Kara Newman, author of the new book “Nightcap: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening,” explains the history of the nightcap and offers some spiffy spots in New Jersey to get one, plus one to try at home.

Q. What inspired your book?

A. Honestly, I just felt it was an unsung category, but an interesting one. Every bartender seems to have a nightcap, even though there’s virtually no consensus as to what a “nightcap” style cocktail exactly is.

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Q. So what is a nightcap, and where did the word come from? One of the problems with writing this book is that there is no true definition of a “nightcap” cocktail. It’s not a specific drink style like a Martini or a category like the aperitivo. I decided that it has more to do with the situation: it’s something you drink at the end of the night. But there are a lot of different “end of night” situations. The book reflects some of those — i.e. dessert, post-meal drinks that feature soothingly bitter amaro, low alcohol drinks for when you want to keep the conversation flowing.

In terms of the history, “nightcap” as hat for sleeping pre-dates “nightcap” as end-of-night drink. The earliest definition I found is in The Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett, 1848: “A glass of hot toddy or gin-sling taken before bed at night. When a second glass is taken, it is called ‘a string to tie it with.’”

Can you share a recipe from the book with us?

Nightcap recipe: Black Manhattan

The Manhattan (rye, sweet vermouth) is rightfully a classic; but swapping in an ounce of amaro transforms the drink into a new type of classic. This drink style originated at San Francisco bar Bourbon & Branch circa 2005, using mild Averna amaro. I prefer the lush berry notes of Ramazotti, but you can use any mellower amaro you like.


 2 oz. rye whiskey

1 oz. Ramazotti

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Brandied cherry, for garnish

In a mixing glass, stir together all ingredients with ice. Strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with brandied cherry.


Get Your Copy

“Nightcap” is available at bookstores, including Words Bookstore in Maplewood, where signed copies are available. Your can also order it online via Amazon, Barnes & Noble or direct from the publisher, Chronicle Books.


Thirsty for more?

Newman polled some fellow cocktail lovers in the know for their favorite places in the state for a nightcap. The following came highly recommended:

Pascal & Sabine in Asbury Park

Cranford Hotel in Cranford

The Barrow House in Clifton

Elysian Café in Hoboken

The Archer in Jersey City

Dullboy in Jersey City

The Boat House in Lambertville

Coda Kitchen and Bar in Maplewood

Moonshine Supper Club in Millburn

Pharmacie Liquor Bar in Montclair

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown

Catherine Lombardi in New Brunswick

Yankee Doodle Tap Room in Princeton