Rye's restaurants and bars feature creative menus of cocktails. Tropical drinks with the power to transport to the Caribbean with just one sip and mojitos with mint so fresh it's as if the bartender just stepped out to a garden and picked it.
With about a month left until summer is over, there's still time to cool off with a nice drink. Navigating from bar to bar, I taste tested some of these signature drinks (tough job, I know) to find the best cocktail the city has to offer.
Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar
The newly opened Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar was the logical first stop for a summer cocktail. The Tiki-Polynesian inspired restaurant has a large drink menu with several signature cocktails. I settled on the Island Hopper ($12), a blend of Bacardi rum, orange juice, grenadine, blackberry brandy and crème de banana. The taste of banana was overpowering and the orange juice had a bit of a bite to it. The drink tasted of less alcohol than I was expecting, but the overall light and fruity concoction fit in with the restaurant's setting overlooking Long Island Sound.
Rye Grill & Bar
Next up was The Rye Grill & Bar, whose location near the Metro-North station makes it a popular after work happy hour destination. The Rye Grill & Bar doesn't have a signature cocktail menu and will make almost anything asked. A waitress suggested the restaurant's mojito ($8) as a summertime crowd favorite. The fresh mint drink left a lot to be desired. At first taste the mojito was bitter, much more so than one would expect from a mojito. The mint in the drink wasn't well muddled and instead settled completely at the top, but the worst part of the drink was the strong taste of ginger. For an after work drink locale, drinking this mojito felt too much like work.
Seaside Johnnies, the other restaurant of business partners John Ambrose and Sam Chernin, who own Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar, was my my next stop. The popular summertime joint, like its sister restaurant, has several signature cocktails. Since I was at Oakland Beach I picked the Oakland Breeze ($9.95). A mixture of vodka, rum, melon liqueur, lime, orange and grapefruit juices, this drink was simply painful to drink. There was an overpowering amount of grapefruit juice and the melon liqueur didn't compliment the grapefruit. I had hoped this tropical drink would be refreshing on a hot day but instead I had to force myself to finish it.
After two less than great cocktail experiences, it was with hesitation that I headed into the center of Rye and to Aurora. After the salt disaster during my Quest for Rye's Best Burger, I nervously ordered the Aurora's pomegranate martini ($11) one of the restaurant's three signature cocktails. The pomegranate martini was the simplest of the drinks I sampled, but simplicity may have been the key to the pleasantness of this cocktail. It didn't try to do too much and had an overall nice crisp taste with a balance of alcohol and pomegranate. I would head back and order another.
With the cocktail tasting experience looking up again, I headed over to Café Livorno to see what they had to offer in the way of summer cocktails. With an extensive house drink menu, I chose the summertime-sounding Ocean Breeze Cosmopolitan ($12.50). A blend of vodka, Chambord, and pineapple juice, this was one of the most creative cocktails. I often haven't seen Chambord combined with pineapple juice. A sip of this, with the perfect balance of juice to liquor to vodka, and I was transported out of Café Livorno's to a warm beach.
La Panetière tweeted last week about it's signature summer cocktail, Celestial Bubbles ($20.95), so sampling this drink seemed the perfect way to end the quest for Rye's best. A unique idea of combining mint, vodka and contreiu with champagne and lime juice, this drink was as difficult to drink as it sounds to make. The combination of so many flavors ended in an overpowering menthol taste instead of a refreshing, sparkling drink. With a hefty price tag, this drink might be better enjoyed at home with a few personal alterations for improvement using the recipe found on La Panetière's website.
The Verdict: It was a tough choice between Café Livorno and Aurora. The cocktails at these two restaurants were enjoyable and both invoked summer. While Café Livorno's Ocean Breeze Cosmopolitan was a creative drink that actually worked, it's the simple and fresh crispness of Aurora's pomegranate martini that I found to be the best.
Who has the best summer cocktail in Rye? Vote in our poll.