Neighborhood: Lower East Side
188 Suffolk St.
This is the kind of weather that makes you damn the day you chose to move to New York (or your parents for raising you here), a bitter cold that makes even the most staunch East coast advocates among us consider moving to Cali. It can drive you to drink, but the whiskey alone won't cure you.
But, maybe a hot toddy with whiskey could. At a glance, an understated dive bar like Subject doesn't seem like the type of joint that would have a seasonal cocktail menu, nevermind a stellar one. But even divey standbys like beer and shot specials take a more innovative approach here; the shot of tequila that comes alongside your can of Tecate is subdued with habanero bitters and fresh lime, while a simple gin and tonic is elevated by homemade tonic. But more complex libations like the Rest in Peace, made with chamomile syrup, housemade cinnamon-burdock tincture, Benedictine, Dewar's, and a smoky punch courtesy of Laphroaig 10, are where Subject shines. Let's be real—your local dive couldn't pull off a boozy version of Sleepytime tea.
The shelves of Subject, as such, look like a cross between your grandma's cupboard and a scientist's laboratory.
Used in the bar's homemade syrups, sodas, and bitters, these fresh herbs (along with a few ingredients that might feel more at home on the periodic table) are Subject's backbone. The Evergreen Ave., a seasonally-inspired libation, is made with a pine syrup (made from pine needles foraged in Maine) with Zirbenz pine liqueur, Elijah Craig 12m bourbon, and barrel-aged aromatic bitters made in house, is deliciously subtle. Dangerously so, even.
And best yet, while it's thoughtfully conceived, it comes without pretension. It's made by a bartender who looks like he would make a killer playlist who's wearing a bright blue beanie, instead of a smarmy "mixologist" with a faux-hawk and tweed vest. Its unassumingness is refreshing, really.
But, back to those hot toddys. Hot toddys might bring to mind an après ski lounge, and sound like something no one under 65 should be caught dead ordering. At Subject, the cheese-factor is bypassed with a DIY version that hinges on simplicity. Your poison of choice is joined by sugar, hot water, and if you fancy, a dash of one of their homemade bitters and syrups.
If you don't feel like choosing your own adventure, try the Subject Hot Toddy. The comforting blend of bourbon with honey, fresh lemon, and housemade aromatic bitters is served in a steamy goblet, and it's exactly what you need when your patience with wearing gloves, scarves and many, many layers is wearing thin. Sometimes, you just need to take it all off and drink a bourbon hot toddy. That's our life philosophy right there.