The warm weather of summer is still lingering for much of the country, and these 11 excellent drinks you’ll find in bars across the nation will cool, inspire and quench your thirst.
(image: Virginia Miller)
Nathan Dalton, along with his talented team (including “ice chef” Hope Clarke), has already made the Catahoula bar, opened this spring at boutique Catahoula hotel, a destination for lovers of unusual cocktails and pisco. The glories and terroir of Peru may be best showcased in Dalton’s Chinguerito, a pisco cocktail marked by cinnamon, muddled grapes and slightly effervescent, still fermenting cachino wine, found during harvest in Peru, traditionally drunk during grape stomping parties.
Quince, an excellent two-Michelin-starred restaurant long known for its wine list, is also a place where cocktails are no slouch. The Fight or Flight plays understated and elegant, featuring the NorCal forest glories of St. George Terroir gin with lemon verbena, a soft, purple haze from crème de violette and silky, aromatic drops of juniper oil.
Best Intentions is about as fun as it gets: divey, wood-paneled, 1970s kitsch with a large back patio, Angostura bitters on draft and brothers Calvin and Christopher Marty’s great sense of humor coming through the bar’s nickname (and a Yelp comment—just ask) of Fancy Cocktail Bar. The ice-cold, milkshake-esque Wondermint Malted (conveniently available in small or large sizes) feels like being a kid again, albeit with booze. Schoolcraft's Original Wisconsin Wondermint schnapps liqueur, Broker’s gin and Luxardo Angioletto hazelnut liqueur get a fizzy boost from local Spinning J acid phosphate.
Craigie on Main is a James Beard–award-winning restaurant with a warm welcome and neighborhood-locals vibe. It excels in a drink like the Apples to Apples, a tall refresher of Lustau amontillado sherry subtly sweetened with maple-roasted and cranberry simple syrups, orange curaçao and caramelized apples, nodding to fall with cinnamon and nutmeg. Thankfully, the complexity and nuttiness of the sherry shines.
Just open in June, Duke’s is already a Sonoma County/Wine Country destination from the talented team of Tara Heffernon, Steven Maduro and Laura Sanfilippo, playing with local spirits and ingredients from Heffernon’s farm. The Paterson Sorrel is a vibrant beauty featuring Sanfilippo’s fantastic sorrel recipe (a spiced Jamaican hibiscus tea), illuminated by Wray & Nephew rum, Chauffe Coeur rhum agricole, Bittermens Elemakule Tiki bitters and a zippy house ginger brew. It tastes like a Caribbean vacation.
Denver bar great Sean Kenyon’s newer Occidental, a bar adjacent to his famed cocktail den, Williams & Graham, is as much of a good time as you think it will be: Godzilla films and sports play on flat-screen TVs, and regulars play arcade games while filling up on cheese curds and fried pickles. Easy-drinking house cocktails change, but a recent standout is the Pretty Vacant, a childlike take on white grape soda, granted maturity from fino sherry and Chartreuse and balanced by salt.
After their inspired Mexican playing-card menu and Mexican lottery menu, Loló’s David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez created a new menu this year that covers a wide range of flavors to accompany the whimsical restaurant’s Mexican food. None is more unusual than the Perfect Stranger, a combination of Fords gin, oloroso sherry and LoFi Aperitifs dry vermouth, enlivened with a splash of jalapeño brine, salt, sugar, lemon and textural, subtle clarified goat-milk-washed (!) celery bitters.
Balanced, boozy slushies are everywhere the last few years, and retro-cool Bud & Marilyn’s rotates out slushies on a regular basis, served in cute house mugs. With a vintage 1970s vibe and decor, the likes of rhubarb basil slushies feel appropriate. Currently on the menu is Arnie’s Gimlet Slush, a vodka slushie balanced by black tea and lime.
Besides being one of San Diego’s beloved gourmet comfort food restaurants, Bankers Hill crafts some solid cocktails, like a Cynar-gin-salt-orgeat beauty, Cynarmy Navy. But it’s the brunch menu that holds affordable delights. Case in point: the Silence of the Lambic, a cheeky beer cocktail that goes down easy in the morning with tart-sour strawberry lambic, sparkling wine and an absinthe float adding an herbal, green whisper to the light drink.
Besides being one of the neighborhood’s best modern-casual restaurants hidden on the edge of the French Quarter, Meauxbar turns out some pretty top-notch cocktails. Try The Two Fridas, a lovely sherry showcase of Pedro Ximénez and fino sherries undergirded with soulful funk from Jamaican rum, bright and alive with lemon and curry spice.
54 Mint in San Francisco’s Mint Plaza is like taking a trip to Italy. House-made pasta, classic Negronis, hanging prosciutto and staff from Italy set the tone, while rare Italian amari, grappa, brandy and inspired cocktails with Italian influence seal the deal. Bar manager Jacopo Rosito serves a smart cocktail list showcasing Italian spirits, while the Zia Maria cocktail is an Italian culinary revelation in a glass: San Marzano tomatoes are pressed with Calabrian chiles and chile oil, Maldon sea salt, black pepper and lime, with a base of spelt grain VKA vodka from Tuscany. It’s topped with—wait for it—burrata foam dusted with fresh oregano.
Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.