Gin is worth drinking any day of the year. But spring seems particularly suited to its green herbaceousness, citrus-driven brightness and chameleon-like versatility. From Nashville to Portland, these 11 bars and restaurants around the country are doing gin cocktails right.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great gin drinks? Try making the Bellevue Heights from this list at home.
The Saratoga is home to one of the best new brunch menus in San Francisco, which means it has some serious Bloody Mary cred. Choose from versions made with mezcal verde or gin and aquavit made festive with carrot, ginger, habanero pepper, pickle brine and soy sauce. For a dish in itself, upgrade your drink to the Hail Mary, garnished with skewers of fried pickles, bacon, quail eggs, jerky, jalapeño poppers, fried chicken and poached shrimp.
Straight off a James Beard award, Henrietta Red serves some of the best food in Nashville. Bar manager and industry vet Patrick Halloran crafts beautifully balanced cocktails and has a deep knowledge of calvados and Armagnac, with some vintage selections on the menu. He does right by local spirits in his Martini variation, the 99 Lives, made with Corsair barrel-aged gin, dry vermouth, Cocchi Americano aperitivo and Luxardo bitter bianco liqueur to keep the drink spirituous yet graceful.
At first glance, Harlem’s Clay seems like your typical farm-to-table restaurant stocked with plenty of natural wines. But Harlem local and bar director Andrea Needell Matteliano likes to play with spirits in creative ways too, harking back to her days at Michelin-starred Agern. The Good Morning Heartache is a gin-based sour cocktail where gin’s herbaceousness plays off the floral-herbal notes of génépy. The drink then goes floral, earthy and vivid from beets, pink peppercorn, lime and hibiscus rose bitters.
The Good Lion brings elevated cocktails to Santa Barbara. Owners Brandon and Misty Ristaino craft smart drinks and serve complimentary punch while you decide what to order. The Gnarls Barkley is a boozy beauty served room temperature that showcases Hotaling & Co. Genevieve genever-style gin, Cutler’s gin and Green Spot Irish single-pot-still whiskey, accented by bitter orange and pink Himalayan sea salt. To take it even further, the drink is paired with local chocolatier Twenty-Four Blackbirds dreamy pink peppercorn licorice salt caramel truffle.
From ever-popular baker-restaurateur Ken Forkish (Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Ken’s Artisan Pizza) comes Trifecta, a warehouse-rustic space that rolls out wood-fired New American dishes and Ken’s famed bread. On the drinks side, bar manager Colin Carroll mixes by-the-book classics with such inventive originals like the Tomato Marrow Gin Gibson, which stirs marrow-infused gin with Dolin dry vermouth and celery bitters, then garnishes it with a pickled pearl onion. The result is a bracing, vegetal riff on a classic Gibson.
Clique is located on the casino floor of The Cosmopolitan, surrounded by the clang of slot machines. But cozy couches, bar food and playfully sweet cocktails offer a break from the chaos. The Two Birds One Stone has enough sweetness to please the Vegas crowd while being balanced and beautiful. A bracing base of Tanqueray gin, Novo Fogo silver cachaça, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao and amontillado sherry goes silky-vegetal with basil cordial, balanced by citrus and a slowly dissolving basil ice sphere.
Copper Spoon opened late last year behind owners Carmen Anderson and Vita Simone Strauss, whose new space includes a long wood bar, cozy booths, lamb merguez burgers and salmon hand rolls. The Who’s Driving? is a house cocktail that tastes like summer in spring, showcasing Fords gin and lemon against the bracing bitterness of Salers gentian liqueur and the berry-vinegar kick from a house-made strawberry shrub.
St. Louis’ Retreat Gastropub delivers on the modern pub fare with a craft beer list. But owner Travis Howard and bar manager Tim Wiggins give cocktails plenty of attention too, in playful menu themes like ’90s television shows. The Wise Guy features St. George Terroir gin, bright with golden beets, pineapple, pink peppercorn and lemon and topped off with a mineral splash of Topo Chico sparkling water in a Collins glass. Garnished with a sprig of rosemary, the herb is torched for dramatic effect and smoky aroma.
What’s a gin cocktail menu without a riff on the Martini? At this lofty Italian restaurant near the Stanford campus, bar manager Massimo Stronati crafts a stunner with the EVOO Martini. You may have seen olive oil drops adding texture to cocktails around the country, and this London dry Martini is silky with EVOO drops. But in addition to orange bitters and green olives as a garnish, Stronati’s “secret” amp-up is PX sherry and a bright, basil freshness from St. George Aqua Perfecta basil eau-de-vie.
The Whistler, in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, is a great cocktail bar that just happens to have a live music venue that features everything from jazz to soul. But the intimate space is also about the drinks, thanks to bar manager Julieta Campos and team. The Bellevue Heights takes inspiration from a classic Clover Club and the Bellevue-Stratford hotel in Philadelphia, where that drink was invented. Playing delicately with Letherbee gin and Tío Pepe fino sherry, the drink unfolds with subtle nutty, creamy, fruity, tannic and dry notes from a house-made pistachio white tea syrup and Greg Buttera’s banana bitters.
Manhattan Cricket Club sits hidden upstairs above Australian restaurant Burke & Wills and feels like an Old World apartment serving exquisite cocktails. Members get first seating and their own liquor lockers, but anyone can drop in and wait for a spot. Founder and general manager Tim Harris walks the winter-spring shoulder season with the Golden Pineangle, which he dubs “Tiki meets apres-ski.” Zirbenz stone pine liqueur and rosemary bitters impart bold alpine notes, while Four Pillars navy-strength gin brings the herbs. Add to that passion fruit, pineapple, lime and silky pandan syrup, and you have a cocktail that’s good any time of the year.
Mixing your cocktail