Where there's smoke, there are cocktails

Impress your date with a smoldering beverage as mesmerizing as a campfire

A bartender prepares a drink at Angel’s Share Annex

The cocktail crowd is notoriously hard to please. Take garnishes, for example. Cute stirrer? Seen it. Flaming lime? Yawn. But watch your date sit up and take notice when a smoke-filled glass is placed in front of him or her.

Ever since the cocktail revolution of the early 2000s ushered in a new appreciation for artisanal adult beverages — frequently paired with secret entrances and bearded bartenders — cocktail bars have been going above and beyond to deliver daring, theatrical imbibes to wow their guests and their taste buds.

Angel’s Share, a speakeasy-style bar in the East Village found tucked away above Village Yokocho, a Japanese restaurant at 8 Stuyvesant Street, was one of the pioneers of the New York City cocktail scene when it opened in 1994. Now it’s joined by its sister location, a similarly Victorian-style speakeasy hidden above another Japanese restaurant, Sharaku, at 14 Stuyvesant Street.

Both locations deliver a smoked cocktail. At Angel’s Share Annex, as the new location is known, the Daahoud — a mix of Bulleit rye, oloroso sherry and Bénédictine — arrives as an upturned glass filled with smoke, righted and then poured in front of your eyes.

Like sitting fireside, the smoke assaults your senses in the best way possible. Our advice would be to pause a few moments to let it disperse, or your cocktail experience might be a touch overpowering. But if smoky flavors are your go-to, dive right in. Either way, the smoke adds new layers, tastes and sensations to excite your palate.

At Angel’s Share, the glass is filled
with smoke before pouring the cocktail.
Other methods include smoking the ice
or burning the garnish.

At Fine & Rare, a bar and restaurant that channels old New York on East 37th Street, you’ll find on offer a smoking rum Old Fashioned and a smoking rye Old Fashioned; both can be made with your choice of smoke from hickory, applewood, mesquite or cherrywood. For those daunted by the thought of choosing like a novice, you’ll be pleased to hear that experts are on hand.

“Our staff receives advanced training in all of our spirits, and we trust them to identify the individual flavor notes of each and recommend the best pairing of smoke,” explained Devin Vilardi, head bartender and bar manager at Fine & Rare. “It’s important to note that sometimes the best garnish is a counterbalance; for example, the inherent spiciness of a rye Old Fashioned garnished with the subtle sweetness of cherrywood smoke. Or perhaps the sugarcane sweetness of our rum Old Fashioned accented by the dry spice of mesquite.”

The use of smoke as a garnish, or even an ingredient, can benefit almost any spirit and spirit-ladened cocktail, said Vilardi. In particular, “Whiskeys of all kind beg for the touch of charred wood.”

There are many methods of adding smoke to a cocktail. At Angel’s Share, the glass is filled with smoke before pouring the cocktail. Other methods include smoking the ice or burning the garnish. At Fine & Rare, they use a smoking bar gun that blows the smoke into the glass, right on top of the freshly made cocktail. The smoke is then trapped inside the glass with an oak plate.

The smoking gun is the technique of choice at Junoon as well, an upscale Indian eatery on West 24th Street with an impressive bar menu. They offer the Jon Snow, a “Game of Thrones”-inspired tipple that comes smoked.

“Drinks need to appeal to the palate as well as the eyes, and smoke not only adds a distinct taste to the flavor but the visibility of smoke creates an experience to enhance your senses,” said Hemant Pathak, mixologist and bar manager at Junoon.

But don’t let the hot weather turn you off from smoked drinks. The consensus is that smoked drinks aren’t seasonal at all.

“They are great to relish all year round,” said Pathak. “Simply because of the variety of things that can be smoked. Sweeter, lighter woods are great for the summer. They add style and panache that in turn makes it a theatrical experience.”

In other words, smoking is cool now, and its tendrils are extending across the city.