So it’s not as great a pair-up as it could have been–after all, National Tequila Day was back in late July–but hey, are you going to turn down a liquor holiday when you can also chow down on tacos? Today is National Vodka Day, celebrating that wonderful spirit that has a storied history of being one of the most versatile liquors around. Made from distilled potatoes, vodka has been around for centuries, probably stemming from modern-day Russia in the 9th century. That’s a long time to be drinking! We associate vodka with that region of the world now, almost being the “official” drink of Russia, but vodka in the modern age is produced all over the world. It’s currently the most popular hard liquor in the United States, due to the claim that vodka is colorless, odorless, and flavorless–which makes it the perfect liquor to add to mixed drinks. (Personally, I think that’s a load of bull–and so does any other former college student who took a whiff inside a plastic jug handle of Barton’s. That stuff smells!) Vodka’s versatility also allows for a myriad of flavor infusions, both homemade and manufactured, of everything from cranberries and honey to jalapenos, whipped cream, coffee, and–you heard this right–bacon. It’s made vodka one of the most popular liquors to order, whether straight-up, in a mixed drink, or as a shot. So no matter how you like your liquor–if you can handle it like an old Cossack stationed in the frigid Russian tundra, or you’re so lightweight you have to chase your vodka down with a gallon of cranberry juice–there’s a vodka out there for you on National Vodka Day!
And there’s no better place to find that perfect flavor and brand of vodka for you than at a vodka bar, where the bartenders and all the staff know everything there is to know about the coveted spirit. You can try out all the different ways to take your vodka medicine–in shots, in straight glasses, in a fruity mixed drink or a strong vodka martini–at the Russian Vodka Room in the theater district. Nothing says vodka like Russian vodka, right? And while the ambience of the lounge may feel more like a loud club down in Brighton Beach, their quieter hours, like the afternoon happy hours from 4:00 to 7:00, give you a great window of opportunity to try all the vodka your liver can handle. There are more than 50 different vodkas to choose from at this bar, many of which are homemade infusions in gigantic bell-jars lining the back wall of the bar. There are sweet infusions, like pomegranate and pineapple, that will definitely tickle your taste buds, especially in a vodka-Sprite cocktail. And the harsher, rougher infusions–like ginger and horseradish–are perfect, strong complements to the Russian-themed bar food, like gravlax and borscht. Order a sampler of six vodka shots and challenge the old Russian regulars at the bar–if you think you can handle it.
Russian Vodka Room
265 W 52nd St (between 8th Ave & Broadway)
“The name seems to say it all, but there’s more to the Russian Vodka Room than just a neat glass of vodka. Listen closely as Russian accents mingle through the crowd, while a live pianist adds a bit of elegance to the bar. Choose from more than 50 different vodkas, including house infusions ranging from strawberry to pepper and dill, knocking you off your barstool with an iced shot. Arrive early to enjoy happy hour specials from 4 to 7 p.m. daily and enjoy shots of flavored vodka for $3.50 and martinis for only $5.”–CBS New York
“The Vodka Room features a glowing, sophisticated front room with nightly piano player (and the superlative Dmitri Kolesnik Jazz Trio on Monday, free of charge), a more sumptuous back room, a generous Attitude Adjustment Hour (that’s Russki for “Happy Hour”), and more exotically infused vodkas (horseradish! ginger! pepper!) than you can shake a babushka at.”–Fodor’s
“The vast horseshoe-shaped bar is always packed with a mix of young Russian and American rowdies with roving eyes. In the bright dining room, inebriated patrons feast on gravlax with potato pancakes and cabbage pie. Entrées like chicken tabaka (a split Cornish game hen broiled under a press) are unabashed greasy goodness. And while there’s much debate about the authenticity of certain flavors of “Russian infused vodka,” the horseradish shot packs a punch that goes well with the food and the flirting.”–Time Out New York
“Those huge jars of liquid behind the bar are not science experiments; they’re vats of delicious, ferocious homemade flavor-infused vodka. One shot, served by the lovely bartendress, will knock you off your barstool. After two, you’ll be cheering the end of the Cold War with the rest of the talkative Russians downing shots at the curved bar and front banquettes, or dining on caviar-topped blinis at the dimly-lit tables in back.”–New York Magazine
“Flavored vodkas behind the bar are a rare treat: horseradish, pepper, pineapple, strawberry, ginger, etc. Take your pick, or get a tasting menu. Either way you’ll be nicely sauced before the show at Roseland across the street. Classic Russian fare (gravlax, borsht) for those feeling adventurous, or just a bit peckish. No windows, but live piano adds charming, old-school touch.”–Black Book Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Best vodka infusions ever. I had garlic pepper & dill, horseradish, and ginger and they were amazing: like drinking those ingredients in vodka. Mind you, the really good kind of vodka – made for sipping, not shooting (as my co-drinker realized). Apparently the fruity flavors were just as good (again, testified by my co-drinker). That’s definitely the main draw of RVR, but the food is quite good too: my Russian dumplings were delicious, and so was my comrade’s borscht and beef stroganoff.”–Vanni P.
“I hesitantly ordered the watermelon martini. Not that I hate martinis, it’s just that most fruit flavored martinis are full of sweet artificial crap. This was not it. It was one of the strongest martinis I’ve had with such a pack of watermelon flavor. It was not like jolly rancher watermelon but honest to goodness fresh watermelon! So bomb. There’s a bigger dining area in the back and a piano man. I mostly stayed that the bar with really receptive bartenders. My next drink was the 4G which had four different ginger combinations in it. Love at first description. It was strong and refreshing. Great drink to end a nice night in Manhattan.”–Angela P.
Not a big drinker, but still want to celebrate National Vodka Day? There’s something for everybody when it comes to vodka, and that even includes the non-drinkers. Surprisingly, the culinary culture that came up with the brilliant idea to make a sauce out of vodka wasn’t Russia–it was Italy! Italian vodka sauce has become very popular as a new and interesting alternative to your typical marinara at the local trattoria. The vodka cooked into a traditional tomato sauce releases flavors in the tomato that are hidden in other sauces, leaving a heady, thick kind of flavor to the sauce (as well as its pinkish hue). Most vodka sauces aren’t anything to crow about, but in New York City, where the pizza slice reigns supreme, you can find the best vodka sauce sitting on top of a pizza pie. Pomodoro Pizza, in the heart of Little Italy, isn’t that much to look at in terms of a famous pizza joint, and has gotten a lot of criticism for its regular slices (especially when you’re right across the street from the famous Lombardi’s), but it’s an entirely different story when you sink your teeth into a vodka slice. With a vodka sauce that’s made fresh daily and a topping of fresh mozzarella to the slice, it’s a gourmet twist on the old favorite of Mulberry Street, the creamy vodka sauce making the slice feel extra decadent. Unlike many other vodka sauces, which are traditionally smooth, Pomodoro makes them with chunks of tomato–perhaps not the best texture for a penne alla vodka, but on a pizza slice it’s absolutely perfect. Tourists can take their money across the street to the famous Lombardi’s for a regular slice; real New Yorkers will order the vodka slice at Pomodoro’s.
51 Spring St (between Mulberry St & Lafayette St)
“It is particularly enigmatic that a neon-happy, glorified hole-in-the-wall should thrive catty-corner to venerable Lombardi’s. Yet somehow Pomodoro manages to do just that, perhaps because it possesses a not-so secret weapon: vodka pizza, a concoction so spicy, rich and gooey that it can rival any slice in the city. Generous pies and individual slices are slathered in the house’s piquant vodka-cream-tomato sauce and covered amply in slabs of fresh mozzarella.”–New York Magazine
“Like I said before, the Vodka Slice is the best pizza in Little Italy. It’s so much better than Lombardi’s. Now, I haven’t had the clam pie at Lombardi’s, and people are really urging me to check this out, so I might have to go back and try it sometime when there’s no line. The Vodka Slice is gorgeous. Vodka sauce, Buffalo Mozzarella … awesome. Why more places don’t use vodka sauce on their pizza is beyond me – it’s damn tasty.”–Wandering Foodie
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“This review is only for their vodka sauce slice. If you enjoy vodka sauce pasta, you’ll really like the pizza version that Pomodoro serves up. I don’t say this lightly, but it’s definitely one of the best slices I’ve had in New York City across all pizza types. The rest of their offerings looked like they had potential, but the vodka slice is a guaranteed standout. Pomodoro looks like your standard city corner shop pizza cafe, but it’s ideal for a quick bite and respite from the touristy hustle and bustle of NoLita.”–Michael C.
“I only come in here for 2 things on the menu, must get vodka pie or slice and the fried calamari. The vodka slice is heavenly with the doughy crisp crust, a la vodka sauce and fresh mozz right on top. If you order the vodka pie, they make it fresh and it is burn the top of your mouth worthy!”–Chrissie S.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!