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Seen-it-all New Yorkers have a reputation for being hard to impress – but even the most jaded attendees of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic's opening gala say it is a night worth looking forward to.

On the evening of 17 May, Midtown's famous main branch of the New York Public Library will transform from a sanctuary of hushed voices and scholarly intent to one of refined hedonism as more than 3,000 black tie-attired revellers fill every nook and cranny of the massive library and sample an unlimited assortment of cocktails created for the evening.

The gala takes up all four floors of the library, which spans two city blocks overlooking Bryant Park. Liquor brands from all over the world are represented at the Classic, showcasing the most inventive cocktails their bartenders could dream up. Offerings range from inspired twists on mainstays such as the classic martini and sidecar to creative, even outlandish tipples; last year's event featured dry ice rum cocktails and booze-infused popsicle carts. 

But while the drinks at the gala are the cause of the celebration, they are just the start of the party – the opportunities to eat are just as enticing. According to the Classic's website, last year's gala saw 5,000 oysters and just as many meatball sliders consumed, not to mention more than 300 pounds each of jumbo shrimp and charcuterie. And it's always worthwhile to be on the lookout for fancifully dressed servers proffering slightly heartier fare –past years' offerings have included mac-and-cheese bites and mini Greek-inspired gyro sandwiches. 

Gustatory overload aside, the Classic is a visual, auditory and tactile spectacle. Previous years have seen Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats hanging from the rafters of the library's basement, a 12-piece orchestra playing songs popular during Prohibition and five old-school barbers in a pop-up grooming shop to freshen up any scraggly-bearded gentlemen, gratis, on the spot. 

This year's Classic will feature a special tribute to liquors conceived and created in New York state; 24 of the state's local distilleries will showcase their wares, with nine coming from the borough of Brooklyn, just across the East River.

VIP tickets for the Gala are still available, but for those intent on a more affordable way to experience the festivities, the evening serves as a kick off for a full week of more modestly priced cocktail events all over Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Tickets for the finest, a few of which are listed below, are going fast.

Culinary tour of lower Manhattan
On 19 May, New York mixologist Pamela Wiznitzer leads a guided, Sunday afternoon tour of lower Manhattan's culinary scene from a bartender's point of view, pairing a three-course meal's worth of delicacies with some of the world's most beloved single malt scotches. The tour kicks off at the Dead Rabbit one of the Financial District's most-loved cocktails bars.

Weird Science: Master Mixology
On 20 May, East Village cocktail bar Pouring Ribbons serves as the venue for this lesson in drinking with Mandarine Napoleon, an orange-flavoured cognac liquor that has been around since the era of Napoleon Bonaparte. Attendees will get an overview of the liquor’s history before trying their hand at creating a drink with the help of American Bartender of the Year Joaquin Simo. 

Social Mixology: Unchained
The event’s secrecy is part of its appeal; the venue for the Tuesday night session on 21 May remains undisclosed to the public and is emailed to ticket purchasers prior to the evening. Once everyone is gathered, eight of America's savviest mixologists will gather in one room to reveal their predictions for the next big thing in cocktail making. These are the same minds that conceived barrel-aged cocktails, carbonated drinks, and alcoholic ice cream – there is no telling what they will come up with this time around.

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