It’s hard to know what bygone trend of scene will come back in a popular way. Maybe all we ever wanted was an excuse to bring back suspenders without calling it an Urkel throwback. Or maybe if someone’s going to charge over $15 for a glass of something, it might as well be strong, dark, and hand-mixed with local and organic ingredients where possible. The custom cocktail has re-emerged from its brief but no less arduous stint as a Single White Female prop and it’s right back at home in the subterranean, tiny cramped corners of the neighborhood speakeasy, where bartenders are not just the Sam Malone-types whose idea of a mixed drink is a shot of rail rye and some fountain ginger ale. Rather, they’re mixologists and artisans with a light touch but a heavy hand and an arsenal of flavor combinations in their head and several well-curated shelves of bottles behind them. Not to mention those suspenders. For some of the best modern cocktail bars in America, check out the list below.
In a generation rife with faux-speakeasies, the Green Russell goes above and beyond the cocktail menu and dark room. The entrance is hidden behind a pie shop in Larimer Square and the staff are uniformed in Prohibition-era service garb. The menu, also as authentic as possible, and their vibe is quiet and low key – there’s even a phone booth for patrons who need to use their cell phones. It seems cheesy, and in many ways it is cheesy, but the authenticity of their drinks warrant a serious cocktail hour here: they use block ice, fresh herbs grown in-house and hand-pressed juices to craft their unique cocktails entirely inspired by what their guests want. On the menu, their Death in Mexico combines Sombra Mezcal and orange liqueur with Adam’s Horchata garnished with apple and fennel.
Immaculately designed to transport its patrons to the ‘40s tiki bar in golden Hollywood, the experience at Three Dots and a Dash begins with an wander through the inner timewarp space: a large-bricked alley bathed in blue LEDs adorned with skulls. Unlike most of the bars on this list, this place is huge with a seating capacity of 240, and it eschews all cool subtlety for tropical festivity. After all, if you’re going to go Polynesian tropical in the Windy City, then why stop at a few tiki mugs? The menu offers island-themed bar snacks, like Luau chips topped with pineapple guacamole and crab rangoon and their impressive cocktail list includes Don the Beachcomber-esque favorites and modern inventions served in souvenir collectibles available for purchase. They also feature shareable drinks, but the biggest one by far is the Treasure Chest, which serves eight people generously and consists of a full bottle of Guatemalan Rum, passion fruit, pineapple, guava, lemon, lime and a bottle of Dom P in a literal treasure chest.
When a pub tells you they only make 24 double-slab burgers and only after 9 p.m., it’s not because they’re being gimmicky and pretentious. OK, it might be because they’re being gimmicky and pretentious, but if so, it’s to highlight a very fine point of their ideal business strategy: it’s about the craft and the art of restraint. And judging by the hour’s line-up at its door right before burger-time, it seems that it’s working, and definitely worth it. Sincere and creative crafting is the same principle they apply to their cocktails, which are innovative in execution but classic in flavor, mixing top-shelf liqueurs with ingredients like egg whites, bacon sugar, cardamom, and others.
The speakeasy goes steampunk at the Edison. Located in L.A.’s first carbon-generated power plant, this huge industrial space is dressed up with period artifacts, a distinctly classic Hollywood vibe (including waitresses dressed up as fairies some nights) and live jazz and cabaret acts. The strict dress code is enforced and the cocktail menu harkens back to the days of the Cocoanut Grove and Ciro’s. Their cocktails are made from locally grown ingredients and mix classics with new innovations. For a taste of old Los Angeles, the only place to go is The Edison, downtown.
Anvil, a barebones but tastefully industrial former tire store in the Montrose neighborhood in Houston, places its jaw-dropping array of fine liqueurs, gins, whiskeys and international alcohols on the forefront. Colored by natural light hitting exposed brick and the bottles lining their shelves, Anvil specializes in expertly mixed Prohibition-era cocktails and modern seasonal; innovations as well as delicious and unconventional bar snacks like pork belly tacos and lamb meatballs. Their menu boasts over 100 cocktails and mixes, as well as an ever-evolving selection of 13 craft beers bent on local American microbrews. As such, the crowd is made up of mainly affluent neighborhood beer-drinkers and serious cocktail geeks, which always provides a nice buzz.
Smuggler’s Cove might look like a nondescript unmarked storefront on Gough Street from the outside, but once inside visitors are opened up to a nautical paradise resembling a wooden pirate ship with a cockpit bar, cave wall and exposed beams supporting hanging fishnets, lifeboats and ale barrels – what they lack in beaches, they make up for in liquid libations. Their menu consists of over 70 cocktails with a bent on rum (of which they have over 400 types). Capturing the taste, if not the image, of Prohibition-era Havana, this San Francisco tiki bar serves a signature cocktail called The Expedition, which combines dark rum and bourbon with chicory coffee liqueur and dashed with honey, vanilla and cinnamon in a collectable Kahiko tiki mug that fans can bring home.
Between the two most bustling Seattle attractions, the Pike Place Market and the Waterfront is the bar that even Google can’t find. The Zig Zag Café is a hidden legend, and you can only get there if you know how to get there. There’s no flash at the Zig Zag Café, only the shimmer and glint of their excellent cocktails. Its bartenders would rather impress you with their quick efficiency and encyclopedic knowledge of bottles and bitters than with flips and fire. Known across America as "the bartender’s bar," they have food, of very adequate quality and in ample amount, but the cocktail is the star of the show. Alcohol aficionados with a soft spot for brown liquor bases will be well-rewarded after the search is over for this cool, dark space.
Ordering from one of the expert mixologists at Drink in Fort Point, one doesn’t say what they want, but, rather, what they like. Combining cocktail innovation, a nerdy obsession with quality sourcing from bitters and liqueurs right down to the ice, and an intimate knowledge of different flavor profiles, Drink aims to surprise again and again. Like a lot of gin? The gal behind the bar might just recommend a Martinez, a mix of Ransom Old Tom gin, Cinzano Rosso vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur topped with Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters and some lemon oil – an elevated martini with a hit of nuanced sweetness and rich, dry, barrel-aged gin. This place is not for the oenophile or the typical beer-drinker, as their few options are hardly recognizable, but if you want to try their specialty punch, it’s a gorgeous shareable libation that harkens back to the Gilded Age and served in a vintage punch bowl with hand-carved ice.
It’s the name that should tell you everything about what kind of bar Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company is. Named after one of the largest alcohol smuggling rings in the country during Prohibition, the new incarnation of Franklin is a snug and oak-and-leather throwback to the ‘20s. Lovers of a good libation will want their senses unhindered while sitting down to enjoy their expertly crafted cocktails, which fall under the five distinct categories of "Required Reading," "Easy Going," "The Flowing Bowl," "Rebellious Spirits" and the elusive "I Asked Her For Water, She Brought Me Gasoline" (original cocktails by the bartenders).
The Dead Rabbit has only been open for around a year but in that time they’ve collected a string of impressive accolades including the titles of "World’s Best New Cocktail Bar," "World’s best Cocktail Menu" and "International Bartender of the Year" from the Spirited Awards as well as press from pretty much every publication you want telling you where to go for your next drink. Divided between two bars and a small grocery store, their taproom is a traditional Irish pub serving craft beers, bottled punch and international whiskeys; upstairs, the the cocktail parlor offers a menu of 72 historically accurate cocktails and small plates for nibbling. The Grocery features a nice selection of dry goods, spreads and tapenades, oils and vinegars, and Irish and British imported goods.