Patrons at Death & Co in the East Village accompany...

Patrons at Death & Co in the East Village accompany their beers and cocktails with a sampling of sliders and French fries. (Jan. 23, 2011) Credit: Photo by Nancy Borowick

For those who take their spirits seriously, and their martinis stirred (never shaken), a top-notch cocktail bar is like a desert oasis: There's no way to pass it up. These five offer romance with your Rob Roy, or a cordial spot to sip cordials -- and they're attitude-free. Life's too short to put up with surly service.

1. Death & Co.

WHAT This Lower East Side speak-easy retains Prohibition-era flavor, from classics to juleps to punch. The discreet entry has a modern twist -- the guard takes your cell number and calls when tables open up. (Alas, they don't take reservations; get there before 7:30 to avoid a wait.)

WHEN | WHERE Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday through Thursday 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.; 433 E. Sixth St.

INFO Cocktails $13, 212-388-0882,

2. Little Branch

WHAT "Little" is right. This basement space offers wood booths, a short bar and lines outside after 7:15. It's cash-only and ambience-light, but we dig the corrugated metal ceiling, lanterns on servers' trays, and cut blocks of ice, not cubes (nothing's watered down here). Try the Diablo (tequila, fresh ginger), Sazerac (rye, bitters, absinthe, crushed sugar cube) or Hot Buttered Rum.

WHEN | WHERE Monday through Saturday 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., 20 Seventh Ave. S.

INFO Cocktails $13, 212-929-4360,

3. The Campbell Apartment

WHAT Metro-North commuters have long known this classy standby in Grand Central Terminal. Pricey, sumptuous and sure to impress a date -- the former salon of Jazz Age tycoon John W. Campbell boasts stunning woodwork and fireplace. Hit it on weekends or late nights to avoid the biz crowd; leave sneakers and torn jeans at home.

WHEN | WHERE Friday till 2 a.m., Saturday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday 3 to 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday noon to 1 a.m., 15 Vanderbilt Ave. (near 43rd Street)

INFO Cocktails $14, 212-953-0409,

4. Henry Public

WHAT This former TV repair shop in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill is 1850s-chic -- frosted glass, quaint booths, zinc-top bar, dim romantic lighting . . . and cash only. Try the Ether or Brooklyn Ferry (whiskey and absinthe), or frothy Eagle's Dream (gin, egg whites, crème de violette).

WHEN | WHERE Friday till 4 a.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., 329 Henry St., Brooklyn

INFO Cocktails $10-$11 (cash only), 718-852-8630,

5. The Richardson

WHAT Come check out the galleries in Williamsburg, then chill at this spacious, unpretentious, nice-priced locals bar. Twenty cocktails to try, from classics (Old Fashioned, Manhattan, even a "Brooklyn") to house specials (Treebeard, with Austrian pine liqueur; Polish Bear, with birch juice and Zubrowka -- Polish "bison grass" vodka). And under the BQE overpass, for quick access in and out.

WHEN | WHERE Daily noon to 4 a.m. 451 Graham Ave. (at Richardson Street), Brooklyn

INFO Cocktails $9-$11, 718-389-0839,

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