A few days ago, the good people at Hendrick's invited me to accompany them on a bar crawl of Harlem, and having nothing particular of consequence going on that evening, I decided to join up.
The crawl was to promote the Uptown Battle of the Bars, a friendly cocktail competition among 28 different bars in Harlem and Washington Heights, in which bars placed original Hennessy and Hendrick's cocktails on their menus and invited drinkers to sample them and vote for their favorites on Instagram.
The competition runs a few days more, through Thursday evening, when the top 12 vote-getters will advance to a showdown, and battle for the title of "Best Uptown Bartender."
We didn't hit all 28 places, as that would be a little much for one evening, but we started downstairs at Silvana, where we listened to live jazz and had Kali's Salvation, redolent of fresh sage and a splash of vinegar for acid. We continued on to The Cecil (owned by former TimeWarner chairman and current LA Clippers CEO Dick Parsons), where I enjoyed Asa Scott's Bam Bam (similar to a Bramble, with rhubarb simple syrup and muddled blackberries) and Shedrick Pelt's rich, complex Destiny's Sunset (with sparkling wine, Rothman & Winter Orchard Cherry, and lime) and some spectacular mac 'n' cheese. We toddled on to Corner Social for a bright-red, sweet Mayday, and then headed to the famous Red Rooster for one of Kamal & Kia's Sag Harbor Hills -- like a Southside with an unusual splash of Benedictine! -- and some fine desserts. (It was fun to meet owner Marcus Samuelsson, too, and poke our heads into Ginny's Supper Club downstairs to see T.S. Monk recording a live album.) We wound up at La Bodega 47 Social Club for a nightcap of Johnathan Franco's Suga Momma, a sweet strawberry-and-honey sour.
What I found most interesting about the evening -- aside from the drinks -- was learning just how vibrant the cocktail scene in Harlem is, and it's a neighborhood that's vastly undercovered by food and beverage media. (I'll resolve to do my part in fixing this.) Everyone we met, from owners to bartenders, welcomed us warmly -- which isn't always a given at some of the hipper spots downtown -- and I'm looking forward to my next visit.