Over the course of one year in New York City, so many bars and restaurants open that it can be difficult to keep track. But as the calendar flips over to 2017, we're taking a chance to look back on the biggest openings of the year. In 2016, we saw ambitious projects from much-lauded bartenders, successful transformations of restaurant concepts into bars, and previously underserved neighborhoods getting their own excellent cocktail destinations. Here are the top five bar openings of the past year. What's your favorite recent New York bar debut?
BlackTail. The team from the Dead Rabbit, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, has won virtually every bar accolade that exists, so it's little surprise that their followup project, BlackTail at Pier A, has won so much attention. It's inspired by Prohibition-era Cuba, when thirsty Americans would take to the skies and fly to Havana for a perfect cocktail. Drinks all echo that period in time -- the Dead Rabbit team is known for their fanatical devotion to cocktail history -- and fall within the boundaries of Highballs, Sours, Punches, Old Fashioneds, and boozy "Cocktails" with fortified wine along each spirit. Expect lots of rum and plenty of creativity.
Cannibal Liquor House. The Cannibal and its now-closed predecessor restaurant, Resto, were always well-known for their ambitious beer lists. Cocktails were less of a focus -- until they opened Cannibal Liquor House, that is. Drinks on tap are a big emphasis, with eight cocktails ready to go on draft. Featured cocktails range from an updated Sea Breeze and Harvey Wallbanger (sans Galliano) to more contemporary creations like the sotol-Salers-quince "Sotol Swizzle" to the boozy milkshake "Bringin' All Tha Boys 2 the Yard."
Sauvage. Maison Premiere in Williamsburg is one of the most highly acclaimed bars in Brooklyn and New York as a whole. The team's new Sauvage in Greenpoint reflects many of the same themes (oysters, ambitious wine list) is primarily a restaurant, but unsurprisingly, its cocktails earn top marks -- Will Elliott's list revels in history with nods toward modernity, with a list of classics (unique takes on the Americano, Alexander, Negroni, and Tom Collins) and house cocktails (the "Pastis Cobbler," the Armagnac-peach pisco "Riding Tigers").
Fresh Kills Bar: For years, Dutch Kills in Astoria has been regarded as the best cocktail bar in Queens -- and this Williamsburg followup is proving impressive as well. Richard Boccato, who once worked at the legendary Milk & Honey, is another mixologist with a true love of cocktail history, and while his menu lists many original creations, the bartenders are all more than capable of executing the classics perfectly, or devising a drink on the fly.
Ghost Donkey: Behind Saxon & Parole just off the Bowery, Madam Geneva was long one of New York's best bar "secrets," a sexy hidden-away drinking den beloved by those in the know. Now, owners AvroKo have turned it into a Latin drinking parlor, with a big emphasis on mezcal and tequila-based cocktails and a featured drink for two, "El Burro" with tequila, mezcal, aperol, grapefruit, and chili -- and yes, it's served in a donkey.
[Photo: BlackTail at Pier A]