Finding a bar that suits your vibe can be a bit tough when you’re flying blind. We’ve all walked into places that looked promising from the outside or on Instagram that we’ve immediately walked right back out of. It happens. As someone who makes their living tasting, thinking, and talking about spirits every day, finding a good whiskey and cocktail bar wherever I land is essential. But even with the best-laid plans and advice, I still strike out every now and then. But I also find some gems too, and that’s what we’re going to focus on in this new series.
Dutch Kills Bar in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens is that gem today. While the name sounds forbidding, “kill” in Dutch simply means a small brook or creek, meaning that the name references where some Dutch colonizers put down roots next to a creek back in the mid-1600s.
The name aside, Dutch Kills Bar has one of the best and most eclectic spirits collections that rivals the best bars in the world. The focus is squarely on whisk(e)y but the prowess of the bar chefs means that there’s a long list of very deep cut liquors, liqueurs, bitters, vermouths, and just about everything else you can dream of in relation to booze on the back bar. Plus, all the ice is hewn from one huge block every night. With all of that in mind, let’s dive into what makes this bar a must-stop the next time you’re in New York.
WHY IT’S AWESOME:
One of the best aspects of this bar is its accessibility. If you’re in Mid-town Manhattan, all that you have to do is pop over the Queensboro bridge (or ride the subway to Queens Plaza) and you’re there. The bar is physically closer to Mid-town than Flushing and the heart of Queens further east. That means you’re getting the best of both worlds at this sort of crossroads between two major parts of the city.
Okay, let’s get into the bar. What I personally love about this place is the staff. They’re really f*cking chill while knowing their shit. While there’s a great menu of bespoke and well-crafted cocktails — all made with ice from that huge block — on the menu, I tend to choose a whiskey and ask for a favorite cocktail with that libation. The best part is that you can ask the bar chefs for advice, guidance, and tips. Granted, I work in spirits and come from a high-end cocktail bar background so I get that I’m more at ease doing this than some folks. Still, the gentle affability of the staff at Dutch Kills Bar is welcoming to all drinkers, whether complete newbies or seasoned pros.
If the bar is a little quieter, you can really dive into some amazing pairings and concoctions as the night wears on. I had fun pairing cognacs and craft Kentucky bourbon to find the perfect Sazerac for a stormy fall night.
And, very importantly, free, cold water was always in front of me. The bar staff made sure I always had water. This is crucial (and often overlooked) to a great bar experience. I know it seems simple, but it matters when you’re hitting the hard stuff.
WHAT TO DRINK:
This is up to you, of course. I was last there during a rainy Monday night past midnight. My Vans were damp from walking in the rain and I was jetlagged from a long flight. So, I went for a Michter’s Rye Manhattan.
Had I been there a month earlier and been sitting out in the sun, I would have ordered something fresh and bright off the menu like the Stay Up Late. It’s a nice and fizzy mix of lemon, simple syrup, cognac, and gin topped with seltzer.
Alternatively, you can really dive into the whiskey list. There are so, so many great whiskeys from all over the world (as you can see in the above photo) on the shelf that you could spend months at Dutch Kills trying a new whiskey every day and not get anywhere near the end of that whiskey menu.
Finally, if it’s a quieter night, talk to the bar staff. I know I’ve said it above but it’s worth reiterating. The bar chefs really know what they’re doing and care deeply about your bar experience and that comes down to whatever drink ends up in front of you.
WHAT TO EAT:
Dutch Kills serves a very small menu that’s provided by Stretto Bros. Sandwich Shop. Imagine classic Italian streetfood sandos amped up to eleven and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. The bread is serious Italian white rolls with a solid crust and soft and tangy interior. The fillings tend to be stacked.
The Ill Papa (pictured above) is heaped with mortadella, capocollo, chorizo, shredded lettuce, tomato, dijonmayo, crumbled manchego, and giardiniara. It’s a lot but everything you want at the same time.
Another favorite was the Deli Boy (pictured further below). It’s stacked with mortadella, some jack cheese, lettuce, and yellow mustard. It’s kind of like the ultimate bologna sandwich jacked up on steroids.
10/10 — There’s covered outdoor seating with heaters for the cold nights ahead and the eventual return of summer. The main entrance is a long hall where you walk past booths just big enough for two sitting across from each other. There are a few larger booths for four just past the bathrooms but before you hit the barroom. Finally, the bar is barstool seating and standing room only.
9/10 — This is a really chill place that can also be rocking. It’s open seven nights a week, so naturally, it’ll be a lot busier during prime time Thursday through Saturday. Sundays and Mondays are slower and much more chilled out and you may well sit next to someone else in the spirits industry or bar scene on their day off.
8/10 — I like bars like this when they’re quieter, post-midnight so you can really dive into the bar’s bottle list with the staff. But, I can also see taking a date here and snagging a booth for two up front and having a super intimate night with great drinks or maybe a bottle of champagne and then a cocktail or two.
7/10 — The joint is pretty dimly lit but has enough light at the bar to take decent photos if you’re in the right spot. The booths up front are pretty dark, which is great for sexy good times but won’t play for IG. Still, those cocktails always look good enough to be photographed every single time.
8/10 — The black and white tiled bathrooms are single-use, meaning you can hook up in them without someone walking in on you. They’re well lit and very clean with standard amenities.
BEST TIME TO DROP IN:
The bar opens at eleven am every day and is open until two or three am depending on whether or not it’s the weekend. While I like hitting places like this late (between midnight and closing), this really works as an any-time-of-day-or-night bar. You can drop in for lunch, get a massive sammie, down a cocktail, and have a great afternoon. Or you can hit it up on a Friday night with a date and maybe get a little lucky. It’s an all-around anytime sort of place is what I’m getting at.
IF I HAD TO COMPLAIN ABOUT ONE THING:
This is tough. I really like this bar. I guess I’m going to have to go with the jukebox. Letting the crowd control the music can be great or terrible. It’s not that the jukebox isn’t full of great music. It is. It’s that there’s no music if no one is playing a tune, which takes away from the atmosphere slightly.
WHERE TO GRAB A LATE-NIGHT BITE NEARBY:
Hitting a diner at two or three in the morning is a must if you’re in New York and a little tipsy. Court Square Diner is a brisk five-minute walk down Jackson Street, towards the Court Square subway station.
The menu is a classic menagerie of diner mainstays with 24/7 breakfast, lunch, and dinner items. I got the Patty Duke Patty Melt with a load of fries and it hit the spot and was ridiculously filling. I also got the stuffed clams, which were great but way too much food. What can I say, it was three in the morning and it made sense at the time.
Dutch Kills Bar (27-24 Jackson Ave.) is open seven days a week from 11 am to 2 am Sunday through Thursday and 11 am to 3 am Friday and Saturday. The nearest subway stop is Queens Plaza on the E, M, and R lines.
You can reserve a table here.