The World’s Best Nightcaps
The perfect cocktail, I have discovered after years of laborious research for my book The Spirits, rarely rests on the particulars of how it was made. Of course, it’s important how much ice you use, how à la mode your utensils are and which brand of rye you stock. But the “how” of the cocktail is not nearly as important as the “when” and the “where”. The tipples you remember are all about the moment – not whether you used the correct amount of vermouth.
There’s a particular point at the end of the night when good, strong liquor comes into its own, when the evening has taken its course and you’re in need of consolation or celebration (delete as appropriate). The nightcap can be the perfect aid to a deep sleep – or it can be a fork in the path. It can be a demure bedtime treat (a shot of rye with a little splash of apricot liqueur is the perfect choice) or something with a bit more thwack (I like neat aquavit in a sherry glass myself). And if you match the drink to the setting – say, a Rum Old Fashioned as the wind shakes the palms outside a Caribbean beach bar – then you will pretty much reach cocktailing transcendence.
Below are the nightcaps I have enjoyed most during my travels, and where to order them. If you are entertaining guests (or simply want to fix yourself a drink before bed), I have adapted them loosely for the home drinker. Chin chin.
Duck & Waffle, London
Open 24 hours a day and 40 floors up, greet the sunrise with a cocktail at the Duck & Waffle in London’s Heron Tower
Duck & Waffle in London’s Heron Tower has many unique qualities. There’s the super-fast transparent elevator – sorry, _lift _– that runs up the outside of the building giving you a 40th-floor rush for free. There’s the scene that greets you when you’re up there: a sort of crazy, controlled chaos. There are the creations of the head bartender, Mr Rich Woods, one of the most madly inventive in London. And there is – joy of joys – a 24-hour license, making this the ill-advised 5am destination du choix among night owls.
Mr Rich Woods’ ingenious gin-based Bloody Mary comes served Martini-style – and thus reinvents the classic morning cocktail for night-time drinking, allowing your nightcap to take you full circle.
- 35ml (1.2fl oz) gin (Bombay Sapphire)
- 15ml (½fl oz) French vermouth
- 60ml (2fl oz) Bloody Mary consommé (this needs to be prepped a day in advance)
For the Bloody Mary consommé:
- 400ml (13.5fl oz) good-quality tomato juice
- 3g (0.11oz) ground black pepper
- 5g (0.18oz) crushed pink peppercorns
- 3g (0.11oz) sea salt
- 2g (0.07oz) celery salt
- 10 dashes red Tabasco
- 15 dashes green Tabasco
- Juice of one lemon
- 15 dashes Worcester sauce
To make the consommé, pour the tomato juice into a non-reactive, sealable container. Add the other consommé ingredients and stir everything – leave to rest for an hour. Secure the lid and place in the freezer.
The following morning, remove from the freezer (your mix should now be solid). Prepare your filter by placing a coffee filter in a funnel, over a bottle or deep container. Put the frozen tomato mix into the funnel, then allow the mix to drip-thaw naturally (this takes several hours). Bottle and chill the clarified juice.
When you are ready to make the cocktail, stir the gin, vermouth and consommé together and serve in a cold cocktail glass. Garnish with a sun-dried tomato and basil, parsley or celery leaves.
The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, New York
An Irish whiskey cocktail makes a perfect nightcap at Manhattan’s Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to nightcaps in Manhattan – but bartender at the redoubtable Dead Rabbit, Mr Jesse Vida, makes a compelling case for his own recent invention: “A nightcap is your last drink of the night, so you need to make it count,” he counsels. “By the time you get home, you should be ready to hit the hay. That being said, a boozy tipple including something calming or settling is a route I often take for nightcaps.” He steers you in the direction of this bittersweet Irish whiskey cocktail.
Irish whiskey fell out of favour after Prohibition and has never quite recovered its popularity, which is a shame – its rich, savoury qualities lend serious heft to this bitter banana-chocolate sipper that, as Mr Vida suggests, above, is an upgrade on a humble mug of cocoa.
- 30ml (1fl oz) Irish whiskey
- 30ml (1fl oz) dark amaro (Amaro di Montenegro)
- 15ml (½fl oz) Madeira wine
- 7.5ml (¼fl oz) crème de cacao
- Pinch of salt
- Dash of absinthe
- ½tsp banana liqueur
Dissolve the salt in the alcohol and then stir everything with a large cube of ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a fat orange peel twist.
Ruby is a jewel of Copenhagen’s late-night drinking scene
Thanks to Mr René Redzepi’s Noma and the new wave of Danish chefs, Copenhagen is now firmly established as a destination for gourmands. So, after an extensive tasting menu, you’ll want something to settle your stomach. Ruby, housed in an old apartment building behind an unmarked door, has a particularly good selection of aquavit and Scotch as well as a secretive, gentleman’s-club feel very well suited to a late-night drink or two.
This is a variation of the comforting Manhattan. Created by the bar’s resident Scotsman, Mr Steven Hill, it is smokier and sweeter than the classic cocktail, but no less delightful.
- 45ml (1½fl oz) scotch whisky (Talisker 10 – or a similar smoky scotch)
- 22.5ml (¾fl oz) sherry (Pedro Ximénez)
- 1tsp pastis
Stir all the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled coupette glass. Garnish with a lemon-zest twist.
Bar Marmont, LA
Old-school Hollywood glamour awaits at the Bar Marmont in LA
The after-hours allure of Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood is no secret: Mr André Balazs’ reinvention of the grand old hotel faintly drips with louche Sunset Boulevard glamour. What is less well known are the hidden cocktails in its nearby bar. The regular menu mainly consists of pricy versions of the classics – but if you ask the bartenders nicely, they might just knock you up an off-menu creation, such as the house take on the classic Angostura Fizz.
Back in the late 19th-century glory days of the cocktail, fizzes were generally regarded as morning drinks, while Angostura bitters were seen as medicine. Therefore, this is the sort of nightcap you should go for if you intend to roll into the following day daisy fresh and arrow straight.
- 30ml (1fl oz) rye whiskey
- 30ml (1fl oz) Angostura bitters
- 22.5ml (¾fl oz) lime juice
- 15ml (½fl oz) grenadine (made of 2 parts sugar, 1 part pomegranate juice)
- Half an egg white
- Fizzy water
Shake everything, except the fizzy water, hard with plenty of ice. Strain into a spare vessel, discard the ice, and shake hard again to froth up the egg white. Pour into an ice-filled tall glass, top with the fizzy water and garnish with a mint sprig.
The Jerry Thomas Project, Rome
Named after the author of the first cocktail recipe book, Rome’s The Jerry Thomas Project is a speakeasy with style
Mr Jerry Thomas was the author of the first true cocktail book (the Bartenders Guide in 1862). I’m not sure he ever made it to Rome on his dazzling European tours, but that hasn’t stopped the owners of this bar imagining what might have happened if he did. The bartenders here are assiduously Italian about things: on a recent visit, I attempted to order an El Presidente cocktail for my wife, only to be informed that it couldn’t be done, since pomegranates were not in season. But what makes this place so special is the elegantly seedy vibe. It feels like a speakeasy, with groups of could-be Mafiosi who somehow make sweatpants look quite cool, elegant old Bohemians in cravats and the sort of blatant flirting you rarely see outside Italy.
The JTP Negroni is made with house gin, vermouth and amaro, and comes out darker than the regular version, much more like a digestif. If you’re looking to have one more drink at 4am, just before the bar closes, this is the perfect choice: rich, evocative and lingering enough to see you through the journey home.
- 30ml (1fl oz) gin
- 30ml (1fl oz) vermouth (Punt e Mes)
- 30ml (1fl oz) dark amaro (Averna)
Stir everything in a tumbler with plenty of ice and garnish with a length of orange peel.
Floreria Atlantico, Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires’ basement bar Floreria Atlantico is a sophisticated drinking destination
There are few more elegant destinations for a late-night drink in BA than Floreria Atlantico in the Retiro district. You can tell that the head bartender, Mr Tato Giovannoni, has serious taste from the store upstairs, which sells fresh-cut flowers, good vinyl and excellent gin. What more could a man need? Downstairs, the curved bar has a cosmopolitan feel reminiscent of Mr Jorge Luis Borges’ story, The Aleph, in which a secret portal to the entire universe is discovered in a basement. Only, the girls are so much sexier.
Here’s a deliciously honeyed sipper for sultry nights, because, hey, it’s spring in Argentina right now. It draws out the acidity of Sauvignon blanc with a tart squirt of lemon and a floral suggestion from passion fruit and elderflower. You should be able to find pollen in health food shops – try honey if you can’t.
- 15ml (½fl oz) elderflower liqueur
- 15ml (½fl oz) passion fruit pulp
- 60ml (2fl oz) lemon juice
- 30ml (1fl oz) sugar syrup
- A pinch of cinnamon
- 1tsp pollen (optional)
- 60ml (2fl oz) Sauvignon blanc
Place everything, except the wine, in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake hard. Strain into a wine glass and top with the Sauvignon blanc.
New York Bar, Tokyo
Sip a whisky as you survey Tokyo from the stunning New York Bar at the Park Hyatt
The Park Hyatt in Tokyo is a hotel so exquisitely chic that film director Ms Sofia Coppola set Lost in Translation here. As her leading man Mr Bill Murray finds in the film, the American-style bar on the top floor is the perfect venue for a woozy whisky, as you survey the megalopolis and take advantage of the fact that you can smoke indoors in Japan (they have remarkably efficient extraction systems). It’s handy too that, in my view, Japanese bartenders are the best in the world – taking exquisite pains over the classics.
Your tastebuds change throughout the day, and I’ve always found that the moment just before bed is peak whisky time. It even goes with toothpaste. A gentler way of whiskying before turning in is the Mizuwari – literally translated as “mixed with water”.
- 60ml (2fl oz) Japanese whisky
- 120ml (4fl oz) still spring water
Fill a glass with large ice cubes, ideally spherical. Pour in the whisky. Stir no fewer than 13-and-a-half times in a clockwise direction. Stop. Add another ice cube and the water. Stir no more than three-and-a-half times in an anticlockwise direction, and serve.