A gin and Suze cocktail that glows like the sun around a golden orb. A bracing coffee drink bright with grapefruit. A Gibson-esque tribute playing with lemon verbena and pickled ramps. This is what summer tastes like this month. From New Orleans to Portland, these are the 11 cocktails worth drinking at bars now.
Can't make it out to taste one of great August drinks? Try making the Rumours cocktail from this list at home.
A Tron-themed bar hidden inside an arcade bar? Welcome to The Grid at Coin-Op Game Room. Opened in June, The Grid is no pretentious speakeasy, despite the reservations-only format on Yelp. What it does is limit the crowds to keep the futuristic-yet-soothing white space, tempered by blues and greys, chill. Bar manager Jason Huffman has fun playing with ingredients like peppermint chlorophyll and bee resin as his team hands out giveaways like leis or bee charms with specific drinks. The latter, the Bee Original, is a floral, bitter, boozy sipper of Sipsmith London dry gin, Suze, bee pollen simple syrup, Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 and lemon oil. A glowing orange ice sphere made with propolis (bee resin) slowly dissolves into the herbaceous, bitter, citrusy drink, releasing subtle menthol notes.
Hitting four years in February, Hodges Bend is not only a Tulsa/Oklahoma classic but one of the country’s great bar. You’ll find a list of cocktails that sing alongside an extensive vinyl collection and leather banquettes. The owners’ passion for coffee shows in excellent seed-to-cup espresso drinks featuring local Topeca Coffee Roasters. This coffee perfection translates to the celebrated coffee cocktails that are ideal at brunch. The Key West Breakfast is a bright showstopper of Gosling’s rum, cold-brew concentrate and cinnamon syrup, enlivened with grapefruit juice and bitters and layered with silky egg white.
Open upstairs in 2015 inside the West Loop’s ultra-cool, exclusive Soho House Chicago, Fox Bar is a late-night, wood-paneled, plaid and, yes, fox-taxidermy-lined drinking den. Hidden upstairs, next door to the retro-cool rotisserie Chicken Shop, the bar feels like a your own private lounge, with a British hunting vibe and comfy chairs. Cocktails are easy-drinking yet not dumbed down. Case in point: the Genever Fizz. Bols genever and St. George spiced pear liqueur play in a tall glass with lime, Peychaud’s bitters, Jarritos guava soda and saline solution, all frothy with egg white. Spiced and malty, it’s bracing and unique.
Austin’s The Roosevelt Room is a bar co-owned by the award-winning bartending team of Dennis Gobis and Justin Lavenue. Their off-menu Martini tribute, the Pour Ma Gueule, translates from French to “for my mouth.” It tantalizes with cassia-bark-smoked dry gin, dry vermouth and maraschino liqueur. The trio gets a bracing kick from verjus and St. George Absinthe Verte, with added texture and citrus brightness from orange bitters, chilled water, grapefruit and lime oils. The result is crisp and herbaceous, unfolding with cinnamon and smoke.
Bar manager Nicky Beyries continues to push the boundaries with elegant deliciousness at Foreign Cinema, from a rare Japanese whisky selection (like a stunning 30-year-old Mars Shinshu Komagatake whisky) to a raicilla spirits selection from Jalisco, Mexico. On the Japanese whisky front, she plays with Kikori whisky in the Many Happy Returns, a clear, silky cocktail where pineapple gomme syrup and house bergamot bitters enhance the lighter, rice-based whiskey, while white sage adds an herbaceous, garden whisper—perfect over dinner watching foreign and arthouse films on the wall in the restaurant’s iconic outdoor patio.
Hidden upstairs in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Kissa Tanto is a seductive, retro supperclub marked by a long, lamp-lit bar, peach-colored booths and floral wallpaper. The space feels as if it could be London or Hong Kong, while the food is an imaginative array of Japanese-Italian dishes like a lasagna layered with pork-sake kasu ragu and miso béchamel. Cocktails are likewise flirtatious, pulling from a range of spirits. None stand out more than the My Private Tokyo, a low-proof sipper of amaretto liqueur, dry vermouth and umeshu plum wine, balanced by lemon, egg white and plum sea salt. It’s nutty, sweet, salty, citrusy and lush—the ideal apéritif.
A neighborhood restaurant favorite since opening in 2011, Portland, Ore.’s Aviary is the kind of place where rabbit plays with miso and tzatziki in the same dish. On the bar side, a range of flavors and culinary kitchen ingredients interact, thanks to bar manager Justin Garcidiaz. The cheekily named Melon Brando takes on bitter melon using freshly squeezed melon juice balanced by Krogstad Festlig aquavit, uber-sweet Midori melon liqueur, a touch of Pernod absinthe and Giffard Banane du Brésil liqueur, lime and chile salt. It’s refreshing, bitter, sweet, bright and a little savory, all at once.
At Rich Table, bar manager Tommy Quimby turns out nuanced sippers that reflect the season and don’t overpower the food. The Summer in the City is just that: a briney, cool, floral ode to summer, combining Fords gin and Dolin blanc vermouth, lively and unforgettable with lemon verbena and pickled ramps. Consider it a Martini-/Gibson-esque tribute to a NorCal summer.
Named after San Francisco’s stunning park, Chicago’s Presidio embodies Bay Area sensibilities with its seasonal drinks and international influence. Its current menu is a map of the Americas, featuring cocktails inspired by Peru, Jamaica, Brazil and beyond, in keeping with the bar (and S.F.’s decades-long dominance in) spirits like pisco, fernet and agave spirits. The Bolivia, created by bartender Sam Lyden, showcases the namesake country’s native spirit, Singani 63 brandy, and the tart brightness of summer. The perfumed, clear brandy sings with tart cherry and black pepper syrup, aromatic with makrut lime and kicked up by grapefruit.
Root and its sister restaurant, Square Root, are two of New Orleans great restaurants, now housed in the same Magazine Street building. Downstairs, upscale Square Root is a 16-seat bar and tasting menu in full view of a live kitchen. With an only-in-Nola feel from its wraparound balcony, upstairs is the more casual Root, where cocktails flow with duck sticky buns and beef-oyster tartare. Bartender Waites Laseter created the Rumours, a drink of Sandeman 20-year-old tawny port and Macchu pisco, drawn together in earthy, nutty, herbaceous harmony. The spirits are partnered with freshly squeezed orange juice, a splash of lemon juice, Luxardo maraschino cherry juice and drops of El Guapo Love Potion No. 9 bitters. An egg white layer keeps it light and silky.
Inside the historic former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad headquarters—now Kimpton Hotel Monaco—the lofty B&O American Brasserie is one of Baltimore’s pioneering bars, thanks to head bartender Brendan Dorr, who has tended bar in a number of notable NYC spots. Over the years, a few B&O drinks have become house classics, including the Coppertop No.1, a savory, refreshing cocktail featuring New York Distilling Company Dorothy Parker gin, Yellow Chartreuse, house ginger syrup and lemon, given peppery depth from pink and black peppercorns.
Mixing your cocktail