Indian restaurants that serve refreshing drinks that cool down spicy dishes, cocktail tea tributes to bar legends, Japanese-influenced sippers and a pisco ode to Rudyard Kipling—these are just a few examples of what’s exciting, memorable and downright delicious in cocktails right now. Traveling from Vancouver to San Francisco, Baltimore to Oxford, Miss., these are 11 standout cocktails across North America.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks? Try making the Volunteer from this list at home.
Since chef Evan Gotanda took over in 2016, the food at 10-year-old Salt House is taking some exciting turns. Think green cavatelli verde pasta laced with lamb sausage and tomato sorbet. Thankfully, bar manager Gabe Cothes’ drink menu holds highlights, too, specifically his award-winning Dr. No. cocktail. Cucumber-forward Hendrick’s gin is enlivened with fresh cucumber and yuzu (Japanese citrus), given amontillado sherry complexity and a savory kick, and further Japanese influence, from a furikake rim.
One of Baltimore's true cocktail destinations, Bookmakers serves impeccable food and drinks in a sleek, dim space that exudes a casual sophistication as it offers hundreds of spirits (among the city’s largest selection). Beverage director Ryan Sparks serves a rarity—Chartreuse Episcopal (a blend of Yellow and Green Chartreuse)—on draft and features a range of cocktails, sometimes with Asian influence. Case in point: The 'Rye'sing Sun is a mixture of rye whiskey, Strega, a house Chinese five-spice and pineapple cordial, Japanese chile-lime bitters and lime, accented with drops of chile oil.
One of the threesome of Derek Brown bars in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood (including neighboring Eat the Rich and soon-to-reopen Mockingbird Hill), Southern Efficiency is all about the American whiskey (lots of bourbon and rye) paired with frito pie or pimento grilled cheese sandwiches. A worthy variation of a classic Bourbon Milk Punch is senior bar manager Paul Taylor’s Fulton County. Creamy yet light, the mix of bourbon, Giffard Banane du Brésil liqueur, falernum and milk gains toasty vacation-like comfort from toasted coconut syrup, fresh grated cinnamon and five drops of a salt/saline solution to it all together.
Vancouver Indian food legend Vij’s serves delights like rainbow trout in coconut curry or jackfruit in black cardamom cumin curry at its flagship restaurant. Vancouver drink pioneer and bar manager Jay Jones ensures a robust drink selection from local beers on draft to a thoughtful spirits selection. Pages of gratifying cocktails include drinks like the Jean Grey, a recipe crafted by bartender Andrew Schneider. It’s pink, subtly smoky, bitter and sweet, featuring Los Siete Misterios Doba-yej mezcal, Aperol, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and lemon. It sings soft and cool paired with spicy curries and complimentary house pakoras passed out to those waiting for a table.
From James Beard Award–nominated chefs Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer, Hog & Hominy serves Southern-influenced Italian food (think biscuit gnocchi or poutine laced with neckbone gravy). Bar manager Aaron Hanna serves greats like the Trinidad Sour next to house creations like the Foolish Moment, a drink that plays simultaneously light and refreshing, bitter and bright. The base is Byrrh apéritif and Fernet-Branca shaken with grapefruit, a house-made lemon apple cordial and house-made grapefruit bitters.
One of downtown Napa Valley’s great dining spots Miminashi is a hip city-worthy Japanese izakaya serving small plates, yakitori, ramen and udon noodles. The wood-lined space sports high-backed wood booths, an arrow-shaped bar and an open binchotan grill, while
Andrew Salazar crafts a playful cocktail menu. Pisco gets its due in the Ode to Kipling, a tribute to Rudyard Kipling’s praise of pisco (which he once described as “compounded of the shavings of cherub's wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters"), mixing coconut-washed BarSol Selecto Italia pisco, passion fruit gomme syrup, lime and hibiscus to tart-yet-silky effect.
Housed in the hip 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City in a former Ford Motor Company assembly plant, Mary Eddy’s is a lofty art-filled space showcasing chef Jason Campbell’s heartwarming dishes and superb house charcuterie (upgrade from the Toolbox charcuterie spread to the larger off-menu Garage). On the drink side, the Two Birds, One Stone drinks nice and easy, a combo of El Jimador reposado tequila you can order two ways: as the Rosy-Finch, with a strawberry cocoa shrub and lemon, or our favorite, the Mockingbird, a bracing vinegar-fruit-herbaceous kick of house-made blueberry-sage shrub with lime juice.
An industry and locals favorite in SF since it opened in 2015, Forgery (from the owners of Wildhawk in the Mission) keeps turning out elegant cocktails that lack pretension. Right now a star is the Dieppe, named after a French town in the region where Calvados hails from: Normandy. Served up, the cocktail features a fresh apple base of Calvados Blanche (unaged, clear French apple brandy), accented by crisp Del Professore White Vermouth and white port, apricot eau de vie (yes, another unaged fruit brandy) and Amaro Nonino, balanced by an acidic kick of verjus (pressed, unripened grape juice).
A Baltimore newcomer in early 2016, Modern Cook Shop is equal parts gourmet grocery, coffee shop, restaurant and bar in the historic, charming Fells Point ’hood. The modern, airy space is lined with pinewood and white tiles, with the laid-back bar tucked in the back. For a vivid mix of tart and bitter, the bright pink Bogey Man mixes blanco tequila, Campari, lemon and orange with a frothy layer of egg whites on top adding texture.
As the most innovative of John Currence’s mini restaurant empire in charming Oxford, Miss., Snackbar wows with Indian-influenced Southern dishes from talented chef Vishwesh Bhatt (like tandoori-spiced game hen with mac and cheese and collard greens). The cocktails in the cozy wood-lined restaurant and bar keep up, including an off-menu house classic, the Hoisted Petard, a shining absinthe cocktail with white vermouth, Bénédictine and lemon. Going seasonal, the Volunteer both cleanses the palate and complements dishes with its blanco tequila and Cointreau base enlivened by cilantro, jalapeño, cucumber, melon, cumin seed, lime, grapefruit bitters and a pinch of salt to tie it all together.
With a rooftop deck and library lounge, Columbia Room is a cocktail geek’s haven, as weel as a romantic escape for conversation and lingering over creative drinks that might be hidden inside old books or paired with bites among fall leaves. A hidden back bar for cocktail tasting menus offers tables behind curtains or one long bar that recalls Tokyo in its elegant exclusivity. Making a nice statement, the current Women Rule tasting menus ($79 or $105 with bites) pay tribute to cocktail and food pioneers like Julie Reiner and Alice Waters. The Audrey Sanders Earl Grey Marteani, with its striking tea service presentation, is a refined mix of gin and ceylon tea with bergamot, honey, blue curaçao, sour whey and carrottop bitters.
Mixing your cocktail