Anyone who has had a drink in the past five years (a.k.a. everyone except Robert Downey, Jr.) will know that speakeasies — and the three dollar signs that accompany them on Yelp — are all the rage. These days, the best cocktail bars in the country are all about the gimmicks, and no matter how cheesy or overdone, no one can deny the high-end cocktail trend is here to stay. It's as if we've all been trained not to like a bar unless the drinks have punny names, or there's a telephone booth for a door.
Welcome to the Golden Age of booze, where cocktail bars abound, and a good drink means you can't pronounce all the ingredients. It's a society in which we're prone to waiting 20 minutes for a simple martini. Where phrases like, "I'll take a gin and tonic, but hold the cayenne pepper and huckleberry-infused ice cubes," actually make sense.
That being said, there's a time and place for an upscale cocktail experience — and the prestigious James Beard Foundation (JBF) has worked hard to curate their list of the country's best bar programs. With no disrespect to the JBF's comprehensive list of nominees, I can’t help but notice a few of my favorite spots are missing. And while these spots might not be nominated for the most reputable alcohol award known to man, they still deserve their moment in the sun. Read on for my take on the country's best places to find a standout cocktail.
Whether you’re avoiding the cold in Chicago, exploring the outer-boroughs of Manhattan, or stalking Matt Damon in Boston, look no further than these five bars for some deliciously luscious libations.
1. The Aviary, Chicago
In tandem with Chicago’s burgeoning molecular gastronomy scene, the Aviary sits at the junction of alcohol and science. Each drink is handcrafted into an experience you’ll remember: Just ask Owen the Ice Guy, who puts his physics degree to use crafting frozen masterpieces like the Rob Roy ice ball. (Yes, each Rob Roy is accompanied with a slingshot to crack open the drink.)
2. Honeycut, Los Angeles
Many of you will have heard of New York’s Death & Co., a now famous cocktail bar with experimental drinks. In a more recent venture, the Death & Co. family collaborated with a Los Angeles bar baron to strike gold again: Honeycut is undeniably one of the hottest cocktail bars in the City of Angels. The venue is all polished wood and leather stools, looking like a cooler, more inviting version of the bar characters frequent in Birdman.
3. Drink, Boston
While this place looks like any other “prohibition era” speakeasy, visitors will quickly realize that the craft of cocktails reigns supreme at this Boston-based bar. The team describes their venue as “a bar that throws a cocktail party every night” — a nod to the warm, inviting atmosphere. Just tell your bartender what you like and don’t like in a drink, and they’ll invent up a concoction tailored just for you.
4. Dutch Kills, New York City
Those of you who have actually ventured to Long Island City will know this joint as the most nostalgic bar in the boroughs. A piano player jams out ragtime tunes nightly, while the bartenders pour imbibements straight out of Boardwalk Empire. A special shout out to the Don Lockwood: A dessert-worthy combination of Bourbon, whisky, maple syrup, and chocolate bitters.
5. The Berkshire Room, Chicago
Located in the mysterious ACME Hotel, The Berkshire Room was once rated “the best place for a fortieth birthday party” by Chicago Magazine. Let there be no mistakes: The drinks at this place may be sophisticated, but they will please any palate — including yours, Millennials. Opt for the Dealer’s Choice, and an off-menu item will be specifically crafted to your taste buds.