The Basics Drinking Out

9 Bourbon (and Other Whiskey) Cocktails to Drink in Bars Now

Italian Leather Sofa at Backbar in Somerville, Mass. Image: Anastasia Flaherty

Lovers of American whiskey need little encouragement to order their favorite spirit in a cocktail. After all, bourbon and rye have inspired bartender creativity for the last 200 years. And this month is no different. From Boston to Oakland, these are the nine bourbon and rye cocktails to drink in bars now.

Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great whiskey drinks? Try making the Divided Sky from this list at home.

  • Divided Sky (Chef's Special Cocktail Bar, Chicago)

    Chef's Special Cocktail Bar in Chicago’s Bucktown has a dive bar spirit, outdoor seating and American-Chinese cuisine like king crab fried rice or spicy clams over rice noodles. General manager Chase Bracamontes pours local beers, natural wines and crushable cocktails. The Divided Sky drink amps up bourbon and fernet with vanilla, lemon and a colorful dose of hibiscus, resulting in a toasty, herbal and tart cocktail.

  • Edessa (Existing Conditions, New York City)

    Virginia Miller

    Hitting Greenwich Village in 2018, Existing Conditions opened with serious cocktail pedigree from Dave Arnold (Booker and Dax), Greg Boehm (Cocktail Kingdom) and Don Lee (PDT). Though you’ll find pricey drinks ($40 to $45 cocktails) under the “Limited” menu section featuring rare spirits, the seemingly straightforward cocktail menu utilizes centrifuges and classic techniques like clarifying and fat-washing. There’s also a custom carbonation system for carbonated drinks. Under “Stirred Up,” the spirituous Edessa is robustly subtle with a rye whiskey base, Bénédictine and East India sherry infused with urfa biber (Turkish chile pepper).

  • Pharaoh’s Gold (CDP Bar, Oakland, Calif.)

    Virginia Miller

    With a focus on brandy and sparkling wine, CDP is neighboring Commis’ elegant-yet-not-stuffy cocktail lounge. Chef James Syhabout serves bites at the 24-seat lounge lined with deep reddish-purple banquettes and sunburst chandeliers. Mark Guillaudeu is both sommelier and bar manager, crafting intriguing cocktails like the Pharaoh’s Gold. This bourbon and blanc vermouth cocktail is layered with saffron, sandalwood and a touch of fernet. Its woody cologne-like vibe is fodder for late nights and deep conversation.

  • East End Accord (Julep, Houston)

    Julep has been one of Houston’s best bars since opening in 2014, helmed by Alba Huerta. It offers oysters, lobster rolls, Kentucky hot brown frito pie and warm Southern hospitality. While Huerta’s Cherry Bounce Sour has been one of Julep’s standout bourbon cocktails for years, her East End Accord is a bold mix of bourbon, Clément rhum agricole and ruby port, equal parts lush, nutty and bold and infused with fenugreek seeds. “Accord” is perfumery terminology referring to a balanced blend that together creates a completely new flavor profile.

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  • Odd Couple (The Bindery, Denver)

    Virginia Miller

    Chef and owner Linda Hampsten Fox’s Bindery has been an all-day restaurant, bakery and market staple in Denver’s Highland neighborhood since 2017. Fox’s background as a private chef and teacher in Switzerland, Italy and Mexico influences her international menu in dishes like smoked rabbit rellenos or artichoke, cognac and Parmesan risotto. Cocktails keep step but don’t overpower the food. Case in point: The Odd Couple runs smooth, tart, sweet, silky and herbaceous with bourbon, pomegranate, lemon, sage and egg white.

  • Good Morning, Kevin (Proof on Main, Louisville, Ky.)

    Virginia Miller

    Louisville’s 21c Museum Hotel is the O.G. location of the beloved hotel/art museum line, and Proof on Main is a cocktail pioneer since 2006 in Bourbon Country. While it excels at much more than bourbon, the whiskey selection and cocktails are signature. Beverage director Jeff Swoboda and team oversee a changing drink menu with a robust highball section and a “Type O” section (standing for “confident, ambitious, intuitive, agreeable, competitive” drinks) like the Good Morning, Kevin, a morning-worthy Old Grand-Dad bourbon highball with cold-brew coffee, maple syrup, egg and soda.

  • Paisley Island (Bar Beau, New York City)

    Tucked away inside a charming coffee shop by day, Bar Beau opens into a lofty backroom with a dramatic bar. It’s more than just a bar with gratifying bites like scallop corn fritters or a bright spring pea mache salad in sesame ginger dressing. The Paisley Island is a silky egg white cocktail that combines Toki Japanese whisky with Heaven Hill bourbon and Montenegro amaro. This boozy blend gains nuance from cucumber, coconut, cardamom bitters and a chile-sesame oil garnish.

  • What Pho? (Bird & the Bottle, Santa Rosa, Calif.)

    Virginia Miller

    The latest restaurant from Sonoma County’s Stark Restaurants is Bird & the Bottle, a casual tavern of wood-fired and house-smoked foods heavy on seafood, pastrami tacos and fried chicken. While drinks go down easy, the restaurant thoughtfully features ingredients like house-made white pepper horseradish syrup. There are a few whiskey drinks on the menu, but the What Pho? has been the most popular, featuring a mix of Old Grand-Dad bourbon and Rittenhouse rye, amped up with lemon and a house-made tamarind drinking vinegar.

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  • Italian Leather Sofa (Backbar, Somerville, Mass.)

    Italian Leather Sofa at Backbar in Somerville, Mass. Anastasia Flaherty

    Low-key Backbar has been a Boston area great since 2011. Carlo Caroscio and team fine-tune the cocktails together, often with a touch of whimsy. Named after the Cake song, the Italian Leather Sofa combines Angel’s Envy bourbon and Rittenhouse rye (a double shot of American whiskeys) with a balanced mix of Ramazzotti, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, Italicus rosolio di bergamotto liqueur and smoky tobacco kick that evokes Italian leather with hints of oak, spice and tobacco.