That a boy, Atta Boy!
I’m a greasy spoon kinda guy, always have been. The more rundown the sign hanging in front of the restaurant, the greater my expectations. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my pants get a little tighter thinking about a 2 Star Michelin restaurant in Provence. I probably care a little too much about Michelin Stars and World's 50 Best rating to be honest, as I don’t always agree. But it still tickles my ego when I find out that I’ve eaten at one that’s made the list. So, when Atta Boy, the bar tucked away on a narrow street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was anointed North America’s #1 bar, I had to check it out.
This isn’t a review blog, I typically write about specific foods and drinks, only mentioning the establishment in passing not making it the focal point. But when I failed to go to NYC’s Eleven Madison Park after it won the title of #1 Restaurant in the World in 2017, I promised I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Therefore, I'm making an exception.
Atta Boy was founded by Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy in 2012, the disciples of now deceased cocktail luminary Sasha Nathan Petraske and his bar Milk & Honey. The trio is responsible for reviving the “cocktail culture” in the aughts of the twenty-first century. I have a special place in my heart for Sam Ross, the creator of one of my favorite cocktails, the “Penicillin”, a mix of whisky, honey, ginger and lemon juice. A drink so good, it makes me want to catch the flu. He’s also known as the inventor of the “Paper Plane”, bourbon, Aperol, Italian Amaro and lemon juice.
Michael McIlroy started bartending at 16 years old. By 21, he knew he wanted work at Milk & Honey, so he flew across the Atlantic and did exactly that. It’s only fitting that the partners opened their Atta Boy bar in the vacated space of Milk & Honey, while maintaining the incredible cocktail spirit but making it their own “everyman’s bar”. They’ve since expanded their growing empire and opened an Atta Boy in Nashville. Mixologist Haley Traub oversees the bar and under her tutelage, Atta Boy earned both the #1 Best Bar in North America and also the #34 Best Bar in the World. What will next year bring?
Does it live up to the hype?
At first glance,134 Eldridge St. has all the trappings of being “too cool for school”. There’s no sign. Just the words “Tailors M&H Alterations' ' written on the glass of a gated window. A small huddle of people gather on a garbage-stained sidewalk, a perfume of piss and weed permeate the LES air. A doorman intermittently walks in and out of a nondescript steel door. I’m not sure how many of you can relate, but with each swing of the door, you start to feel the growing anticipation of a young twenty-something standing outside the Limelight in 1995. Door opens, it’s your turn.
The inside is long and tight, like a railroad apartment in Jersey City. A thin wooden bar with eight chairs takes up nearly a third of the space with just enough room for three barkeeps to make their magic potions. The room is the opposite of pretentious with a few tiny booths that might trick you into thinking you're in a burger joint. A row of exposed lightbulbs hang from the ceiling casting shadows on a jagged skyline of uneven whiskey bottles, bourbons, gins and liqueurs. But be warned, Atta Boy is a Vodka Free Zone. I asked if this was due to supply chain issues or was a political stance, but our drink maker was quick to confirm what I’ve felt for a long time. Vodka is a filler that offers no real value when crafting cocktails.
There is no menu, which means there’s also no price list so be warned. But you are visiting North America’s #1 bar so shake the moths out of your wallet and be prepared for something special. The sorceress, I mean drink maker, took time to ask the table specific questions. What’s your preferred spirit? Do you like sweet or savory? Citrus or herbs? I was given a gin cocktail, with nodes of cucumber and herbs. It was refreshing, like drinking a liquid garden. We ordered a paper plane, just to say we tried it where it was invented; ironically, I've had better. But their take on an unconventional bourbon Manhattan with house made bitters is my favorite cocktail of 2022.
The pièce de résistance
Atta Boy is strategically located in walking distance to some of my favorite city spots. Grab a pre-dinner cocktail before heading over to Estela for their beef tartar with elderberries and sunchoke. Or stumble around the corner for the late-night best slice of pepperoni at Prince St. Pizza.
Is Atta Boy the best bar in North America? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but if you don't go soon, it might turn into a vegan restaurant. #elevenmadisonparkcallback