Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

We Drank All 20 Cocktails at NYC’s Christmas Bars

Taste-testing everything at Miracle on Ninth Street and Sippin' Santa's Surf Shack. (Now go home, Santa, you're drunk.)

It’s officially time for holiday cheer—and lots of it. And by that, we mean cocktails.

Last year, New York's yet-to-open East Village bar Mace turned out a full Christmas-themed pop-up called Miracle on Ninth Street, with creations by acclaimed bartender Nico de Soto. It was such a runaway success, with lines down the block and all the Instagrams, the fact that they're back this year with even more kitschy décor and festive speciality cocktails is not a surprise. But turning nearby bar Boilermaker (named for the beer-and-shot combo) into the more casual tiki-esque Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack as well? Well, we take that as a challenge. 

Here are all the drinks, drunk just for you, and ranked by their perceived booziness, how sweet they taste, and most important for a Christmas-themed bar, the level of cheer—for which we’re not awarding stars, but Santas. Scale: 1 is lowest (i.e. least strong/sweet/cheerful), 5 is highest (most strong/sweet/zomg).

Suffice to say spirits will be bright this holiday season, at least through Dec. 24, when both ventures close.

 

Miracle on Ninth Street

Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

The décor: Lavish and festive, dripping with Christmas lights. No corner is left unadorned, from the snowflakes on the bar top, to the weird little Santa heads in jars, to wrapped “packages” spinning overhead. The “Hanukkah Hideaway” is back this year, too, a cozy little nook for the chosen peeps in back.

The drinks: A dozen of 'em, as in the 12 Miracles of Christmas. Loyal customers will spot some of the spiced touches from Mace and a couple of favorites brought back from last year’s Miracle. In general, these are quite complicated cocktails, with lots of elaborate infusions and housemade ingredients. Don’t try this at home.
 

Muletide 

Muletide
Muletide
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

So it’s a Moscow Mule? “Yeah, sort of,” de Soto says. But instead of vodka, there’s aquavit. And instead of ginger beer, there’s ginger syrup and actual beer, plus a big piece of chewy candied ginger as garnish. The drink arrives in a tall glass with saucy 1950s-inspired Santa prints—Greg Boehm, a partner in both bars, custom-produced the glasses through his Cocktail Kingdom barware enterprise, and you’ll find them at both joints.

Ingredients: Linie aquavit, Oloroso sherry, ginger syrup, lime juice, pale ale
Strength: 3
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 4 Santas

 

Bad Santa

Bad Santa
Bad Santa
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

Given its really complicated list of ingredients, it’s refreshing to receive just a simple, smiley ceramic snowman mug (or you might get a Santa head instead) with a ring of leathery dried pineapple on top. The mug is almost too hot to handle, but it’s scented like cookie dough and warms all the way down to my toes.

Ingredients: Hot clarified milk punch with Jamaican rum, Trinidad overproof rum, batavia arrack, pineapple juice, lemon juice, milk, 8 spices, coconut water, coconut oil
Strength: 5
Sweetness: 4
Cheer Level: 5 Santas

 

Redneck Flip

Redneck Flip
Redneck Flip
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

De Soto plunks down a Bud can, with a devilish grin. What’s this? I’m confused. “Redneck Flip,” he replies. A-ha: They make a syrup using the beer. I can’t see what’s inside the metal can, but the egg and marshmallow make for a creamy, frothy, but not cloying sip. It doesn’t taste like beer at all; in fact, the fizzy Muletide was a lot more beer-like.

Ingredient: Bourbon, Applejack, Budweiser-marshmallow syrup, beef jerky bitters, egg
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 2 Santas

 

Christmas Tree Gimlet 

Christmas Tree Gimlet
Christmas Tree Gimlet
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

It’s simple, it’s spare, and it’s low-alcohol, unlike most gimlets. Even the garnish is minimalist: just a single thin pine needle. I want to sip on this crisp drink all night—and it’s a nice palate cleanser after the creamy flip.

Ingredients: Shochu, pine needle cordial, grapefruit oil
Strength: 2
Sweetness: 2
Cheer Level: 3 Santas

 

Jingle Balls Nog

Jingle Balls Nog
Jingle Balls Nog
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

All that cocoa and spice—it’s like sipping on cold hot cocoa, with a vague nuttiness that provides additional interest to an otherwise standard nog. 

Ingredients: Brown butter fat-washed cognac, Amontillado sherry, pandan syrup, egg, hazelnut milk, clove, nutmeg
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 5
Cheer Level: 4 Santas

 

The Grinch

The Grinch
The Grinch
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

I dip my nose into the rocks glass—and it smells a bit like peaty Scotch. “That’s the Frankincense smoke,” says De Soto. It’s a rye whiskey drink that’s a dead ringer for Scotch, thanks to that smokiness and a chocolaty undertone. I’m loving this one, and I’m not at all surprised to find out it’s Miracle’s best-selling drink. (And no, there's a bit of umami but you can't taste the fish sauce.)

Ingredients: Rye whiskey, Pedro Ximenez, nuoc mam (a Vietnamese fish sauce), pine bitters, frankincense smoke
Strength: 5
Sweetness: 2
Cheer Level: 4 Santas

 

Christmopolitan

Christmopolitan
Christmopolitan
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

It’s a Cosmo, all right—though the flavors are a bit more nuanced than your standard Sex and the City sipper. There’s a lot of fruit flavors going on in this glass. It’s vibrant pink, it’s dangerously tasty, and easy-drinking.

Ingredients: Fig leaf-infused vodka, St. Germain, lime juice, spiced cranberry sauce
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 4
Cheer Level: 3 Santas

 

Candy Cane Fizz 

Candy Cane Fizz
Candy Cane Fizz
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

It’s like the best Mimosa you’ve ever had, with subtle burst of mint. But really, it’s all about the tiny, adorable candy cane balanced on top of the glass, which I immediately pocket.

Ingredients: Peppermint-infused gin, buttermilk syrup, clementine acid, prosecco
Strength: 3
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 5 Santas

 

Mulled Wine Sour

Mulled Wine Sour
Mulled Wine Sour
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

Another sessionable low-alcohol drink, made with three types of fortified wine (PX sherry, Madeira, and sweet vermouth), with a foamy egg white cap for a two-tone effect and a star anise garnish. It’s like sipping on a creamy-soft cloud—of wine.

Ingredients: Pedro Ximenez, Madeira, sweet vermouth, orange acid, star anise and clove syrup, egg
Strength: 2
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 3 Santas

 

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel 

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel
Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

This one's for the tribe. And it smells and tastes like chocolate gelt. The drink is garnished with a little plastic dreidel; last year, it was garnished with chocolate coins. “Greg wouldn’t let me do it this year because I ate them all,” de Soto amiably grumbles. “It’s true,” Boehm confirms. “I’d come in and find all the little gold wrappers."

Ingredients: Chocolate gelt-infused reposado tequila, Pedro Ximenez sherry, maple syrup, black walnut bitters
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 5 Santas

 

Yippie Ki Yay Motherf****r !!!

Yippie Ki Yay Motherf--ker
Yippie Ki Yay Motherf--ker
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

Look, if you’re ordering this drink, you’re probably more interested in gleefully hollering the name down the bar than what’s inside that ceramic mug shaped like a mitten. So here’s the scoop: It’s a refreshing tiki drink, thanks to that rum and “roasted chestnut” orgeat (instead of the traditional almond). Even that powdered sugar-dusted mint nosegay on top is a tiki garnish cleverly disguised as snow-covered greenery.

Ingredients: Pumpkin-infused Barbados rum, caçhaca, dry Curacao, roasted chestnut orgeat, lime juice
Strength: 5
Sweetness: 4
Cheer Level: 5 Santas

 

Joyeux Noel 

Joyeux Noel
Joyeux Noel
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

The last drink of the set: What it is? It’s cinnamon-scented ... it’s creamy ... it’s really complicated chocolate milk. I was hoping it would be a bit more like gingerbread based on the description, but it’s still a pleasingly sweet libation.

Ingredients: Gingerbread Calvados, spiced pumpkin syrup, egg, olive oil, cinnamon
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 5
Cheer Level: 3 Santas

A bartender at Miracle on Ninth Street.
A bartender at Miracle on Ninth Street.
Photographer: Evan Sung/Bloomberg

 


 

Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack

The Décor: Where Miracle is baroque and fancy, Sippin’ Santa is chill and tropical, with palm trees decked with lights, flamingoes, and bamboo strategically strewn. If Santa had a slightly loopy tiki bar in his basement, this would be it. Think Beach Boys and Elvis at Christmas time—kitschy touches include a surfboard twined with lights and a Santa doll in a tropical shirt. Just go with it.

The Drinks: Eight easy-sipping, tropical-inspired drinks with a twist. In addition to the cocktails, look for a selection of boilermakers (beer and a shot combination) made with Christmas-themed brews, lest you forget where you are.

 

Sexy Santa

An enticing clove scent pulls you in the second that cute Santa mug hits the bar. Basically, it’s a really delicious mulled wine extra fortified with brandy, and it will be perfect if it ever snows again.

Ingredients: Brandy, cabernet sauvignon, cinnamon, Angostura bitters, grapefruit essence; served hot
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 5 Santas

 

Toboggan Nog 

It’s spiced egg nog. Not much more to say about the drink itself, except that it’s surprisingly challenging to order after you’ve had a couple of rounds. To be honest, I was more focused on the awesome reggae version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas that was playing. Give us some figgy pudding, mon.

Ingredients: Jamaican rum in house pumpkin spice egg nog
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 5
Cheer Level: 4 Santas

 

I Saw Mommy ...

Basically, it’s a Grasshopper. Or maybe it’s a cross between an alcoholic milkshake and a Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookie. Either way, it goes down dangerously easily, and I quickly handed my glass over to a friend before I sucked back the whole drink.

Ingredients: Vodka, grapefruit juice, Branca Menta, Hershey’s syrup, chocolate bitters, with mint
Strength:
4
Sweetness: 5
Cheer Level:  4 Santas

Clockwise from top left: Royal Tannenbaum, Black Metal Sleigh, Kris Kringle, and Naughty & Nice, all served at Sippin' Santa.
Clockwise from top left: Royal Tannenbaum, Black Metal Sleigh, Kris Kringle, and Naughty & Nice, all served at Sippin' Santa.
Source: Sippin' Santa

Sippin’ Santa

It’s a true tiki drink. Meaning it’s strong, sweet, and you’ll never guess what’s in there unless someone tells you. It also arrives with what seems to be an entire bunch of mint as a lavish crown for the wineglass.

Ingredients: Bourbon, crème de menthe, crème de cacao, egg white, wormwood bitters, nutmeg
Strength: 5
Sweetness: 5
Cheer Level: 4 Santas

 

Rudolph’s Apple Sling

Elegant, boozy, and brown. Bing Crosby should be playing as this drink hits the table.

Ingredients: Apple Brandy, Old Tom Gin, maple, Angostura bitters, with pine-infused gin
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 2 Santas

 

Black Metal Sleigh

Yes, it’s made with Jäger. Get over it. Presented in a frosty silver julep mug, the drink has a tropical feel to it, with lots of tart lime and spice, and would be great for summertime sipping.

Ingredients: Jägermeister, vodka, lime juice, grapefruit bitters, cinnamon, lime
Strength: 5
Sweetness: 4
Cheer Level: 2 Santas

 

Royal Tannenbaum 

I had assumed this would be a pine-y gimlet, but that’s my own fault for not reading the menu description more carefully. Or waiting till my 19th drink to try this. Whatever. Here’s what it really is: a refreshing gin and tonic with a bit of Christmas tree actually tucked into the tall glass.

Ingredients: House pine tonic, with your choice of vodka or gin
Strength: 3
Sweetness: 2
Cheer Level: 4 Santas

 

A Snowball’s Chance

A gently spiced nightcap with a licorice twang from the absinthe, adorably served in a rocks glass with a “snowball” ice cube. Turn the glass and watch the little pictures of Santa as he drinks and falls down. Go home, Santa, you’re drunk. 

Ingredients:Scotch, pineapple cordial, allspice dram, dash of absinthe
Strength: 4
Sweetness: 3
Cheer Level: 5 Santas

 

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