It’s 2018, and the craft cocktail movement is as strong as ever—and not just on the coasts. Ambitious new bar programs continue to find homes in cities like Nashville and Santa Barbara, Calif., as well as in established drinking towns like Austin and Las Vegas. So get out there and support the movement. These are the five hottest new cocktails bars to drink at now.
What happens when the team behind a two-Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant opens a cocktail bar? Magic. Chef David Barzelay and bar manager Nicolas Torres of Lazy Bear fame cut the ribbon on True Laurel last December, and already it has taken the cocktail community by storm. Torres delivers high-concept cocktails featuring ingredients such as rancio wine, fermented tonic, black lime bitters and Jamaican soda Ting. But the drinks remain crushable, as with the Mai O Mai, a silky sipper of Panamanian rum, milk-washed and clarified with pistachio orgeat, lime and curacao and topped with a coffee-rum float. Work your way through the creative menu, but whatever you do, don’t miss chef Barzelay’s aged beef, griddled patty melt.
Academia is inspired, in part, by the kind of Ivy League faculty lounges in which corduroyed intellectuals mingle between lectures sipping Earl Grey tea. Which isn’t to say the bar is snoozy. In fact, the erudite vibe takes on a whole new dimension when you learn that the playlist is curated by Grammy-nominated sound engineers and the mood beams are designed by a Cirque du Soleil lighting director. The drinks are smart too, often taking trashy cocktails from years past and turning them on their heads, as with a Cosmopolitan mixed with freshly pressed cranberry juice and orange oil. For an education is savory sipping, try the Raw Dill, made with aquavit, dry vermouth, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, saline solution, dill and a garnish of salmon roe.
In downtown Santa Barbara, the former Somerset transformed in December 2017 to Smithy Kitchen + Bar, helmed by chef Lauren Herman. A glowing olive-tree-lined patio and understated, modern dining room and bar invite regulars in for squid ink pasta and fried Korean chili chicken. Bar director Chad Nielson puts together a ambitious drinks program featuring cocktails that play with ingredients such as freshly pressed fennel and pear juice and under-the-radar spirits like kümmel. In his off-menu Buana Larang, Nielson makes Batavia arrack the star, balanced by apricot liqueur, a touch of Wray & Nephew overproof rum, Peychaud’s bitters, lemon and tamarind.
When Tom Morales opened Woolworth on 5th in December, Nashville gained not just a new restaurant and three bars—one on each floor, from mezzanine to basement—but an important reminder of hard-won rights. The former F. W. Woolworth department store looks and feels just as it did when locals braved lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s civil rights movement. The recently opened ballroom hosts live swing and soul nights, making the space a multi-use communal gathering. In the restaurant, Southern Caesar salad (with country ham and fried okra) and pimento cheeseburgers accompany the likes of the clarified Baby Doll Milk Punch (white and aged rum, cognac, pineapple, spices, milk and coconut green chai) and the Sage Advice (Gin Lane Victoria Pink gin, grapefruit sage shrub and hopped bitters), with a relaxed yet elegant old bar upstairs in the mezzanine overlooking the restaurant for those wanting to come in just for cocktails.
Amazingly, the Las Vegas Strip is still not an easy place to get a well-crafted drink. But in a raging sea of Vodka Red Bulls, a beacon of light exists. Tucked amid The Venetian’s faux Italian canals and endless retail malls, the hotel recently unveiled Rosina, a hidden classic cocktail bar. With a sleek Art Deco aesthetic and a Champagne call button to top off your glass, the menu is curated by industry vets David Rabin and Sam Ross. Modern classics like the Penicillin are served alongside house selections and old-school standbys in an intimate, luxurious space marked by rose velvet chairs and crystal chandeliers. Stay tuned: Rosina is the first of three new cocktail bars in the works at The Venetian.