Live Bait

14 E 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 353-2400livebaitnyc.com

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Dressed to look like something born on the bayou, Live Bait is actually the originator of the Flatiron’s recent love affair with Southern cooking, marked by followers such as Blue Smoke, Hill Country, Maysville and Bo’s, all just steps away in a variety of directions. And that’s not even counting the failed attempts such as Gravy (RIP) and J. Gumbo’s (RIP).

That said, while Live Bait most certainly earns the rightful claim to first dibs, I much prefer all four of the previously mentioned. All have better food and better decor. But to be fair, Live Bait is also a bit of a breed all its own, because Bo’s and Maysville are both much nicer. And Hill Country and and Blue Smoke are clearly barbecue. So in truth, Live Bait actually manages to fill a culinary void in the hood, which is down and dirty Cajun. Emphasis on the word “dirty” because that’s kind of the theme here, from the rice to the vibe.

Service is somewhat friendly with a hit of New York bite and the bar is well appointed for benders well into the wee hours. In terms of food, depending on what you order and how tired and/or drunk you are, it can hit the spot quite nicely with a bevy of pleasers (most of them fried) like hush puppies, fried pickles, shrimp and grits, collards and catfish. They also have blackened things and even a pulled pork sandwich, but if you’re going that way I’d strongly urge that you check out Blue Smoke or Hill Country instead.

And while Live Bait definitely has its place, depending on your food mood, budget, or blood-alcohol level, there’s also nothing great about it other than the fact that they are nothing like the other Southern options nearby, kind of in a bad way. But for southern bar food-meets-fish-joint fare, it checks the box. Albeit a very hyper-specific, inebriated box.

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Raines Law Room

48 W 17th St. New York, NY 10011 raineslawroom.com

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Only in New York could you actually get people to stand in line to drink in a basement. But I kid the Law Room because I loved it. And while it’s true that it is in fact located in a basement, it is one of the more exclusive, refined and chic basements you are likely to find yourself drinking in. In place of wood paneling you’ll find art deco wallpaper, floor to ceiling curtains and high-back, over-sized sofas. And for the cherry on top of the cool, there is a doorbell on the wall of every “section” which you ring to call your bitchy meets vampy server over.

The cocktail menu is loaded with options, broken down by palate (strong, refreshing, spicy, etc…). My favorite of the lot is called the Wildest Redhead, made with blended scotch, cherry (to give it the “red”) and a few other things to make it more complex than this lame description.

My second fav would be the Garden Paloma, a refreshing tequila based version of the Bourbon Bonnet at Maysville, if you’ve ever had it. A close third, and dead ringer for taste would be the 10 Gallon Hat. Not sure why they would have two drinks on the menu that taste so similar, but let’s just assume that my taste buds were too inebriated to notice the difference. And speaking of not noticing things, there was another drink with mint in it that was also quite refreshing, but I can’t recall the name for the life of me, and no, it wasn’t a mojito. But whatever it was, should you spot it on the menu, it would be fourth for me.

And bringing up the rear, chosen from the “strong” category, the Sazerac was the only one I didn’t like. Not because it was too strong, but because it felt too heavy. Not something you can drink more than one of, and not something you would ever want on a hot summer day. Granted, if it were a hot summer day you probably wouldn’t be looking to grab a drink in a friggin’ basement, now would you?

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The Ultimate Cocktail

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Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.