Oh, vodka. For some, you’re the only spirit. For others, not so much. But one thing is clear: In the right hands, a vodka cocktail can be a thing of beauty. We searched the top bars and restaurants from New York to Orange County and came up with a list of drinks that run the gamut from savory to tropical, briney to vegetal and just in time for summer. These are 11 vodka cocktails to drink now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great vodka drinks? Try making the Nam Chim Gimlet from this list at home.
Classic arcade games, addictive pizza and burgers, a massive multilevel space in San Francisco’s SoMa and easy-drinking-but-never-boring cocktails make Coin-Op Game Room (one of our best new San Francisco bars now) a great night out. Bar manager Jason Huffman crafts a fantastic house tonic redolent of lemongrass, which brings something special to the house Vodka Tonics and Gin & Tonics. But if you want to order another vodka drink, try the Farmer & His Mule, which starts with vodka and subtle Corbin Cash sweet potato liqueur and adds house-made falernum, fresh lime juice, pressed ginger and a generous splash of soda water.
From O Bar’s penthouse lounge with rooftop deck atop the chic Ambassador Hotel, elegant cocktails and cigars flow alongside a strong (and growing) wine list. This is one of the best places to drink in OKC, with food downstairs from Viceroy Grille), thanks to beverage director Jeffrey Cole and his skilled bartending team. The Desert Rose is a standout vodka cocktail—complex yet utterly drinkable. Rose-infused vodka and Cappelletti aperitivo mingle with an acidified house green apple that is tart and bright, balanced by toasted honey. The floral, refreshing drink is garnished with rose petals.
Acclaimed L.A. restaurant Providence has long been known for chef/owner Michael Cimarusti’s seafood-centric cuisine. But head bartender Kim Stodel showcases the restaurant’s refined approach and sustainable ethos at the bar, too, in “zero-waste” cocktails where he utilizes leftover ingredients in infusions and garnishes. The Notify the Mayor! features Peak Spirits (from Colorado) MEll vodka and Jardesca California aperitiva from Sonoma, Calif., illumined by espelette pepper and Stodel’s celeriac lime cordial, a house-made syrup of lime juice and zest with celery root scraps from the kitchen. The cocktail is garnished with pickled celery root marinated in the lime cordial, giving yet more life to the vegetable.
Opened in early 2016 from Strategic Hospitality (behind Nashville greats like Pinewood Social, The Patterson House, The Catbird Seat), Bastion is a fun-loving hangout lined with midcentury furniture and white lights, serving craft beers, nachos and punches. Created by Strategic’s Adam Binder and Joey Dykes, The Eye of the Tigress reimagines a classic Last Word cocktail. The vodka gains complexity from herbaceous Green Chartreuse, subtle bitter almond from Luxardo maraschino liqueur and melon from the often too sweet Midori. But here, it’s all in harmony, balanced by fresh lime juice, served on crushed ice in a Collins glass with a Peychaud’s bitters float.
In the O.C.’s Huntington Beach, LSXO feels worlds away from the sand and surf outside. A sexy, hidden cocktail haven from Blackhouse Hospitality (behind LA’s popular Little Sister) inside Bluegold restaurant, this sleek, intimate, 28-seat space is all about modern Vietnamese food with refined cocktails by beverage director Dave Keenan. Cool Runnings goes the large-format route (drinkable for up to four people), served over crushed ice in a copper pineapple glass, mixed and ignited tableside for full drama. Best of all, the Absolut Elyx vodka, cognac and rhum agricole cocktail is a vibrant tropical sipper showcasing pineapple, allspice liqueur, lime and passion fruit.
Tulsa’s Hodges Bend is famed for its coffee cocktails and vinyl collection, not to mention its irresistible Okie poutine. It also serves the vodka cocktail classic in the usual Moscow Mule mug with, of course, vodka and a vibrant house-made ginger beer. But the added secret in the Moscow Müller (besides its own ginger beer) is Germanic Müller-Thurgau white wine. In fact, the wine is the dominant base, so this is a (fairly) guilt-free, light-alcohol drink with just enough vodka to give it backbone.
A Berkeley institution, Gather is known for its sustainable practices and ingredients in both vegetarian and meat/seafood dishes. The bar follows suit, sourcing seasonal goodies and small batch spirits. Harborside appeals to the Martini lover (even though it’s served on the rocks) and shows off local spirits: Oakland’s Automatic Sea-Gin (one of our favorite spirits with unusual flavors) and Humboldt’s Finest hemp-infused vodka (one of the new hemp-infused vodkas in 2016. The unique seaweed and herbal notes of the spirits shine clean and crisp with Dolin blanc vermouth, giving a whisper of licorice flavor from fresh fennel.
Situated on the stunning Kaanapali Beach in West Maui, the Sheraton Maui is one of the area’s great resorts, known for the dramatic Black Rock marking its stretch of beach in full view of the hotel’s indoor/outdoor restaurant, Black Rock Kitchen. The nightly cliff dive ceremony draws people from all over the island, and there’s no better perch to watch it from than Black Rock’s restaurant patio sipping a cocktail paired with 24-hour sous vide pork belly banh mi. Keokea Park shows off Maui’s own Organic Ocean vodka, garden fresh with savory red bell pepper juice, bright pineapple and lime juices, given a heat kick from local Adoboloco mango hot sauce.
In the boutique Tilden Hotel in downtown San Francisco, Mo Hodges and Brian Felley (of nearby Benjamin Cooper) bring their inspired cocktails and welcoming spirit to the menu at the new Douglas Room. Alongside chefs Glen Schwartz and Tim Malloy’s killer Philly cheesesteaks and lamb tartare pies, drinks gratify, like the La Di Da Di, a reference to the Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh song. Playing off a Moscow Mule served in a blackened copper mug, this drink goes for greater depth with the usual vodka, lime and ginger beer enhanced by grapefruit cordial, black lava sea salt, fresh ginger, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and a splash of Bundaberg rosy guava soda.
At New Orleans’ delightful SoBou restaurant, situated in the French Quarter, bar chef Laura Bellucci brings the kitchen and bar together in the Nam Chim Gimlet. The drink features Oryza rice vodka, fresh lime juice and Laura’s Thai chile sauce, resulting in a delicate, savory sipper that shows off citrus, chile spice and sesame oil texture.
That it’s served in a lightbulb resting in a goblet already makes the Lychee cocktail at ROKC (one of our top new bars in the U.S. last year) a showstopper. In this cozy Harlem ramen house, the Lychee is also thankfully delicious. With a ginger vodka base, a simple mix of house-made lychee juice and lime juice results in a vibrant, crisp and tropical drink, with the ginger giving a delicate spice backbone to the lushness of the lychee.
Mixing your cocktail