The weather is warmer, the days are longer, and that means one thing: Bartenders are ready for spring. This season, look for fun cocktail ingredients such as shiso, jalapeño and crème de coconut, as well as standouts like the rare, funky rancio sec wine, on menus near you. From Napa Valley to New York City, these are the 11 cocktails to drink now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks? Try making the Jill Rose from this list at home.
Now in its 10th year, Sepia is as vital today as it was when it opened a decade ago. Regulars and visitors alike flock to the former 1890s print shop to taste chef Andrew Zimmerman’s Michelin-starred menu. But they also come for the drinks. Head bartender Keith Meicher serves a range of cocktails, including the Biggest Fan, a heady mix of mezcal, sloe gin, Green Chartreuse, rhubarb bitters and citrus. Smoky, herbal, bitter and like spring, it starts out strong and finishes smooth and steady.
With new chef Shaun King on board at Pabu, the food—from steak and modern izakaya to straight-up sushi—continues to delight. So, too, does the cocktail menu, thanks in part to lead bartender Nick Jones and his team of tireless experimenters (see: the improved Highball made with mirin, lemon and thyme). The Shiso Delightful, created by bartender Kaitlin Ryan and consisting of St. George shochu, shiso-infused Carpano bianco, oloroso sherry and bitters and topped with a dollop of lemon oil, is the perfect sipper to go with King’s killer robatayaki.
Maybe it’s the vintage William Morris wallpaper or the soft muted lights that run through the intimate space, but something about The Up & Up in NYC’s Greenwich Village makes a drinker feels like she’s in safe hands. And those would be the hands of head bartender Chaim Dauermann, whose drink the Amongst the Grottoes plays herbal and tart flavors against a backdrop of spicy heat. The cocktail features a backbone of The Botanist gin and Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, kicked up by jalapeño syrup and a dash of funk from unfortified rancio sec wine. Dauermann doesn’t phone in the garnish either, adding salt-water-bathed Italian parsley for a final vegetal snap.
OKC’s number-one source for Neapolitan-style pizza, Pizzeria Gusto is where you go with friends for antipasti, wood-fired pies and quality cocktails. The cleverly named the Leaning Sour of Pisa is a harmonious blend of Pisa liqueur (a nutty spirit of hazelnut, almond and pistachio), lemon, egg white, simple syrup and red wine. On paper, it sounds cloyingly sweet, but lean in for a few sips, and you’ll see that the frothy pink drink walks the balance beam of nutty, tart, sweet and tannic.
North of the border, Hawksworth is one of Vancouver, B.C.’s most popular destination restaurants. Chef David Hawksworth fills his rotating menu with inspired dishes like Nova Scotia lobster accented with poblano peppers and tamarind. Just as inspired is head bartender Cooper Tardivel’s inventive cocktail list. For some history in a glass, check out the Hotel Georgia, made from an unearthed 65-year-old recipe named after the historic hotel in which the restaurant is housed. The gin- and egg-white-based cocktail trades subtle hints of floral and nuttiness from the inclusion of orgeat syrup and orange blossom water. And as a nice little wink to yesteryear, it’s finished with a dusting of fresh grated nutmeg.
A Kansas City institution since 2004, Bluestem has garnered multiple James Beard semifinalist nominations for chefs Colby and Megan Garrelts’ modern American food. Bar manager Andrew Olsen keeps pace with house cocktails and an ever-changing menu staple: a Milk Punch that pulls from the seasons and a range of ingredients, including different fruits and teas. Recently, it featured Old Forester bourbon infused with black tea that goes through a slow drip infusion process over 18 hours. Currently, it serves a Black Currant Milk Punch washed with vodka, orange liqueur and verjus for bright, acidic balance.
Baltimore’s Harbor East is home to two neighboring restaurants off the historic Bagby Building courtyard, where the bars TEN TEN and Fleet Street Kitchen sometimes collaborate. The former is where head bartender Rob Vogel plays with seasonal ingredients in a brick-walled space under lofty skylights. One of the menu regulars is a drink that plays as nicely in spring as it does in the fall, the Birch, Please (the cheeky name being part of the fun) is a crowd-pleasing mix of rye whiskey, house-made birch syrup, sherry, sloe gin, lemon and egg white.
In the heart of Napa Valley, chef Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Table offers weary day tasters an alternative to big-ticket cabs. Located in Harvest Inn, the restaurant’s bar, tended by the careful hands of Joel Pfeifle, turns out solid classics alongside a lineup of seasonally inventive drinks. Case in point: the Tiki-style Palaoa Ula La (“Corn Oasis” in native Hawaiian), indeed an oasis of bourbon, crème de coconut, house-made falernum and lime, plus an herbaceous bite from Lo-Fi gentian amaro and Drambuie. The result is soft, pink, tropical yet bold.
In Chicago’s West Loop, El Che Bar serves modern Argentinian fare and South American–influenced cocktails served in a sleek space of muted grays, blacks and browns. Brightening up the landscape is the Bitter Mango Fizz from beverage director Chris Young. Think mango’s sweet liveliness but with the bitter snap of a Negroni. It consists of mango purée and lime juice mixed with Beefeater gin, Campari, soda water and ginger beer, with a few drops of salt tincture to tie it all together and make the flavors pop.
You might have come for the Donkey Kong, but you’re staying for the drinks. The massive, new two-story Coin-Op Game Room (one of our best new San Francisco bars now) keeps old-school gamers busy with a full suite of arcade throwbacks like Street Fighter and Pac-Man. And once you’ve burned through your tokens, there are burgers, pizzas and cocktails by bar manager Jason Huffman. His tight menu showcases easy sippers with clever nods, like the Jill Rose, a play off the Jack Rose, a beloved 1920s–’30s classic (mentioned in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises), featuring applejack as the base spirit. But instead of applejack, Huffman’s version features calvados, Bénédictine, lime and grenadine.
One of 2016’s most delightful new neighborhood bars, Harlem’s ROKC delivers on its namesake of “ramen, oysters, kitchen and cocktails,” all served in a humble half-underground space. Angel’s Share alum Shigefumi Kabashima runs the bar with Japanese precision, composing drinks that are both artful and delicious. The cachaça-based Thai Tea is silky with condensed milk and Thai tea, plus a whisper of absinthe. The result is boozy, creamy and elegant, especially when presented with a sidecar shaped as an egg shell cradled in a bird’s nest.
Mixing your cocktail