June is when the calendar—and the rest of us—say hello to summer. This season, bartenders from Vancouver to Tulsa are honoring the warm weather in fine fashion, from an L.A. restaurant that utilizes kitchen “scraps” to the most ambitious Chinese restaurant bar in the country. These are the 11 cocktails worth drinking right now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks? Try making the High King Highball from this list at home.
Housed in an old 1895 army mess hall in S.F.’s Presidio, The Commissary is a destination for Cal-Med cuisine and craft cocktails. Former bar manager Chris Fish (now at Sunset Reservoir Brewing Co.) put together a lovely Gin & Tonic section, along with a mix of low-proof and spirit-forward options. His signature drink, the Official, shows no signs of an early departure. With a base of Lunazul jalapeño-infused tequila, the spicy, nutty, citrus-y sipper is enhanced with Giffard crème de pamplemousse rose, oloroso sherry and grapefruit bitters.
Slipping downstairs from The Happiest Hour, Slowly Shirley feels like a 1940s cocktail den where conversation is possible and drinks are elegant in the seductive, relaxed, dim space. The vibrant green of Cleopatra makes the first impression, a cocktail served in a Hurricane glass wrapped in a banana leaf, packed with crushed ice and garnished with a flower. Created by Garret Richard, Cleopatra unfolds with Avuá cachaça and Żubrówka bison grass vodka, tasting like vacation on the beach with lime and banana cordials balanced by fresh lime juice.
L’Abattoir, in the heart of Vancouver’s Gastown, serves some of the city’s best drinks from what, 200 years ago, used to be its first jail. Chef Lee Cooper dishes up sturdy Northwest fare like roasted Pacific Ling cod and baked local oysters. And the cocktails in the tiny, bustling bar, helmed by Katie Ingram, follow suit. The Avocado Gimlet has long been a house favorite, a briny, herbal inflection of rosemary and olive-infused Broker's gin, Lillet Blanc apéritif and fresh lime juice that takes the avocado to the next level.
At San Diego’s new Hotel Palomar, Curadero brings upscale Mexican street food from chef Brad Kraten to a space lined with vibrant wall art and cool, orange and pink tiles on the bar. The Arriba Room upstairs houses a taco window, games like Donkey Kong and a more casual drink menu to go with those late-night bites. Lead bartender Jade Boyd, of Juniper & Ivy, brings a culinary approach of seasonal ingredients and craft spirits to the drinks program. The Seeds to Greens cocktail starts with the acidic, briny backbone of Lustau fino sherry and a whisper of vegetal earthiness from Del Maguey Vida mezcal. The nuttiness of the sherry sings with Boyd’s house-made pecan orgeat syrup, brightened by fresh lime juice, cinnamon and walnut. Think of it as a nutty sherry sour.
With more than 350 whiskeys on hand—plus a fine collection of Madeira, port and sherry—WSKY Lounge is a rarity in the Sooner State. When the staff isn’t pouring from the brown booze Britannica, it turns out fabulous cocktails, like the Wasp, a combo of Rhum Clement and Wellington palo cortado sherry with a touch of Suze, génépy and Drambuie. Sounds like a left-field smorgasbord, but the drink is bracing and balanced and unfolds in bitter, funky, sweet, herbaceous layers with each sip.
At Lower Haight’s Maven, bar manager Tim Hagney continues to turn out pitch-perfect drinks that pair well with chef Isaac Miller’s soulful dishes, like rabbit dumpling stew or local asparagus decadent in brown butter with olives and Parmesan. The cocktails drink just fine on their own too, as with the Zelda Fitzgerald, a tribute to author F. Scott’s wife. Served in a wine glass, it leads with the caraway and anise botanicals of Krogstad Festlig aquavit and is balanced with citrus (lemon) and floral notes (lavender). Garnished with a sprig of lavender, the aromatic drink goes down clean, light and easy.
Five-year-old Valkyrie offers one of the biggest spirits collections in the state, clocking in at more than 700 bottles. General manager Tyler Schilling and the bartending team collaborate on drinks that show off the full range of their collection. The cleverly named Liam's Neisson nods to both the actor and the elegant funk of Neisson rhum blanc. The cocktail shows off the green of lime juice and Green Chartreuse with a house chai blend infused in Dolin Blanc vermouth (adding a crisp, subtle layer of spice), balanced by demerara sugar and a saline/salt solution.
Located on the banks of oyster-laden Tomales Bay, Nick’s Cove is one of those charmingly rustic inns where San Franciscans go on weekend to take in the sunset and lack of cell service over trays of barbecued bivalves. They also make a mean drink. The Point Reyes Naked Lady, from beverage manager Joseph “JoJo” Tucker, is a silky cocktail featuring Greenbar Crusoe organic rum, lively with blood orange and yuzu citrus, a whisper of cayenne and a frothy egg white layer on top.
San Francisco’s new China Live is arguably the most ambitious Chinese food concept in the country. A massive Chinatown food hall that starts on the first floor with the Market Restaurant, an upscale retail market, Bar Central and Oolong Café. Opening upstairs is a fine-dining restaurant and hidden bars, all menus centered around modern Chinese food with a touch of Taiwan. Director of beverage and cocktail renaissance pioneer Duggan McDonnell oversees all drink menus, from Malaysian-style cold-brew coffee to beers. Cocktails downstairs (at the bar and the restaurant) showcase Chinese teas and beyond. Shanghai Kelly’s Bad Bad Pisco Punch marries Duggan's Encanto pisco and Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple rum with gunpowder green tea, lime, pineapple, orange bitters and a splash of ginger beer, in a San Francisco classic: the Pisco Punch.
At East Village cocktail destination Pouring Ribbons, cocktails get “rated” on a scale of “refreshing” to “spirituous,” “comforting” to “adventurous,” to help guide you to the right drink. (Chartreuse lovers, ask for the bar’s vintage Chartreuse selection). On the refreshing side, the High King Highball was created by bar-star Joaquín Simón and features Clontarf Irish whiskey and Aperol, along with muddled raspberries, lemon and grapefruit juices, simple syrup, Peychaud's bitters and a splash of soda. The artful creation is then garnished with a skewered lemon wheel and raspberry.
Providence has been one of L.A.’s dining giants for a decade, thanks to chef/owner Michael Cimarusti’s vision and creativity. The bar, helmed by Kim Stodel, adopts a “zero-waste” ethos, in which leftover kitchen ingredients are used in cocktails. If that sounds off-putting, you’ve clearly never sipped the Peas and Thank You, made with green pea oil. This garden-fresh sipper starts with Nuestra Soledad mezcal and Bonal, highlighted by lemon and mint, and ends with a pea tendril garnish and a dot of pea oil. Going green never tasted so good!
Mixing your cocktail