UPPER EAST SIDE — The burgeoning Upper East Side cocktail scene got a shot in the arm with the opening of The Gilroy last week.
The bar and restaurant, which is located at the corner of Second Avenue and 81st Street, serves 11 craft cocktails and seven versions of the classic Italian concoction the Negroni.
“I wanted to take modern techniques and classic cocktails and bring that scene from downtown to uptown in an unpretentious way,” said co-owner Josh Mazza.
The cocktail list includes simple classics such as the Bijou — a mixture of gin, vermouth and chartreuse that dates back to the 1890s — as well as Mazza’s own take on traditional recipes. For example, he brings Asian flavors to the Moscow Mule, which is traditionally made with vodka, ginger beer and lime, by infusing the vodka with rooibos tea and switching out the ginger for the herb galangal, which has more of a citrus flavor.
The crowd favorite so far has been the Heart of Gold, a bourbon and maple drink topped with smoked, bacon-flavored salt.
“People really seem to love that combination,” Mazza said.
Before venturing out on his own, Mazza, 34, spent several years working for HPH, the hospitality company owned in part by restaurateur Peter Poulakakos. Mazza worked for the company’s beverage director and also helped set up new venues, including popular Chelsea haunt Bathtub Gin.
Mazza, who is originally from Melbourne, Australia, was motivated to open his own place after living on the Upper East Side and noticing some gaps in the market.
“This is a great neighborhood, but there are some holes in the services,” he said. “One of my personal frustrations was not being able to get high-quality late-night food. For us to have this high density of young people and not have a great late-night dining option is crazy.”
To that end, The Gilroy’s kitchen is open every night until 4 a.m. The menu features upscale versions of classic comfort foods such as mac and cheese, chicken pot pie and beef Wellington.
“It’s kind of indulgent,” Mazza said. “You don’t want to weigh people down too much, but I suppose this is a bit more luxurious than your typical bar snack.”
One thing that sets The Gilroy apart from a handful of other cocktail bars that have opened on the Upper East Side in the last year is the focus on Negroni, he said.
Mazza said this decision was selfish.
“I believe it’s the best cocktail there is,” he said. “A truly great cocktail should be simple and harmonious, and a good Negroni is all of that. It also lends itself to experimentation, which keeps it interesting for us.”
The traditional Negroni, which was invented in Florence in 1919, is made of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari bitters. New versions have sprung up using the Negroni as a template.
The Gilroy serves seven versions of the drink that range from the very traditional to the unconventional, like the Oaxaca Negroni, which uses mezcal in place of gin.
The Gilroy also bottles and sells its classic Negroni recipe in small square bottles made for sharing between two people. The bottles are labeled with the month they were created so that customers can purchase different vintages.
“Negroni is like wine in that it changes over time,” Mazza said. “So you can try out different versions and see how they compare.”
Mazza said that neighborhood reaction has been enthusiastic so far.
“We’ve been full every night,” he said. “What more can you ask for?”
The Gilroy is located at 1561 Second Ave. Cocktails and Negronis cost $14 each.