Some call vodka the blank canvas spirit—neutral and understated. Bartenders around the country are painting that canvas vibrantly, infusing vodka with sesame, cucumber and even gummy bears. These nine bars and restaurants are having more than a little fun with vodka cocktails.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great vodka drinks? Try mixing the Life On Mars from this list at home.
OKC’s Ponyboy takes inspiration from S. E. Hinton’s beloved novel (and the 1983 film), “The Outsiders.” Marked by old-timey wallpaper and family portraits, the chill bar rocks beers, $6 classic cocktails and Boilermakers named after “Outsider” characters. Bar manager Ryan Goodman and his team’s easy-drinking cocktails keep it fun, like with bartender Erin Heatly’s Life on Mars, named after David Bowie’s song. Light and refreshing, the drink sips like spring with acid (citric, lactic and malic) and a sweet-and-sour profile from Grey Goose La Poire vodka, Pomp & Whimsy gin liqueur and a house lavender lychee syrup.
Don Pistos Marina recently launched the Tiki cantina pop-up Tropical Thunder. Look for rare mezcals, Tiki drinks featuring agave spirits, and killer bites from Don Pistos/Chubby Noodle owner Pete Mrabe. Cocktails are sheer fun, from top-notch low-ABV sippers like the Fortified Zombie to the Gummy Cat’s Meow, served in a sunny yellow kitty mug. This sweet, tropical and vegetal drink features pineapple-gummy-bear-infused Tito’s vodka, Italicus bergamot liqueur, pineapple, coconut cream and cilantro.
It looks and sounds like a dish, but the Duck Fried Rice is a cocktail. Head to the 13th floor of Chicago’s Robey hotel to The Up Room, for twinkling city views, comfy sofas, soothing neutral and black tones, and the Duck Fried Rice cocktail. Lift the lid off a little black bowl and breathe in aromatic notes of sesame-infused Aylesbury Duck vodka and lemongrass-infused Fords gin. This base is kicked up with the fermented pineapple spice of Bittermens Tepache spiced pineapple liqueur.
Bookmakers has been one of Baltimore’s most advanced cocktail bars since opening in 2014. Sawyer Janney continues to draw cocktail geeks to the sleek, spacious bar marked by cathedral-esque arches. The Simmer Down cocktail features Wheatley vodka from Buffalo Trace, given bittersweet turmeric and carrot notes from Don Ciccio & Figli ambrosia aperitivo and a bright-tart kick from Giffard crème de fruits de la passion (passion fruit) liqueur and acidified orange juice.
Although intimate LSXO (hidden inside popular Bluegold) is in O.C.’s Huntington Beach, it has L.A. roots in chef Tin Vuong’s Little Sister restaurants. But LSXO is his sexiest and most inspired space, where Vuong’s modern Vietnamese cooking shines in dishes like seasonal spring rolls (the autumn roll is packed with sweet potato, jicama, egg, Chinese lap cheong sausage and sweet shrimp in a coconut peanut sauce). Pacific Ocean, pier and palm tree views from the lofty space also make it special, paired with cocktails like the bright orange Jessica Rabbit. Its cucumber vodka base unfolds with genepy, fresh carrot juice, fresno chiles, Thai basil and yuzu citrus.
Bywater American Bistro is one of New Orleans’ best newcomer restaurants in 2018, from lauded chef Nina Compton and Levi Raines. Housed in a former rice mill, the industrial-chic space is warmed by paintings, rugs, exposed brick and cobalt blue tiles. Try to resist rabbit curry or crab fat rice paired with a strong wine list and easy cocktails like the breezy spring-to-summer Champagne Cocktail. A bubbly balance of fruit and floral notes results from Mississippi’s Cathead honeysuckle vodka and lemon and elderflower liqueur, going herbaceous and tart with fresh thyme and green strawberries.
Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails head bartender Phil Clark keeps the drinks fun and tight with unique ingredients like a house-made Mountain Dew shrub. His bar team crafts different drinks on the latest tropical-themed menu, and Jimmy Pederson’s Frost on Windowpane cools those scorching hot Arizona summers. A base of Absolut Elyx vodka and Giffard crème de poire William (pear) liqueur sings with a house-made pinot grigio syrup. A splash of lime, soda and fresh sage lighten up and balance the bold spiced sweetness of the wine syrup and pear.
One of OKC’s best bars since opening early 2018, Bar Arbolada is a sunny and chic yet chill space for Dustin Lancaster and Riley Marshall’s balanced drinks, combining their Oklahoma roots and L.A. restaurant years, with fun food from chef Tehra Thorp. The PSF drinks like fall spice and a tropical summer combined with a vodka base, enhanced by pumpkin cordial, spiced pie syrup, orgeat, lemon and aquafaba for silky texture.
Follow the colliding cars in front of a former auto service garage to Garage Bar, a modern-day Louisville staple in the hip NuLu ’hood. On those warm open-air days, when the outdoor AstroTurf-accented patio melds into the restaurant, try the Honey Lavender Lemonade, now a Louisville classic. A mere $8, it’s a crushable refresher of vodka, lemon, soda water and house-made honey lavender syrup.