2020 Cocktail Bar of the Year: Ghost Donkey

When East Village bar Mayahuel opened in 2009, it ushered in a golden era for mezcal in the United States, and when it shuttered in 2017, a new agave refuge was already stirring nearby on Bleecker Street. With Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez at the helm, Ghost Donkey had opened in the former Madam Geneva space in the fall of 2016. “Mayahuel’s approach to mezcal and tequila needed to be serious, because people looked at the spirit as something you would shoot and not sip—there wasn’t the respect and knowledge that exists today,” says Jimenez. Instead of building a chapel-like space with hushed reverence for the spirit, he aimed for a place that would be bright and energetic, and would always put hospitality first.

Constellations of lights sparkle through the bar’s rosy pink hue, making the mood perpetually upbeat. Jimenez can often be found behind the bar, enjoying the (usually Mexican) music or swinging the bar’s hanging lights to rev up the crowd’s energy as he mixes cocktails with ingredients that speak to his Mexican heritage. The Mole Negroni, for example, features spices from the Oaxacan dish, while the tequila-fueled Batanga gets amped up with bittersweet Mexican Fernet-Vallet.

Ninety-eight percent of the backbar is comprised of mezcal or tequila sourced from producers Jimenez knows and trusts, and the bartenders are like family—a testament to Jimenez’s warm and inclusive leadership style. “Twenty years ago, when I first came to America, being Mexican was something you hid behind. Now, it’s something you cherish,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to provide a space where everyone is safe, and here it doesn’t matter if you’re Mexican or not—if you have good vibes, come on in, let’s have fun!”

The formula proved so successful in New York that it’s now hitting the road, with a recently opened Las Vegas location and another slated to open in Denver early this year. “I want people to feel at home here,” he says. “No matter what Ghost Donkey you visit, you’ll walk into a warm space full of smiles and good music, good food, and good personalities.”


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