This September, bartenders are showing no signs of the shoulder-season blues. With fall just around the corner and plenty of hot days still to celebrate, they’re mixing up everything from tweaked summer classics to whiskey-based sippers that will leave you reaching for a cardigan. These are the 11 cocktails to drink in bars now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks this month? Try making the Sea of Confusion from this list at home.
As the oldest bar along San Antonio’s famed River Walk, The Esquire Tavern boasts the longest wooden bartop in Texas, under a pressed tin ceiling with comfy booths and leather bar chairs. Beverage director Houston Eaves oversees the menu, crafting visually stunning drinks like the Sea of Confusion, served tall over crushed ice with a layered effect from a float of Angostura bitters and Lemon Hart 151 rum. The funky goodness of Hamilton Jamaican pot-still gold rum takes a slightly fruity, floral and bitter turn when it mixes with Clear Creek pear brandy, Yellow Chartreuse and Cappelletti amaro sfumato rabarbaro.
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Chef Michael Mina’s PABU delivers upscale Japanese food in a lofty, FiDi setting. The cocktails by Kaitlin Ryan (now at PCH) sing with the food, whether a refreshing Highball bright with aquavit, cherry and fennel or a rosy-pink gin, radish and strawberry sipper. The showstopper is the Tasteful Noodz, a Mars Iwai Japanese whisky and Cynar cocktail served in a bowl, cool with a mix of chicken ramen, mirin rice wine and citrus. A paper-thin sheet of rice paper over the liquid is painted with edible ink made of vegetable coloring mimicking ramen ingredients. This is ramen in cocktail form.
Breezy and fun, Lonesome Rose serves Tex-Mex tacos and fresh juices in the morning and nachos and cocktails at night. Served tall and topped with soda, the Southern Highlands Smash kicks in with the smoky, vegetal green tart of mezcal, tomatillo, lime and Ancho Reyes Verde chile poblano liqueur, then gains a dry, saline backbone from fino sherry.
Since opening in 2015, The Up & Up has mainly featured innovative cocktails from Chaim Dauermann and Matt Piacentini. (The two just opened a Kips Bay bar, Stay Gold, this summer.) The latest Up & Up menu is a collaborative one, containing 10 new creations from the team of bartenders. For the Fancy Key, head bartender Ali Martin deftly mixes the malty and vegetal notes of Old Duff genever and Novo Fogo silver cachaça with the bitter, piney goodness of Braulio amaro and a touch of funk from Smith & Cross rum, all balanced by creamy coconut.
Chef and owner Bobby Benjamin’s upscale comfort food is draw enough at Butchertown Grocery, but then there’s the enticing upstairs bar, the romantic Lola (where you can also dine) serving well-balanced cocktails. Local Jeptha Creed vodka and honey take an unexpected twist in the First Caress, where fruity whispers of apricot mingle with a touch of allspice dram. The cocktail is given dry, nutty structure from East India sherry and is garnished with two olives.
Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club serves up a dose of the Amalfi Coast at its bar with the Limoni, a cocktail that evokes sun, citrus, flowers, soil, sea and coffee. A blanco tequila base and citrus-infused Cocchi Vermouth di Torino gain texture from charcoal banana liqueur and coconut oil-infused Martini Riserva Speciale bitter.
Since opening late 2017, The Snug has become a packed, beloved neighborhood fixture, serving chef Brian Shin’s exceptional bar food, from stellar everything-bagel-spiced naan paired with cauliflower trout roe schmear to caviar potato crisps. A brunch gem from bar manager Jacob Racusin is his play on the Ramos Gin Fizz—but think pink. Gin, raspberry, cream, citrus, egg white and rose water result in a soft, tart, creamy Gin Fizz feel, crowned with a meringue punctured with a straw.
On the outskirts of St. Louis, James Beard–nominated chef Ben Poremba opened The Benevolent King, calling on his Moroccan heritage and foods of his childhood. Beverage director Tony Saputo (formerly at Atomic Cowboy, Layla and Moonrise Hotel) makes magic with Henri Bardouin pastis and orgeat in the Mauresque cocktail. He plays off the French classic with unfolding layers of flavor from apricot liqueur, golden falernum, grapefruit, orange, lime, black lemon bitters and orange flower water, refreshingly topped with soda.
In Portland’s chill Sellwood neighborhood, Bible Club hides in a yellow 1922 Craftsman home, a respite where everything from barware to decor predates the 1930s. The Wrong Turn at Albuquerque is a crowd pleaser, appealing to the Bloody Mary crowd as it does those who like their drinks savory and vegetal. The cocktail mixes the soft, slightly floral Banhez mezcal with carrot juice, Ancho Reyes Verde chile poblano liqueur, lemon and cherrywood-smoked honey (sourced from PDX’s Bee Local), garnished with dehydrated lime.
Hog Island Oyster Co. serves its beautiful oysters in raw, grilled and fried form straight from Tomales Bay just north of San Francisco. In its Ferry Building restaurant, it continues to draw lines for fresh seafood of the day. The Mignonette Martini recalls the shallot-heavy sauce typically paired with oysters. Bartender Saul Ranella combines Kikori Japanese rice whisky and local Lo-Fi dry vermouth, then mixes a house-made Hogwash tonic reduction—a blend of seeded jalapeños, shallots, cilantro, black pepper and lime in a quinine tonic syrup. The result is savory and mouthwatering, sparking an appetite for oysters.
Since 2013, Three Dots and a Dash has been Chicago’s Tiki haven. It’s currently helmed by beverage director Kevin Beary, who was named a StarChefs Rising Star bartender in 2018 and has won multiple Tiki and rum cocktail competitions. While rum generally steers the ship at Three Dots, the Too Many Chiefs is a standout that just happens to be conveniently low-proof. Silky fresh strawberry water, lime and pineapple are undergirded with the off-dry layers of Germany’s Mosel Valley riesling and floral whispers from pisco, made dry and refreshing with a splash of club soda.
Mixing your cocktail