Back in September, I visited NYC for the first time in five years — and for the first time as a curious cocktail connoisseur. The trip was mostly to visit friends, but I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to do a bit of cocktail research on the side. As incentive to visit as many lounges as possible, I pitched a travel story on NYC’s cocktail scene to the Tribune which will be published early next year.

The trip was overwhelming but successful. Following the advice of various cocktail experts and reviews from trusted sources, I managed to book myself an itinerary to hit 16 cocktail joints — and wound up sampling drinks at 19 total.

I was impressed with nearly every spot I visited, and returned to Chicago a bit disappointed that we’re stuck in the beginning stages of the classic cocktail revival while New York has already moved on to the tiki bandwagon (Painkiller, for the record, is recommended).

Following is the list of spots I made it to, over the course of five days. Warning: This itinerary is not recommended for the faint of heart — or anyone with liver issues.

Wednesday night
No. 7 — An old friend’s restaurant, with market-fresh cocktails.

The Randolph Coffee Bar — All coffee cocktails; mind-blowing.
Bemelmans Bar @ Carlyle Hotel — A must. Overpriced but worth it.
Dram — Impressively different, beautiful teakwood room; fun menu.
Hotel Delmano — I fell in love with this place. Very Brit Parks.
Mayahuel — Possibly my favorite drinks of the trip. All tequila all the time.
Death & Co. — Over-hyped but impressive. Still, I’d go back.
PDT — My least favorite, possibly because I was seated under a bear.
Painkiller — Really fun; pretty much sealed the deal on my evening.
Milk & Honey — I stopped by sans reservation; had a Tom Collins.

Clover Club — Lunched here & had a delicious raspberry collins.
Building on Bond — Came for dinner and sampled the Beehive.
Mission Dolores — Not a cocktail bar; decent selection of local spirits.
Dutch Kills — Out of the way, uncrowded, amazing.

Henry Public — Wasn’t on my to-visit list, but drinks were impressive.
Madam Geneva
— My favorite menu: all gin. Dozens of them. Mmm.
Pegu Club — Saturday was packed; I’d return during the week.
Flatiron Lounge — Not my favorite, but expert drinks.
Little Branch — So much fun. All “dealer’s choice” all the time.

More details are available in September’s presentation, downloadable here.

A few notes on bar tools:

I brought home a few tools I was introduced to on this trip. Of note: The aforementioned spoon-straws, for sale on Little Branch’s menu for $2 a piece, if memory serves.

I also had my first Muji experience on this trip. Among the standard kitchen items at Japan’s mini-department store was a silicon ice-ball maker, for about $12. Brilliant; I should have bought two.

Stay tuned for a catch-up post soon on October’s club, featuring the manhattan.