America's Best Cocktail Bars
up to these top cocktail bars from Boston to Seattle.
Stop me if
you’ve heard this one.
Guy walks into a bar. Asks the bartender for a Manhattan with extra bitters.
The bartender says, “You want orange bitters, lavender honey bitters, 19th-century
Boker’s bitters, Mexican chocolate bitters, or plain old Angostura bitters?”
Well, okay, maybe it’s not much of a joke. But it points up two things: we’re
in a golden age of cocktails. And to order a drink is to navigate a minefield.
This is both
good and bad, of course. The good: bartenders are making some amazing drinks
these days. A whole new crop of handcrafted spirits are expanding the palette
they paint with, and many craft bartenders are making their own syrups,
infusions, and bitters, all of which add an unexpected depth and complexity to
familiar drinks. To order a Repeal cocktail made with vanilla cardamom bitters
at Green Russell in Denver is to step through a door you didn’t know existed.
The bad: some
cocktail lounges and their bartenders seem a bit too pleased with themselves.
Big mustaches and sleeve garters and 12 ingredients in a drink do not an
excellent bar make. And woe to those who unwittingly order a Cosmopolitan here.
Can’t we all just get a drink?
a growing middle ground—places where you sip an excellent cocktail and still
get amiable, top-notch service as well. Like at Drink, in Boston, where
the staff is trained to listen and then deliver exactly what you want, even if
you weren’t sure what that was in the first place.
What makes a
great craft cocktail bar? It starts with quality ingredients—good liquor,
fresh-squeezed juices, and (often) house-made bitters and infusions. Smuggler’s
Cove in San
Francisco goes through a lot of lemon, lime, and orange juice, all of it
squeezed fresh daily. There’s also a depth of knowledge at a good bar—everyone
knows how a balanced drink works and the history of such venerable potions as
the Negroni and the mai tai.
But best of all, craft bartenders better understand that you’re out to enjoy
yourself, not to take an exam on your tastes in drink.
The modern craft cocktail scene surfaced in New York and San Francisco about a decade ago—today, you could easily list a dozen
outstanding cocktail bars in those two cities alone. But ripples are moving
outward daily, and today most every large city has at least one great cocktail
Here are our favorites.