The ultimate fantasy jaunt to a tropical island involves a cocktail, of course. Preferably one refreshing and full of fresh ingredients, perhaps with an elaborate garnish. Luckily, several places that fit the bill also happen to produce great homegrown spirits.
And who would know best where to go for that cool tropical vibe combined with fantastic cocktails? Why, your friendly neighborhood bartender! For inspiration on where to fly to next, we turned to 10 drink slingers who know all the best vacation spots where you’ll drink well as you soak up the sun.
Eric Alperin: Cuba
“I went to Cuba during Fidel Castro’s leadership only once, but I definitely would go back,” says Eric Alperin, a co-owner and bartender at The Varnish in Los Angeles. “Cuba is a colorful, crumbling oasis of Spanish colonial architecture. Although there’s much poverty, the education, kindness, music, food and drink are celebrated by its people. I like to drink where Hemingway had his Daiquiris (at El Floridita) and his Mojitos (at Bodeguita del Medio).”
Robert Bidigare: Oahu, Hawaii
“For a tropical escape, I would have to say it’s here in Hawaii,” says Robert Bidigare, the bar lead at Mahina & Sun’s in Honolulu. “There are a few amazing outer-island spots, but I am most familiar with Oahu. One of my favorite places to go is House Without A Key at the Halekulani Hotel. I love this bar due to the fact they have been creating incredible drinks against the backdrop of Diamond Head for so long. It has all of the aspects many people imagine when they think of tropical places away from a cold winter: Hawaiian music, strong rum drinks and an amazing view.”
Dane Campbell: New Zealand
“The last NYC winter I successfully dodged was spent in New Zealand for about a month,” says Dane Campbell, who worked at Babu Ji in San Francisco. “I was there from January into February during their summer, and the majority of my trip was spent visiting and staying with Kiwi winemakers and farmers (what a treat!). One of my most memorable days was having the opportunity to take part in a local forage dinner in wine country, just outside of Christchurch, North Canterbury. I was working as the head sommelier for The Musket Room at the time, and I spent a good chunk of my time in NZ ‘bromancing’ with Christchurch locals and winemaker Theo Coles. One very beautiful day in Lyttelton, Theo and I had a nice tropical session out the back of Civil & Naval enjoying Something Sour cocktails, which we opted to try each round with a different locally made Kiwi gin (made by the people, not with the fruit).”
Tim Cooper: Miami
“There are two bars I go to while in Miami, and the decision comes down to if I want to be outside or inside,” says Tim Cooper, a bartender and partner at Goldbar, Sons & Daughters and Sweetwater Social and the market manager for The 86 Co., all in New York. “When in need of air conditioning or to get out of the rain, I absolutely love Sweet Liberty. They’ve pretty much perfected the great cocktail and casual environment ratio, which is harder than you would think. I gravitate toward a highball or sour style of drink in the warm weather, and the one I loved last time I was there is the Collins Park. It’s a floral fizz variant that’s easy drinking. I believe one might use the word crushable.
“When I want to be outside, there’s no better bar than The Broken Shaker. They receive a ton of hype, but it’s completely well-deserved. They change their cocktail menu weekly and do a daily punch offering as well. My go-to drink there now is the Saturn Face with Fords gin and the House Saturn Tonic (gentian, passionfruit, peppercorns, tonka bean, ginger and lime zest).”Continue to 5 of 10 below.
Isaac Grillo: Harbour Island, Bahamas
“I like traveling to Harbour Island in the Bahamas in the winter,” says Isaac Grillo, the owner and bartender at Repour Bar in Miami Beach). “It’s a quiet island off of Eleuthera and only an hour from Miami. I’ve been visiting the island for about three years now, and my first stop is always The Dunmore for one of Henry Roll’s Briland Sunset drinks. The pink sands of the island are my favorite part. You’ll see wild horses around the island too, which I love.
“Harbour (or Briland, as the locals call it) is very relaxed. You’ll find celebrities riding around in their golf carts or run into someone famous at a bar wearing flip-flops. It’s the kind of place where people come for the beauty of the island, great cocktails and food, but also a laid-back, friendly environment. I particularly love Sip Sip and Rock House.”
Andrew Meltzer: Miami
“When the chilly air in San Francisco gets to my bones (any time of the year!), I head to Little Havana in Miami,” says Andrew Meltzer, the 2016 Diageo World Class U.S. Bartender of the Year and a bartender at 15 Romolo, in San Francisco. “My favorite stop is Ball & Chain, an old-school Cuban restaurant and club. They make a famous Bananita Daiquiri—I ask for mine with Ron Zacapa 23-year-old—and they add crème de banana, lime juice, simple syrup, coffee beans and bananita—all blended into ice-cold oblivion with little flecks of coffee bean floating in the drink. Needless to say, if you’re dancing salsa music and things are heating up, the Bananita Daiquiri is a must-have.”
Jason Mendenhall: Stocking Island, Bahamas; Parottee Bay, Jamaica
“My favorite bar to drink at in the winter is the Chat ’N’ Chill beach bar in the Bahamas located on Stocking Island,” says Jason Mendenhall, the owner and bartender at The Wild Son in New York City. “They have the best conch salad on the planet and make a pretty amazing Goombay smash, and the Kalik beer is ice cold. Another favorite spot is Floyd’s Pelican Bar. It’s a special little shack located in Parottee Bay on the south coast of Jamaica. I spend my time there drinking Wray & Nephew rum and ginger beer.”
Ivy Mix: Oaxaca, Mexico; South Beach, Miami
“One of my favorite escapes is Playa Zipolite in Oaxaca, Mexico,” says Ivy Mix, the co-owner and head bartender at Leyenda in New York City. “It’s an amazing little beach with a cove at the end that is calm and a longer bay that can be surfed at. The best thing to drink is a coconut chopped open with some mezcal dropped in—super simple, super delicious, super amazing. I would also have to say that I love drinking Miami Vices on the beach at The Miami Beach Edition. It’s just freaking fantastic, and sometimes you can get Josh Wagner [the hotel’s director of culture and entertainment] to come out and join you.”Continue to 9 of 10 below.
Trish Rossiene: Grand Cayman
“I actually grew so tired of the cold New York winters that I made the big move to Grand Cayman,” says Trish Rossiene, the head bartender at Ave at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa in Grand Cayman. “The weather is always perfect, and people truly enjoy Cayman and a good cocktail. When a guest asks me for something native, my go-to is something I like to call the Scotch Bonnet Margarita. It’s a mixture of Don Julio blanco tequila, Cointreau, Scotch bonnet syrup and fresh lime juice with a sea salt rim. Scotch bonnet is a local pepper native to the island that’s used in a lot of food and hot sauce here.”
Ulysses Vidal: Panama
“I love Panama,” says Ulysses Vidal, the bar manager and principal bartender at Employees Only in New York City. “When I go, I stay in Casco Viejo at American Trade Hotel. What’s really great about this Ace hotel is the interior has been very well thought out, implementing expressions of Panamanian culture from the past and revving it up with touches of modernity, in easygoing quantities. The rooftop pool is a bonus, and the library is great for meetings or just chilling.
“Usually, the drink of choice is a classic Rum & Coke with fresh lime. This can be found everywhere, and if you’re new to Panama, Ron Abuelo and Don Pancho are two rums you must try. It’s nice to ponder the other concoctions one might have in Casco Viejo, but I think a Rum & Coke is fitting and appropriate—an ode to the old days while still living in the present.”