It’s a good time to be a drinker. This is true for myriad reasons, not least of all the incredible, ongoing evolution of American cocktail culture.
The country’s best bars revitalize their categories, and get us excited about tiki, Negronis, and even speakeasies all over again. Creative mixologists launch entire menus dedicated to single ingredients or far-flung destinations, and classic cocktails are illuminated by fresh perspectives faster than you can say, “matcha bourbon sour.”
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To compile our list of the 10 best new cocktail bars in America, we polled staffers, industry friends and strangers, and VinePair readers. We asked editorial contributors and the most opinionated members of our Facebook community to amass widespread, national responses. We broke our nominees down by geographic region, preventing hometown biases and causing a lot of discussion of what, exactly, constitutes “the West.” (We ultimately went with the esteemed James Beard Foundation Awards’ geographic bounds.)
Criteria were simple: Prospective bars had to have opened within the last two years, they had to specialize in cocktails, and they had to be bars first, not restaurants with cocktails (though in truth we are fond of those as well). We drank a lot of exciting cocktails, and some lackluster ones. We confirmed that pounding coconut water in the airport does not cure every hangover.
Here are VinePair’s 10 best new cocktail bars of 2017.
Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)
The Ladies’ Room at Fat Rice
Location: Chicago, IL
Two Michelin-starred chefs with no formal mixology experience opened this Logan Square den in July 2016. Inspired by Macau’s glittering casinos, and decked out in sexy-trashy red snakeskin, the snug space is accessible via Fat Rice bakery. The list spans reimagined classic cocktails, like a white Negroni and “Dr. Manhattan,” as well as house creations such as the Surfer on Acid on Acid, made with Scotch, amaro, yellow chartreuse, avocado leaf tincture, and salted coconut foam.
Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
The Monarch Bar
Location: Kansas City, MO
Architect David Manica created stadiums (London’s Wembley, Beijing National Stadium) before tackling this soaring cocktail bar in Kansas City. Part of the Country Club Plaza shopping center, it has a marble bar and chandelier adorned by more than 1,000 acrylic butterflies. Bar manager Brock Schulte’s 40-page drinks menu features illustrations for cocktails like the Momento Mori, made with two types of rye, barrel-aged demerara simple syrup, and charred acorns, plus three pages dedicated to “Negronis of Distinction.”
West (CA, HI, NV)
Birds & Bees
Location: Los Angeles, CA
The past few years have been good to Los Angeles’s bar scene, with recent openings Lono, Ever Bar, and Rudolph’s Bar and Tea diversifying options for serious cocktailers. Birds & Bees brings a dose of retro-chic to DTLA, combining classic cocktails with tiki flourishes and trending modern ingredients. (Consider the Doris Day cocktail, a neo-Whiskey Sour made with bourbon, citrus, honey, and matcha foam.) The dimly lit space has a very “Mad Men” Season 3 aesthetic, with low-slung upholstered couches and midcentury light fixtures, but the drinks from Betheny Ham (The Corner Door) and local luminary Marcus Tello (1886, Malo, and many others) make the whole experience feel fresh.
Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
Location: Seattle, WA
Husband-wife duo Anu Apte and Chris Elford (Rob Roy, No Anchor) helm this Belltown spot offering a refreshingly sophisticated take on tiki. The bright, breezy space serves juice and coffee by day, and, at nightfall, offers creative, expertly balanced concoctions that go beyond the tiki canon. There are tropical drinks that bring modern sensibilities to classics, as in a kiwi-and-banana Vodka Sour or a Manhattan made with aged rum and Calvados. The menu’s “Travel” series consists of drinks inspired by destinations; the Salabat Hot Toddy riffs on Filipino ginger tea, and the Butuan City Soundtrack self-identifies as a “bourbon slow jam” and combines the brown stuff with mango and kalamansi, a southeast Asian citrus fruit.
Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, OK, TX, UT)
Millers & Rossi
Location: Denver, CO
Denver artists (including curator and photographer Dustin Miller) are on display in this storefront gallery in RiNo. Behind the exhibition space lies an eponymous speakeasy, where the warm, industrial-chic interiors include a handsome copper-topped bar, plush seating, and a neon sign reading, “We’re all animals.” None of this would matter if the cocktail list weren’t superb. It is, and it includes remixed classics like the smoked Old Fashioned for which glassware is theatrically cedar-smoked to order, as well as stellar house creations like the Blackberry Walnut St. Smash, combining Woodford Reserve, black walnut bitters, blackberries, lime, and mint. Small plates include a chili-topped Frito Pie made with dry-aged sirloin from local whole-animal butcher Western Daughters.
South (AL, AR, Puerto Rico, FL, LA, MS)
Location: New Orleans, LA
This welcoming neighborhood tiki dive in Central City proves that low-key vibes and top-tier libations need not be mutually exclusive. The drinks list skews more Caribbean than Polynesia (the bar posits that Nola is the northernmost city in the Caribbean), offering classic Daiquiris as well as house-made Rum Punches. The space also hosts art exhibitions, chefs’ pop-ups, and live music. “Now that I’m in my 40s, I’m looking for a place to hang out,” owner Danny Nick, a metal musician, told The Times-Picayune in April 2017. “A place where you can get a really good cocktail but don’t have to dress up.” Mission accomplished.
Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
Paper Crane Lounge
Location: Atlanta, GA
In a former event space above Staplehouse, Chef Ryan Smith’s white-hot Old Fourth Ward restaurant, lies this snug cocktail den fitted with vintage furniture and an intimate, private-party vibe. Open four nights a week on a first-come, first-served basis, Paper Crane Lounge serves a rotating cast of cocktails including a sparkling Negroni and Night Vision, a beet-red mezcal concoction served in an elegant coup, as well as limited-edition bottles like the Crossing, a quadruple malt, copper pot-distilled whiskey the Staplehouse team created with ASW Distillery. (Proceeds from the latter benefit The Giving Kitchen.) It’s a sultry, sophisticated answer to the cavernous restaurant bars across the city.
Mid-Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Named the country’s best watering hole at the 2017 Spirited Awards (the first time a D.C. establishment has won the title), Shaw’s Columbia Room is actually three bars in one. The Punch Garden is a lush outdoor space, Spirits Library specializes in rare pours, and the Tasting Room pairs wildly inventive, seasonal drinks with coursed food menus. One especially cerebral pairing includes a milk punch made with rum, cachaca, Madeira, and squash; it’s served with a pasta course of penne, Benton’s bacon, and roasted corn.
New York City
The Pool Lounge
Location: Manhattan, NY
In a city dotted with exceptional cocktail bars (PDT, Death & Co., Pouring Ribbons), and a year with such noteworthy openings as Chicago export The Aviary and Brooklyn’s Diamond Reef, the Pool Lounge stands out. Located in Manhattan’s Seagram Building, a Mies van der Rohe- and Philip Johnson-designed skyscraper that formerly housed the Four Seasons, the swank space overlooks the landmark white marble pool in the dining room. Inspired by a single ingredient (chili pepper, tomato), the drinks are both conceptual and satisfying and were created by Thomas Waugh of Major Food Group’s ZZ’s Clam Bar.
Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, VT)
Blyth & Burrows
Location: Portland, ME
Lifelong bartender and Portland native Joshua Miranda debuted this bi-level Old Port speakeasy in spring 2017. There’s an oyster pit, quartz bar, small plates, and a vaguely nautical theme throughout (the bar was named for two sea captains felled in the War of 1812). More importantly, there are exceptional drinks. The navy strength selection is booze-forward, and can involve brown butter-washed rum, smoked bitters, and house-made celery kombucha, while the rotating special drinks list includes a Silk Road-inspired menu with globetrotting accents.