So what if it isn’t yet the weekend; Thursday night is the perfect time to indulge in a little rum punch for National Rum Punch Day! No one expects you to get much work done on Fridays anyway 😉 While we already had National Rum Day last month, Rum Punch should certainly get its own national food holiday for its historical significance as a drink in itself. The broad definition of “punch” is just a drink that contains fruit or fruit juice, and may or may not be alcoholic. It’s often made in large batches and served in communal punch bowls at parties. Rum punch has been around almost as long as rum has been: rum made in the New World was mixed with lemon or lime juice and weak beer to make grog, a popular drink with the British Royal Navy in the 18th century. Nowadays, rum punches can vary wildly in their ingredients and tastes, from the super sweet to the perfectly pungent, and everything in between. Some of the more popular modern rum punches are Planter’s Punch, Caribbean Rum Punch, and Barbadian Rum Punch (the recipe for which is a national rhyme, it’s so historically popular!) Indeed, rum punch is way more than dumping a bottle of Captain Morgan into a vat of Crystal Light for your next frat/sorority mixer.
And no bar in New York City knows this better than Cienfuegos, a speakeasy-like hidden gem of a bar in the East Village. Located up a sketchy set of stairs in the back of a sandwich shop, those in the know are rewarded for their diligence with a stunning Cuban lounge, serving tapas and boasting an all-punch menu. Can you believe, a place that only serves rum punches?! You can buy them by the glass, or if you’re with a bunch of friends, order the whole punch bowl to pass around and dip your cup in whenever you fancy. There are no college-level punches here: try out the Punch And Judy, flavored with agave syrup, pineapple, and spiked with Sailor Jerry’s rum–it won the Tales of the Cocktail Punch competition back in 2008. Or “El Cobre”–the Cuban Angel–which is made with aged rum, apricot, orange bitters, and surprisingly, an egg white. Stop at the sandwich shop below Cienfuegos to fill your belly with cheap-ish Cuban sandwiches, and then head upstairs to test out the potency of their 12-year old rums.
95 Ave A
“This rum punch-centric lounge from Ravi DeRossi (co-owner of Mayahuel and Death & Co.) is bright enough to evoke an island getaway, and its simple yet citrusy daiquiris ($13) made with Scarlet Ibis rum add to the illusion. The gigantic, 40-ounce Isle of Pines Punch ($114) will thrust you and five of your guayabera-wearing friends into drunken stupor—its spicy concoction of chocolate bitters, Cynar, Haitian rum and fresh orange juice makes it well worth the splurge.”–Time Out New York
“The drink menu conveniently categorizes the selection of punches according to strength of alcohol and the ingredients listed easily give you an idea of what to expect. If you prefer light and fruity try the Isla Punch with guava and lychee, if you want a boozier option go for the Ernesto. Another favorite is the Hotel Nacional that’s finished off with cava.”–Examiner
“Cienfuegos’ potent champagne cocktails are particularly delicious: The Alabazam punch mixes up 12-year-old rum, maraschino liquor, Lillet Rouge, and bitters, topped with bubbly. There’s a lot going on in that goblet, but it all comes together with an almost magical intensity. Alternatively, the Vesperone—rum, rye, green chartreuse, lime, sage, and champagne—tastes pleasantly bitter-edged and darkly complex.”–Village Voice
“This Cuban rum bar was the first in NYC to develop an entirely punch-based drink menu. The punches come in three serving sizes: single glass, two to three, and groups of four to six. Settle into the tropical decor and unwind with a bowl of the Isle of Manhattan Fizz (Oronoco, Plymouth Gin, coconut puree, lime juice, pineapple juice, orange flower water and soda) or the Caribbean Fish House Punch (Hennessy VS, Smith and Cross Rum, peach brandy, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice).”–CBS New York
“Once you’ve made your way up the creepy stairs, you’ll emerge into a cotton-candy colored world of delight, which photographer Katie Sokoler describes as the setting for the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Located above Carteles Sandwich Shop, Cienfuegos is a 60-seat lounge specializing in various varieties of rum punch, which can be ordered as a single cocktail ($13), a larger “Amigos” size ($30), a still larger “Familia” ($60), and all the way up to the “Royale” ($100), which is big enough for a party of nine to share. (BYO cheese.)”–Gothamist
“It’s here that you’ll want to hold court this summer, where the sugarcane spirit is worshipped in punch bowls and tin cups (ordered in one-, two- and three-finger pours). Upon arrival, you’ll find you’ve shifted back in time and a few degrees closer to the equator—the long room is decked in light green and antique pink, none of the chairs match, there are candle stains on the walls, and all the tables show faint reminders of drinks past.”–Urban Daddy
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Cienfuegos is a rum enthusiast’s paradise. They have rum classics, fizzes, cocktails served hot, and seasonal cocktails. Their rum punches come in different sizes: portioned for one person, two-three people, or four-five people. Getting the largest size for our group of four was a no brainer, and we collectively selected La Isla (Barbancourt 4-yr rum, guava, lychee, lime, orgeat, soda) by process of elimination. The punch was brought to the table in a silver punch tureen and ladled into mismatched punch glasses. Love it! Light and fruity, it was the perfect thing to complete a mellow night.”–Amy S.
“Their cocktails, or punches, are delicious. I’ve tried a ton of them, and I’ve always been happy. The staff graciously offers recommendations if you are overwhelmed by the menu, as well. They come in multiple sizes, too – you can get an individual cocktail if you & your fellow drinker(s) want to try different things, or you can order various sized punch bowls full of drinks. Yum. Great spot for a date or to impress a friend with your knowledge of funky NYC spots!”–Jenna K.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!