The holidays are that time of year when our calendars are clogged with happy hours and dinner dates and when the frigid winter air tells our bones that it’s cocktail time. Whether you’re looking for a seasonal winter warmer or a bit of tropical escapism in a glass, these are 11 cocktails to drink in bars now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks? Try making the Alpine Hippie Juice from this list at home.
On the ever-changing eastern side of Downtown L.A.’s Arts District, Westbound feels right at home with its cozy booths and copper-topped bar. Besides showcasing “friends” drinks from notable U.S. bars, the cocktails here are a team effort. Esteban Ricardo De Luna’s Lighter Shade of Brown is a recent standout, made with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, mezcal and amontillado sherry, which imparts a nice nutty, earthy flavor that balances the refreshing tartness of the house-made tamarind agua fresca.
Bar Moga’s subtle design and vintage ads set the backdrop for yōshoku-style bites at this bar that pays homage to Japan’s roaring ’20s. The cocktails by Becky McFalls-Schwartz (of Milk & Honey) exhibit an East-meets-West ethos. The Silk Merchant features the milky, slightly acidic Japanese drink Calpico, giving a tart perk to gin, lemon, shiso, cardamom and rose petal in a light, creamy drink that recalls England by way of Japan.
Pläj (pronounced “play”) is a tucked-away SF gem showcasing Sweden native Roberth Sundell’s inspired Scandinavian dishes. Alongside house-infused aquavits, cocktails shine when pulling from the culinary influences of the food. The Swedish Gold does so beautifully, featuring local SF Farallon gin with a lively mustard dill shrub. The drink’s herbaceous, vinegar backbone is balanced out by lemon, honey and a dusting of cracked black pepper. With aged herring or rye-crouton-dotted soup, it makes for an ideal winter pairing.
Proof has been one of Upper King’s bar greats since 2012, a laid-back spot that draws in the neighborhood, industry and travelers alike for well-crafted cocktails and a chill vibe. Craig Nelson and crew turn out a range of beauties that drink well all year round. The dreamy, dessert-like Pink Rabbit brings a hint of summer to wintery spice with a house-made strawberry “quik” (strawberry jam, vanilla bean and milk) that melds with the spicy sweetness of Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Hendrick’s gin and mole bitters adding more earthy spice ideal for warming up a winter chill.
In a city where it’s usually “go big or go home,” mini-cocktails are the standouts at The Dorsey at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip. The Mosquito is vividly pink with Campari liqueur, mezcal, lemon and an intense, spicy fresh ginger juice that makes it taste almost healthy. The tart-bitter-spiced-smoky sipper reinvigorates and awakes like a burst of cold winter air. P.S.: Watch for a slew of new cocktail-geek-worthy bars opening in The Venetian over the coming months.
At Kansas City, Mo.’s Julep Cocktail Club, co-owner and bar manager Beau Williams crafts a drink menu of Mint Juleps and Old Fashioneds alongside seasonal specials like the Alejandro. The cocktail rolls out with hints of smoke, bittersweet and chile spice. Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal and CH Distillery’s CH-Dogma Amargo de Chile get the lush treatment from cream, balanced out by turbinado sugar and dusted with nutmeg, releasing that mole spice and mezcal brightness. Consider it a cocktail aficionado’s unusual creamy Christmas drink.
Outer Richmond’s delightful Fiorella is an SF destination for excellent wood-fired pizzas, pastas and brunch with a heat-lamp-warmed back patio lined with succulents. Fiorella launched its first low-ABV cocktail menu this fall with the Grapefruits of Wrath, a drink featuring Pampleau apéritif grapefruit wine and lemon juice enhanced by Cocchi Americano aperitivo and given a spiced depth from Bittercube Corazón bitters. It goes down light and easy during brunch or any meal really.
In Dallas’ Deep Ellum ’hood, molecular cocktail bar Hide remains playful with its experimental drinks from director of beverage Scott Jenkins and crew. The Turbo Quaker is a holiday-worthy cocktail meant for chilly nights. Bourbon is fortified with an infusion of steel-cut oats and milk-washed applejack brandy, imparting a velvety mouthfeel to the drink’s apple-baked profile. Layers of flavor are compounded with sherry, cinnamon, walnut bitters and more frothy-silky texture (not to mention nutty goodness) from pecan orgeat and egg white.
Chicago’s Tiki staple Three Dots and a Dash rolled out holiday sippers in its fall/winter menu from beverage director Kevin Beary, starting with a drink inspired by a classic Brazilian Batida cocktail. The Basic Batida starts with fall notes in a pumpkin-washed overproof rum, then goes Brazilian with a touch of cachaça, wintery with bual Madeira and coffee-infused Armagnac. Creamy and caramelized with dulce de leche, this holiday drink is blessedly not too sweet, although you can certainly call it dessert if you want to.
The 1960s vibe and soundtrack at the delightful MiniBar is enhanced by the service of general manager Jeremy Allen and team, alongside bites like Tokyo-style waffles dusted in togarashi and sesame. At this bar, hidden inside the Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills Hotel, a Martini menu and well-crafted classics feel appropriate. The woodsy Alpine Hippie Juice cocktail sings of evergreen, Christmas-y winter, thanks to fir, cedar and pine notes of Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps. But the drink is refreshingly dry, shaken with lime juice and tart Clear Creek crème de cassis and topped with soda.
With its stellar sherry selection and talented bar staff, The Treasury is an all-day cocktail destination in SF’s Financial District. Pull up to the long, curved bar for the Peach Cobbler cocktail, which shows off a house blend of amontillado, oloroso, PX and palo cortado sherries, sweetened by sous vide peach syrup. The drink is given smoky scotch complexity from a barspoon of Ardbeg 10-year-old scotch, then garnished with dehydrated peach chips and mint. The fruit will change seasonally, but with dehydration and syrups, the drink celebrates summer in the dead of winter.
Mixing your cocktail