The Basics Drinking Out

6 Bars Taking Inspiration from Tarot Cards

Il Matto at Mio Lab in Milan. Image: Oscar Quagliarini

When it comes to making sense of the present, high-vibe strivers tend to seek clarification from the tarot. Others might just turn to a cocktail—same intention, different spirit. So it’s not surprising that bartenders have been looking to these centuries-old soothsayers as a muse for their menus. Here’s a look at six bars where guests can literally stir the spirits and sip on a tarot-inspired cocktail.

  • Arcana (Durham, N.C.)

    Susie Locklier

    In addition to its tarot association, the word arcana evokes an aura of mystery. Owners Lindsey Andrews and Erin Karcher accentuate that element of secrecy by placing a strong emphasis on herbal work, a clandestine knowledge that, historically, was shared and passed down among women. Arcana’s shelves are stocked with herbaceous liqueurs and mixers that range from standards like Chartreuse to locally distilled gins and house-made herbal syrups and infusions, all incorporated into cocktails that couple the card’s traditional iconography and meaning with an imaginative flair.

    When creating the Magus cocktails, named for the mysterious Magician card, the owners envisioned the Shakespearean sorcerer Prospero stranded in the Caribbean, so they conjured up a murky Daiquiri with Cruzan black strap rum, then switched out the lemon for lime and finished on a smoky black pepper note. The Queen of Cups blends blanco tequila, lemon and lime with hibiscus flowers to recall the card’s compassionate nature. Anyone looking to consult the spirits can sign up for a session with one of the onsite tarot readers.

  • The Alchemist (Prague)

    “Choose Your Fate” cards.

    Adventurous drinkers can brave The Alchemist’s “Choose Your Fate” to test their own tenacity, as well as potentially deepen their pockets. Kicking off with a tarot draw, this riddle-driven scavenger hunt crafted by owner Alex Timsa includes stops at 12 other cocktail bars before leading partakers back to the starting point to unlock and solve the 13th final clue. If successful, the victor collects a cash prize equivalent to $4,000. So far, however, no one has managed to crack number 13 to take home the jackpot.

    Those not so keen on bar hopping can sip one of bartender Adrian Michalcik’s tarot-inspired creations. The Black Sun, a dark riff on the luminous major arcana card, mixes Maker’s Mark bourbon, Joseph Cartron cacao brun liqueur and mango-vanilla egg foam, while the High Priest, an amalgam of Tanqueray gin, Cointreau, cucumber purée and rose lemonade, recalls the serene energy of its namesake.

  • The Spirit Room (Rochester, N.Y.)

    Devil.

    A tarot reader is always in the house at this eclectic venue founded by Bouty Chanthavisinh, Emily Rose Kahn-Sheahan, Rachel McKibbens and Jacob Rakovan. Here, indecisive or curious patrons are encouraged to let the cards speak for them. The major arcana card results in a tailor-made riff on a classic cocktail enlivened with unexpected ingredients that summon the card’s essence. The devil card, symbolic of human nature, temptation and seduction, may result in the tequila-based El Diablo amped up with ginger and dark bitter notes of fresh elderberry.

    The death card, which suggests the end of a cycle, prompts a blend of rich absinthe with a mix of bright and herbaceous notes to signify the hope that comes with a fresh start. For the minor arcana card, the general rule of thumb calls for gin as the base of the airy swords suit while the watery cups result in a rum-based libation. Tequila and mezcal comprise the fiery wand’s tipples, and the earthy pentacles begin with whiskey.

  • Baton Rouge (Paris)

    To complement the voodoo vibes of this Louisiana-influenced watering hole in Paris’ lively Pigalle quarter, owners Joseph Biolatto and Julien Escot collaborated with esteemed creative firm Be Dandy to design an accordion menu comprised of 27 cocktails spawned from traditional tarot iconography, as well as both real-life figures and storied characters.

    Baron Samedi, the voodoo master of the dead, represents the death card. A pick-me-up for the impending new beginning predicted by the card, the Devil cocktail weaves Pernod absinthe, Galliano Ristretto coffee liqueur, Escuminac maple syrup and fresh lime juice. French footballer Basile Boli is portrayed as the Hierophant—a figure derived from the Pope and indicative of one who shares wisdom—with Plymouth gin, fresh lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, Provence apple juice and the athlete’s namesake herb.

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  • Leroy (Montgomery, Ala.)

    Empress Daiquiri.

    Earlier this year, owners Tyler Bell and Jeremy Lunsford implemented a cocktail menu built around a tarot deck with categories named after the four minor arcana suits. Original major-arcana-inspired cocktails were found within each of the categories, while classic cocktails characterized the minor arcana cards.

    The Drink Your Destiny bartender’s choice presented seekers with a three-card past, present and future spread. From this, they then selected the card they desired in a drinkable form. The Empress Daiquiri, a dainty melange fitting for the deck’s ultimate feminine figure, includes Don Chapel rum, Lillet rosé, strawberry and lime. The Lovers cocktail plays up the card’s romantic connotation by marrying two floral liqueurs, St-Germain and Parfait Amour liqueur, with sparkling wine. Bell and Lunsford look forward to reimplementing this list into Leroy’s rotating cocktail program.

  • Mio Lab (Park Hyatt, Milan)

    La Temperanza. Oscar Quagliarini

    At Mio Lab, the Park Hyatt Milano’s swanky cocktail nook, Oscar Quagliarini has created 12 liquid iterations of images from cartoonist Sergio Geras’ colorful one-off tarot deck. Helsinki gin, Palent rose liqueur, Champagne and lime embody the free-spirited celebratory nature of ll Matto (The Fool), often depicted clutching a rose while stepping off the edge of a precipice. Tanqueray gin, tomato essence, Giarratana onion water, apple vinegar and caper powder come together harmoniously in La Temperanza (The Temperance). This strong medley of flavors required a meticulous process of trial and error until Quagliarini, as the card calls for, ”tempered” it to perfection.