NYC's top bartenders predict fall bar and drinking trends – Time Out New York

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The forecast calls for unique ingredients, attention to sustainability, aesthetic improvements and an overall intent to keep it festive
How does one predict a trend? With intensely fixed fingers over a crystal ball? By speaking a dream that percolates on the tip of the tongue before dissolving into something like déjà vu? Or by building a career in New York City hospitality, like the beverage professionals we asked to tell us which bar and drinking trends we can expect to see around town this fall? We’re going to go with the latter.
NYC’s most pronounced recent drinking trends emerged by force of necessity, so we asked some of the bartenders, bar owners, beverage directors and managers who have been in the eye of the zeitgeist all along: ‘What’s next?’ These industry leaders were all ahead of the curve over the last seventeen months of uber-accelerated adaptation. They expanded their seating into the outdoors, created bottled and to-go cocktail programs and brought novel takes to this year’s frozen drink boom
The general consensus, of course, is that nothing is certain in our present public health climate. Beyond that major caveat, the view is cautiously optimistic. So start looking forward to imbibing unique ingredients, snapping particularly photogenic tipples, bringing back holiday celebrations and having fun this fall. (Fingers crossed.) 
Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Some trends that I think are going to drive the industry this fall/winter, and something we will be implementing, is adding more pure botanical distillates that contain natural medicinal properties—yet tasty notes of course! 
For us, that will include Buddha’s hand, which is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants and mixes very well with Ode to Babel gin to create a bright cocktail. We are also working with tamarind, which is high in amino acids and beta carotene. In general, it’s really about packing in ingredient options that keep the immune system happy while you imbibe. 
We also see more orange wine in the forecast (and will add to our wine list), which tends to be a bolder wine, and pairs well with hearty comfort foods. 
Finally, I think since we are still battling a pandemic, and variants are rearing their heads, people will tend to continue to heavily socialize, but be more selective in the spaces they attend. [There will be] smaller gatherings where folks may bring their favorite small-batch specialty spirit in tow. 
I would go out on a limb and say long-ignored cider is making a much-belated and anticipated run of sorts, and that it may show up on the proverbial radar, more so as an element in autumn cocktails. 
Acid-adjusted drinks are now part of the cocktail world and they open exciting new possibilities for bartenders. Instead of using lime or lemon to provide acidity, a bartender can use, for instance, carrot juice and adjust the pH by adding some acids, like citric, malic or lactic. 
It is also much needed for batched and carbonated drinks, where they have to be as clarified as possible to achieve strong carbonation. Many use acids as well for sustainability reasons. Citrus is highly perishable, and most bars only use the juice and toss the skin, so there is a lot of waste.
We think guests will be attracted to drinks that pack a wow factor, not just in taste but also in presentationeveryone loves a drink that’s Instagrammableand with bars closed last fall people are ready to show off again!
We see a trend towards large format—whether 750-ml bottles or multi-packs of beer. With COVID guidance evolving, we expect more drinkers will host guests at home or in third places (the park, the beach, rooftops). Shareable drinks will be part of those experiences.
In NYC, we really feel the seasons, from the hot, sticky summers to the frigid sidewalks of winter. We see more drinkers gravitating towards seasonal beers to celebrate the moment they are in! We expect Festie, our Oktoberfest-inspired lager and Basically Pumpkin, our pumpkin spice Autumn Ale, will be best sellers from Labor Day to Thanksgiving.
I think that people are looking for FUN in their cocktails and drinking experience. After a year and a half of sitting inside our homes, people want to live it up a little and have an escapist moment: Think tropical-style drinks that are on fire, even as the weather gets colder. People are looking for really any excuse to live it up, and I think themes are in. At Leyenda, in the fall, we have always done Mahalo-ween, a tiki Halloween throw down, and I imagine this year will be as popular as ever.
Last winter, when we were all outside, hot drinks were extremely popular, and I think that fad will also come back. Hot drinks warm us up when we’re sitting outside, and I think there are ample opportunities to create fun hot drinks that go beyond a simple hot toddy.
As we continue to recover from the disarray of COVID-19, the NYC bar industry is adjusting to not only how we enjoy eating & drinking, but also what is available to us, in the wake of shortages and shipping delays. From a psychological standpoint, I’d say we’re all looking for comforting, less complicated elements in presentation and flavor–we want interaction, we want surprises, but we also want to be taken back to memories of times that were less challenging. And on a practical level, bars and restaurants simply don’t have access to the wide range of products that have been traditionally available from the international market, so the big question behind the scenes is, “How do we do more with less options?” And from the guest’s perspective, it’s not only a question of flavor, but also how it makes you feel: “Is this drink delightful?” Is it matched by a great overall experience that makes me feel included?”
I think the answer to these issues lies in pulling focus closer to home: Smaller, independent, domestic, local producers, more attention to seasonality on menus, and an appreciation of what’s currently available, as opposed to an insistence on having everything on-demand at all times. Specifically, I expect to see early autumn in New York flush with late stone fruits, followed by lots of apple, pear and preserved berries. Brined ingredients and drinks like Gibsons will likely appear on menus where bartenders aren’t afraid of going the savory route. Tonics, tea blends, and shrubs wouldn’t surprise me. Shortages in the market for agave spirits & whiskies will make room for often-overlooked items like pisco, applejack and cachaça, and savvy mixologists will begin to experiment with cocktails based on wine, vermouth, beer, and cider.  
Great experiences are now more highly sought-after than ever, because with people quarantining and staying at home over an extended timeframe over the pandemic, they are craving a consistent, high-quality drinking experience. Classic cocktails from the 50s and 60s will continue their comeback, with the revival gathering pace in 2021but the difference is that now these cocktails will be of higher quality, complemented with great, carved ice and interesting ingredients that will further elevate these classic beverages.
I believe accountability and transparency will be more important moving forward. People will want to know that the products they spend their money on are using best practices to produce the brand in an environmentally conscientious way as well as ethically. With that foundation in place, I think we’ll witness a resurgence of whimsy in cocktails alongside more adventurous drinks. As we emerge from the pandemic, people have been making drinks at home that were practical and less adorned. They’re longing for over-the-top garnish and variety of choice. 
Cooler weather will always bring people toward richer spirits, and I think brandy is getting some attention, especially Armagnac. I think that Armagnac will see a jump in interest over cognac in the same way mezcal drew the attention of the tequila drinker. Plus, the flavor profile is perfect for cooler weather. 
I also think the consumer has been cooped up at home so much that immersive atmospheres will draw their attention. Themed menus and decor with photo-worthy presentations of cocktails will be a form of escapism especially for those who haven’t had the ability to travel for the past 18 months. 
I think people will be ready to really celebrate the holidays this year, being that last year wasn’t much of a celebration. I feel like people will be excited to drink some old classic cocktails that remind them of pre-COVID times, like the French 75, Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sidecar. I also anticipate an increase of warm fall cocktails and people continuing to drink outside this fall and winter. Some of the warm cocktails I’m working on for Contento are a spiced bourbon apple cider, a warm pumpkin añejo cocktail and a play on a hot buttered rum with chai spice.
I will be adding to the fall cocktail menu some old favorites, including a spin on the French 75 and Sidecar. In addition, I will be creating a cocktail named “And Just Like That”; a new take on the cosmopolitan.
The biggest influence on bars, restaurants, and nightlife will likely be whichever way COVID is trending in the city. That being said, I think people will generally look for smaller, more intimate spaces that provide unique experiences as they go out with smaller groups of friends and avoid large gatherings to be on the safe side. Given that, I think one and one mixers, pre-made canned cocktails, and spiked seltzer sales will slow, and craft cocktails made à la minute will continue to trend upward.
I think people are looking for specificity in concept when seeking out dining and drinking experiences. There’s a good amount of curiosity in spirits outside of the normal vodka crowd that didn’t exist pre-pandemic and I feel it’s going to be reflected in those seeking out bars that have selections of spirits that are hyper curated. 
Everyone was wowed when bars like Amor y Amargo and Ghost Donkey came on the scene because they felt so thoughtful in their specificity, when in reality bar keepers and owners just started showing their love for what they crave and shared it with NYC. New Yorkers are looking for that now more than ever. So many brand reps are coming to me saying: “Gin is having a moment.” “Rum is having a moment.” “Aguardiente is having a moment.” But it’s not just based on their desire to sell. The audience in New York has always been ahead of the curve in predicting trends, but it’s also becoming far more thoughtful and curious after having months of studying in their homes.”
One: The re-emergence of private rooms or sections. You don’t have to worry about others’ COVID status outside of your core group, and you still get to be out on the scene. Two: Bringing the bar experience to homes. Bartenders and chefs come to you. It’s not cheap, but it keeps you safely around your own group. One other thought I have is that bar menus have gotten shorter as bars optimize profits on cocktails with good margins (managing inflation) and protecting them from common supplier shortages. Every week my distributors are telling me about out-of-stock bottles. 
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