Although I find it hard to think of a time during which a frosty beer isn’t paramount, a warm drink heavy with booze beats the brew on these winter days, especially on today, National Hot Toddy Day! Unfortunately, that usually entails a price hike from your typical Tecate plus tequila shot. But the fact is it’s cold (in theory), your apartment is expensive to heat and you’re soon going to be craving human contact that doesn’t involve the Downton Abbey characters.
After calling over 30 bars around the borough and visiting way too many — and sampling way, way, way too many — I can confidently say I found the five places in Brooklyn with the best value for a warm drink. Each of the places listed below hawk the well-crafted hot for eight bucks or less, pairing the elixir with a cozy environment. And no, it’s not all just your Auntie Margo’s hot toddy.
629 5th Ave — Park Slope
The drink: Hot toddy with Jameson
Winter vibe: Super cozy booths, kid-friendly, small bowl of popcorn doled out with drink order (!!!)
South’s bartenders play the toddy in a clever way: sticking three cloves pointedly into a orange slice and dropping it into the drink. The whole clove is a nice aesthetic but often poorly pulled off by pubs (dodging the things through pursed-lip sips isn’t a good look). More citrus than honey, this drink almost gives the illusion that it’s healthy.
Pinebox Rock Shop
12 Grattan St. — Bushwick
The drink: Apple cider with bourbon
Winter vibe: Toasty innards, soundtrack varies between Fugazi and sports game commentary
You’ll have some time to kill when ordering one of these, but it’s worth the wait. The server carried my round out to our far-away table, warning profusely about the lava temperature. After waiting a little longer for it to cool to a safe heat, I finally got to dive in. My accomplice explained the taste best when he said, “It tastes like apple Danishes at a continental breakfast … in a good way.” In a very good way.
435 Graham — Williamsburg
The drink: Apple cider with rum
Winter vibe: Super warm and womb-like (dim and cushy)
Daddy’s brilliantly keeps their cider constantly bubbling on low heat in a slow cooker. Service is snappy and the rum pour, heavy. The taste falls more on the tart than the sweet side, making for a relatively light drink. They don’t go crazy on the spices, keeping the cocktail in soothing territory. Frankly put, they just don’t try too hard and their appreciation for simplicity pays off.
497 5th — Park Slope
The drink: Apple cider with whiskey
Winter vibe: MORE POPCORN (goodness, Park Slope, ILY…), loads of folk-rock crankin’
Another wise establishment that keeps its cider in a slow cooker. Take note, other bars. Commonwealth garnishes their spin with a fat cinnamon stick. Paired with the most appley apple taste of all the many, many ciders I tried in BK, this is like sucking on a magical orchard (it’s magical because of the booze).
1048 Bedford — Bedstuy
The drink(s): Spiced hot chocolate, Pritchard’s tea cup, Irish coffee, ginger tea, hot apple cider, hot buttered rum, hot bacon toddy
Price: All for $8
Winter vibe: Cuddle-style seating (mad packed), low noise level
This little soccer joint offers a rolling list of seven warm cocktails — all for $8. I only tried four (skipping the hot apple cider, hot buttered rum and hot bacon toddy [I still had to make it home, you know]), but they were all divine. Each of the goblets came delightfully sticky, the Irish coffee was most enthusiastic in its overfloweth-ing.
The spiced hot chocolate comes topped with fresh, homemade whipped cream the bar makes every day before opening. St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram swims through the highball’s toasty innards, finished off with a hearty cinnamon sprinkle. If you are not vegan/lactose intolerant, order this drink as soon as possible.
Pritchard’s tea cup proved itself another knockout off the menu. Orange spiced black tea provides the base, spiked with Pimm’s all on top of a fresh muddled mint foundation. It comes with a tiny silver tea pot, so theoretically this is a drink can last a while (although it is so good, it’s almost guaranteed to disappear quick-style). The way the mint hisses up hot through your nostrils is a helluva way to clear your nasal passage — and Lord knows after all these holiday parties, we could all use a little more oxygen.
Service on the hot drinks took a minute but the staff was incredibly kind and accommodating during the wait.
Follow Beca as she celebrates this national holiday: @becagrimm