The Basics Drinking Out

11 Hottest Cocktails to Drink in Bars Now: January 2018

Gin & Tonic at Bar Casa Vale in Portland, Ore. (Virginia Miller). Image: Virginia Miller

New year, new drinks. While everyone and their sister-in-law is spending the early weeks of 2018 mastering a cleanse, bartenders around the country continue to push the boundaries of what we think about when we think about cocktails. Banana bread syrup? Edible butterflies? Some hot salsa shaken up with your tequila? It’s just the tip of the rocks glass. So put down your salt water flush kit and yoga mat, and get out to one of these 11 bars making the hottest cocktails in the country this month.

  • Cuddly Toy (Charmaine’s, San Francisco)

    Virginia Miller

    The dreamiest rooftop bar in San Francisco, Charmaine’s recently opened atop the San Francisco Proper hotel, complete with fire pits, striking views and cozy chic interior. Like Villon downstairs, the drinks are sophisticated yet fun, best served with elevated bar bites like black bean sliders with a smoked mango raita or a hot dog in a milk and honey bun. The Cuddly Toy surprises. A bracing booze-forward sipper of Avión silver tequila and Luxardo bitter bianco vermouth served over one large ice cube, the cocktail is gently spiced and complex with a house-made banana bread syrup.

  • Sage Ad Vice (Seaworthy, New Orleans)

    Virginia Miller

    In an 1832 Creole cottage just off the Ace Hotel New Orleans, Seaworthy is a Nola gem for wild and sustainably harvested oysters from the Gulf and East and West Coasts, plus top-notch seafood dishes that showcase local fish, like a smoked cobia crudo inspired by a muffaletta sandwich. Cocktails are equally a draw, some featuring a house-made blend of spiced rum that combines Hamilton Guyana 101 overproof rum and Don Q Cristal rum, steeped with cloves, orange, cinnamon and vanilla. This makes an ideal base for the unique Sage Ad Vice cocktail, to which bartender Beth Willow adds a splash of fresh orange juice, honey bitters and sage leaves soaked in Hamilton rum. It’s not OJ-heavy or too juicy-sweet but nuanced, spiced, fresh and bold.

  • After the Disco (The Cocktail Club, Charleston, S.C.)

    Virginia Miller

    Charleston, S.C.’s Cocktail Club can get mobbed, but with its hidden upstairs space, live music and pitch-perfect cocktails, the place is much more than a scene. Bartender Tyler Wolter created the After the Disco, with its summery touch of strawberry-infused Del Maguey crema de mezcal to brighten up the winter. Coconut-infused Plantation five-year-old rum and a tart splash of pineapple and lime juices result in a drink that’s both balanced and understated yet layered and vibrant with a subtly smoky, tropical slant.

  • Somewhere in the Time of Butterflies (The Oxford, Sunnyvale, Calif.)

    Virginia Miller

    In Silicon Valley’s town of Sunnyvale, The Oxford is a casual Indian-British gastropub where lamb shepherd’s pie and chicken tikka masala is served alongside fish and chips. Cocktails cut through rich, spicy dishes, like the popular house Oxford Mule (Earl Grey–infused Reyka vodka, house-made ginger-lime elixir and Jamaican bitters). But it’s the Somewhere in the Time of Butterflies that sneaks up quietly with an elegant punch. Soft and frothy with egg white, a touch of cream and an edible butterfly garnish served in a Champagne flute, this is actually a Bank Note scotch–based drink. Enhanced by a celery-rose-lime elixir and a dash of Bittercube orange bitters, the cocktail is also subtly smoky.

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  • Night Vision (P.Y.T., Los Angeles)

    Virginia Miller

    P.Y.T. opened late 2016 as a vegetable-centric restaurant in downtown L.A., showcasing everything from scarlet radishes to Japanese red mustard in its dishes. And the drinks are as garden-fresh as the the food, featuring cold-pressed juices and vegetables. The Night Vision is a (deceptively) healthy blast of Plymouth gin, fizzy kombucha, a vibrant ginger syrup and lemon juice, turned sunny orange with fresh carrot juice.

  • Eastern Medicine (Wewatta Point, Denver)

    New sister restaurant to LA’s Laurel Point, Wewatta Point is a sunny seafood-centric restaurant in Denver’s revitalized Union Station. Beverage director Kaitlyn Chiletti keeps the drink side pairable with whole Thai snapper and lobster rolls. She created the Eastern Medicine with bartender Rachael Potts as a take off the modern day classic the Penicillin, using floral-tart yuzu juice instead of lemon juice as a partner to the Asian ingredients used in their dishes. With a base of Buffalo Trace bourbon, honey, yuzu and ginger, a peaty blast comes from a mist of Laphroaig scotch.

  • Headhunter’s Grog (The Jungle Bird, Sacramento)

    Virginia Miller

    The Jungle Bird is a Tiki hideaway in Sacramento that transports guests with colorful lamps, palm frond wallpaper and totems. Themed rum nights feature a specific style or a rum-producing island/region paired with bites, bringing a little drinking education to the whimsical Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room–esque vibe. The Headhunter’s Grog features El Dorado spiced rum, then surprises with a smoky kick from mezcal. It’s all shaken with white grapefruit and lime juices, passion fruit syrup, Angostura bitters and a dash of allspice dram, served in a Tiki mug with a smoking cinnamon stick.

  • Heavens to Betsy (Junior, San Francisco)

    Virginia Miller

    Brand new to San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, Junior offers something for everyone. It’s laid-back and current, with top-notch drinks served without pretension and an Airstream-trailer-inspired photo booth and California craft beers on draft. There’s a cocktail in spirit categories from calvados to scotch, while the Heavens to Betsy goes down complex yet easy with Old Grand-Dad bonded bourbon, strawberry tincture, Cocchi Americano aperitivo and a balanced mix of coconut milk, toasted coconut syrup, St. George Bruto Americano aperitivo and a whisper of passion fruit. It all comes together in one creamy, tart-bittersweet, tropical whole.

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  • Pardy Hardy (Emily West Village, New York City)

    Virginia Miller

    This summer, Manhattan finally got an outpost of the beloved Brooklyn duo—Emily and Emmy Squared—in the West Village. Emily West Village turns out the same thin-crust pizzas and decadent Detroit-style pizzas but with different topping combinations than the other two locations. Beverage director Bobby Daglio’s Pardy Hardy is a perfect daytime cocktail that goes savory but not treading the weary Bloody Mary route. Here, tequila, lime and cilantro are given tart, green roundness from a house-made fire-roasted tomatillo and jalapeno salsa, shaken and strained in the drink.

  • MacGuffin (Here’s Looking at You, Los Angeles)

    Virginia Miller

    L.A.’s Here’s Looking at You is killing it with inspired dishes like eggplant in creamy Japanese sesame sauce with tomato and serrano chilies. But cocktails keep step with the food: unique, delicious and featuring ingredients like celery or tamarind. The MacGuffin recalls the spirit of a modern-day classic, the Trinidad Sour, with its heavy dose of Angostura bitters and tart lime. But in the MacGuffin, creamy texture and island spice-sweetness comes from a house-made banana nectar cordial, coconut cream and aquafaba.

  • Gin & Tonic (Bar Casa Vale, Portland, Ore.)

    Gin & Tonic at Bar Casa Vale in Portland, Ore. (Virginia Miller). Virginia Miller

    At Bar Casa Vale, anchovies and jamón ibérico flow alongside pages of sherry, Spanish wines, sidras (cider) and beers. In keeping with Spain’s most popular drink, there’s a Gin & Tonic section, with the drinks served in the proper Spanish style: in wine goblets with customized garnishes for each gin. You can certainly go British with a London dry or Spanish with Mahón gin, garnished with cucumber, lemon and herbs. There are also local Oregon gins, like Aria or The Walter Collective—the former a citrus-forward gin, the latter a spice-laden gin—garnished with cucumber, lime and pink peppercorn.