There’s a good chance this website wouldn’t exist were it not for The Dead Rabbit.
It all started on a rainy night in October of 2014.
I was in NYC with my friend Dan and we were having a lazy Sunday night hanging out at his apartment in Chelsea – when I stumbled across an article on CNN.
For a long time cocktails have been my drink of choice. More so than wine or beer, there is truly something distinct and unique no matter what mood you’re in.
The sommeliers and beer snobs who read this are going to scoff when I say this, but I’m going to say it anyway.
For my unrefined palate, beer is always going to taste like beer. Sure there’s a distinct difference between a lager and a stout, but you generally have an idea of what it’s going to taste like.
Same goes for wine. Obviously there are distinct differences between white and red, but then the varietals become a bit more subtle.
With cocktails, you can find yourself tasting something you truly have never tasted before. And as I would come to learn over the years of visiting the world’s best bars, a master mixologist can do things so creative, you’ll find yourself asking regularly “what is this??”.
I’d been on a quest to play the top 100 golf courses in the world for about a year at this point, so naturally I was intrigued by any kind of “best of” list.
The Start of a Global Quest
When I saw CNN’s list, which was a re-published version from “The World’s 50 Best Bars” I got excited.
The 2nd best bar in the world, was right down the street in the financial district!
As by now I’m, sure you can guess, that bar was The Dead Rabbit.
I turned to Dan and said “Hey Dan, wanna go on an adventure downtown to the second best bar in the world?”
As he usually does, he said “of course!”
So at 11:30 on a dreary Sunday night we hopped in a cab and ended up at the bar around midnight.
And so began a global quest to visit the best bars in the world.
When you visit The Dead Rabbit, you need to realize that there are actually two primary bars on the premises.
This is an important thing to know.
Last year, I had a few friends who were visiting NYC and asked me what one bar I recommend they visit. My answer? The Dead Rabbit.
A few days later I hear back from one of them, and I asked him how it was.
You could tell he was trying to be polite when he said, “it was pretty good I guess. But it was just a crowded Irish Pub. I was expecting more of a cocktail bar.”
“Well, you went upstairs, riiiiiight?”
“What? No, we just went to the bar on ground level. That’s the spot right?”
The downstairs is a small, traditional Irish pub. If you show up after work, it’ll be packed with financial types having just gotten off work, and will be loud and borderline rowdy.
Up the stairs however, is a much more refined experience.
There’s no standing, and the pints of Guinness and shots of Jameson give way some of the most complex and expertly crafted drinks of any bar you’ll ever go to.
When you arrive a host will ask how many in your party, and depending on the crowd, will have you wait until your spot is ready.
I’m not sure if it’s good luck, good timing, or a combination of both, but in the 5 times I’ve been to the Dead Rabbit, I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes to get a spot.
It’s a fairly long and slender room, with a long bar and a dark ambiance that feels like a high end pub.
A stark contrast from many of the other top bars which ooze luxury.
The Dead Rabbit NYC Story
Aside from world class drinks, one of the things that sets apart the Dead Rabbit from not just many other bars and restaurants, but from other businesses is just how well executed the story is.
As someone who has built all of his businesses around a personal brand, and the stories associated with them, this is always something I’m surprised businesses don’t do a better job with.
But from the moment you sit down at the Dead Rabbit, you’re whisked into the story of the Dead Rabbit.
The short version was the The Dead Rabbits were a street gang back in the 1800s in NYC, and the bar is loosely themed around them. Each year they come up with an entirely new menu, which in and of itself is a phenomenal experience.
The last time I was there was in August of 2018, and they were on the tail end of the 4th edition of their menu, which was a graphic novel of the Dead Rabbit. They told the story of the gang, and the drinks associated with it through the menu.
It is something truly unique, that we are starting to see more of at cocktail bars – but they were hands down one of the pioneers and do it as well, if not better than anyone.
Their most recent cocktail book is an extension of this, featuring some of the most famous bartenders around the world in graphic novel form.
The Bankers Punch
I’ve had a number of drinks at the Dead Rabbit over the years, and unfortunately didn’t do a very good job of keeping notes (or taking photos).
But a lot of my experience with the Rabbit can be told through one drink: The Bankers Punch.
I had this cocktail on one of my earliest visits, and was blown away by how good it was.
This is one of those cocktails where you say “there’s no way this should work. This should not taste good.”
Yet, somehow it does. It so does.
The Bankers Punch is an eclectic combination of Red Breast 12 year cask strength, a blend of three different rums (Blackstrap, Banks 7, Smith and Cross), and among other ingredients port wine.
Whiskey, rum, port wine – if that’s not weird, I don’t know what is.
But it tastes unbelievable. The remaining ingredients are raspberry cordial, lime juice, Dead Rabbit orinoco bitters (my favorite bitters in the world) and fresh nutmeg.
It’s a funky, fruity, citrusy, boozy concoction that is among my favorite cocktails in the world.
I didn’t truly understand it, and many of the Dead Rabbit drinks until I got their book, The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual.
The Bankers Punch was one of the easiest drinks to make in the book, and you begin to see just how good they are at marrying flavors, utilizing complex ingredients, that are at the same time complex yet accessible.
This is often my go to cocktail that I’ll make at home when someone is coming over who I know appreciates cocktails.
To come full circle, on my most recent trip I asked if they could still make it. The bartender said that they’d have to replace the raspberry with strawberry cordial, as that is what they had currently.
The result, just as delicious and very similar to the original.
I’ve never been disappointed with a drink there, whether it was an elaborate cocktail marrying horseradish, fennel, and rum (The Breaker) or a simple classic like an old fashioned.
Final Thoughts on the Dead Rabbit
It’s not surprising the Dead Rabbit is as good as it is. The pedigree of their owners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, and bar manager Jilian Vose, can compete with any bar in the world. They’ve proven time and time again that not only do they know how to craft excellent drinks, but they know how to open a bar the right way and make it stand out.
Sean and Jack tried to replicate much of their Dead Rabbit success when they opened Blacktail (another top 50 bar) just down the street. I’ll review that soon, but for me, it didn’t quite live up to the vibe and quality that the Dead Rabbit has achieved.
It’s a little bit out of the way from the main NYC attractions, but if you find yourself in the City, do yourself a favor and just go. It’s been in the top 20 (and often top 5) for years, and even took the top honor as best bar in the world in 2015 and 2016.
And it’s every bit deserving of those accolades and then some.
**I’ll update with better photos on my next trip.