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Crafting the next modern classic with a balance of bitters

The cocktail named "Too Soon" at the Attaboy bar in New York.

Eric Thayer

Of the thousands of original cocktails on offer in New York bars and restaurants, few are destined to become "modern classics." A scant number will make it out the door, let alone eventually stand with the daiquiri, manhattan and French 75 – drinks that are now part of the bar canon.

Nobody knows what the next modern classic will be, but odds of finding it are significantly bettered by a visit to Attaboy on Manhattan's Lower East Side, since it's part-owned by Sam Ross, who is responsible for not one, but two, modern-classic contenders. Ross has authored both the Penicillin (2005), a peaty whisky sour with a hit of ginger that has even inspired a craft beer that pays tribute to its flavour, and the Paper Plane (2008), a bourbon, amaro, Aperol and lemon cocktail that is currently making the rounds on international menus.

Both are frequently asked for by name at Attaboy, located at 134 Eldridge St., an address cocktail aficionados may already be familiar with, since it used to house Milk & Honey, one of the city's first craft cocktail bars and where, in fact, Ross invented the Penicillin. The long-time employee, with partner and fellow M&H alumnus Michael McIlroy, has now taken over the spot, which, after an extensive renovation that partially opened up the formerly dark and cavernous space, was reopened just over a year ago.

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Ross is no two-trick pony. He and McIlroy offer superb bespoke cocktails, and a seat at Attaboy's long bar offers guests a chance to try out a range of bitter experiments the pair is playing with these days. "It's one thing to use a dash of bitters," says Ross, "It's another to make a drink that uses upwards of an ounce of bitters and still try to find an appropriate balance."

It seems to have worked with Too Soon?, a complex and herbaceous artichoke amaro, citrus and gin cocktail with a perfectly bittersweet finish. Says Ross: "I'm always trying to find that sweet spot between bitter and sour, which is what I'm trying to do with this drink."

Is it the next modern classic? Maybe. Too soon to tell.

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