night when Howie, the owner, is hanging out. A dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker with stories for days, Howie always manages to keep me at the bar longer than I meant to stay. —Julia Ritz Toffoli