Whether the clean lines of a perfect Martini, the earthy farm-to-table goodness of a beet cocktail or the playful kick of shrubs and Sriracha, these 11 drinks are delighting across the flavor spectrum. From Baltimore to Maui, these are the standout cocktails to drink in bars right now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these current drinks? Try making the Lunar Eclipse from this list at home.
Even when it is uneven—and it can be in both food and cocktails—the vibe, service and concept of the much-lauded Woodberry Kitchen is a shining example of farm-to-table but with Baltimore’s own particular voice and warmth. The bar’s impressive spirits collection sticks with small-batch, thoughtfully made spirits, and when a cocktail works, it really works. Given its ethos to only use ingredients in season and locally, it implements vinegars, verjus and shrubs for acid and balance in drinks instead of citrus, showcased beautifully in the earthy brightness of the Rooted In. This cocktail features Letherbee Autumnal gin, beet juice, beet vinegar and honey, enlivened with parsley powder and a kick of ginger.
Just opening in November across from San Francisco’s opera, ballet and symphony houses, August 1 Five (named after the date of India’s independence from British rule) is part India, part London, with modern S.F. flair. The sleek space of blacks and teal blues and inspired, creative Indian dishes also translate to the cocktail menu, where a variation on a classic Pimm’s Cup features Bols Natural Yoghurt liqueur or a classic Dark & Stormy goes Dark & Foamy with ginger foam, served up. The biggest surprise comes in the straightforward Royal Bombay Yacht Club, where popular Ancho Reyes chile liqueur is not a modifier/secondary spirit but the featured ingredient, simply but perfectly balanced by lime and mint. Rather than being too spicy, it’s an integrated taste of spice, fresh chiles, mint and tart lime.
Hipster? Yes, Maketto is a clothing, shoes and accessories retail space shared with its restaurant, bar and café surrounding a courtyard and roof deck. But when the fried chicken (in a droolworthy five-spice caramel fish sauce) and service are this good, it’s the right kind of mashup. Pouring amaro and cult wines from Jura, France, and beyond, there’s also a short but sweet cocktail list that might include the likes of the Camille Montes, a combination of Batavia arrak, tamarind cinnamon syrup, chocolate bitters, egg white and soda water. Think of it as a tamarind-arrack egg cream. You’ll wish you could have it for breakfast with a bagel and lox.
In the heart of Silicon Valley, The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse is flush with the wealth and success of the area and businesses surrounding it. The seafood-heavy outpost of the local East-meets-West Alexander’s Steakhouses is a chic space in soothing whites that houses an unexpectedly stunning spirits collections, including a collector-worthy array of rare whiskeys and brandies. The refined cocktails also surprise, thanks to bar manager Ryan Watkins. They are some of the best and most balanced cocktails on the Peninsula, including the vibrant but integrated Green Machine, expertly mixing a subtle dose of Anchor Distilling’s hoppy Hophead vodka with Green Chartreuse, Thai basil, lime, grapefruit and a whisper of absinthe.
In a charming yet divey Bywater house, Red’s Chinese is a rarity in New Orleans, offering vibrant, modern Chinese food with playful twists not unlike Mission Chinese (a San Francisco original that opened a New York location in following years), which is where chef Tobias Womack worked prior. Ideally paired with the lively flavor of the dishes, cocktails may seem simple, like daily-changing frozen Daiquiri slushies, but the playful straightforwardness of its drinks quench thirst and heat as well as delight. Case in point: the Salted Plum Soda, a salty-sweet beauty of a soda featuring rum with salted plum, velvet falernum, lemon and lime.
On the dreamy Ka’anapali stretch of West Maui (Honolulu making the biggest strides in “craft” cocktails), cocktails run sweet, juice-heavy and cloying. The cocktail renaissance has still to sweep the islands in general, but at Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Fred (Freddie) Sconfienza brings a bit of balance in the form of shrubs and bitters, tempering sweetness and at times showcasing rare local spirits, like Maui okolehao liqueur by Haleakala Distillers. Overseeing all cocktail menus across the hotel’s grounds, some of the best expressions lie in drinks that would be overwrought on other hotel menus but here manage to sing with a range of ingredients. The Sriracha Margarita weaves Tattoo reposado tequila, ginger liqueur, passion fruit puree, lime juice, Sriracha bitters, fresno chiles and cilantro into a bright mix that runs seamlessly from heat to tart, sweet to spiced.
Catch Infirmary during a mellow lunch hour or weeknight dinner, and you’ll find a rare slice of New Orleans in NYC, down to savory-sweet boudin balls and rousing Nola tunes. Nola transplant and bar manager James Cottingham does proper Big Easy classics, from a Ramos Gin Fizz to a balanced absinthe frappe. He also crafts house cocktails like the Street Music, a rosy-bright cocktail featuring a lively peach habanero shrub that evolves seasonally, combined with Spring 44 gin, Aperitivo Select, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and lemon.
Candlelit and hidden behind a nondescript door in a Remington row house, WC Harlan is like being transported to Europe circa the 1920s with antique glassware, vintage furniture and a dim, seductive Old World romance permeating all—with occasional live gypsy jazz and vintage bottles of fernet to make it even more special. Cocktails are as elegant yet inviting as their surroundings. The Little Mozart is an updated version of a classic Momisette (pastis/absinthe, orgeat, sparkling water or wine), here a lush combination of Pernod Ricard Pastis 51, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao and house-made pistachio orgeat, made even more silky with egg white and floral with a touch of orange flower water.
Rambler opened in Hotel Zeppelin in downtown San Francisco early October with a lively upstairs space and a more intimate cozy-chic downstairs dining room and bar. Savoring braised rabbit pot pie under book-lined shelves, bar manager Simone Mims’ cocktail menu is comfortably paired with the dishes, walking that fine line of being both approachable and interesting. There are a number of pleasures on the menu but none more perfect than the splurge-worthy Zeppelin Martini ($25), showcasing ever-expensive Monkey 47 gin from Germany with Tempus Fugit Alessio bianco vermouth and cucumber bitters.
Opened in October bordering the U Street/Shaw ’hoods of D.C., Service Bar is that beloved sort of industry hangout where you’ll find rhum agricole and brandies aplenty and smart cocktails to please the drink geek but also $7 beer-and-shot combos and $7 classic cocktails in a laid-back, fun space where service and a warm welcome come first. Glendon Hartley, Chad Spangler (both of The Menehune Group) and Chris Willoughby have crafted a delightful opening menu on which fried chicken is paired with crushable drinks like a Baked Apple & Pear Gin & Tonic. The Raisin d’Etre is one of the early scene stealers, a cleverly named, balanced combination of Armagnac, lemon, cinnamon, serrano peppers and golden raisins that surprises with its dry, crisp, refreshing profile.
Behind a brick facade and neon signage, Victor Tangos is a restaurant and bar both chill and festive, an industry favorite for fantastic food and craft beers, as well as drinkable, quality cocktails from general manager Matt Ragan. This winter, he keeps it “healthy” and bright infusing vodka with turmeric, combined with carrot juice, honey, lemon and Angostura bitters, garnished with a celery stick. It’s a robust orange drink that tempers the booze with a burst of vitamins A and C.