By Kristin Harmel
December 26, 2014
Orlando's Best Cocktail Bars
Credit: Cask & Larder

I’m a firm believer that a good drink—whether it’s a craft beer, a sublime glass of wine, or a spectacularly crafted cocktail—can go a long way toward making a venue truly memorable. That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons why so many restaurants around Orlando have been placing so much importance lately on establishing creative, imaginative and unique cocktail lists. At the best bars in Orlando, the bartenders aren’t just adding a splash of this and a splash of that, or pouring the usual classic concoctions. Rather, they’re aiming to create carefully calculated works of art, by incorporating unusual spirits, freshly squeezed juices, house-made syrups and herbal infusions. While best mixology meccas in Orlando, which I’ve listed below, have certain things in common (several are helmed by the same creative mastermind, Eric Foster) they also run the gamut, ambience-wise. Some are swanky modern lounges; others are casually unpretentious, with a neighborhoody feel.

The Matador

This beloved neighborhood bar looks standard from the outside, but on the inside, it’s a wild speakeasy-meets-your-eccentric-grandma’s-living-room mash-up complete with a pool table. Prepare for your world to be rocked by one of the rotating craft cocktails (which are listed on a chalkboard menu), or order a reliable standby; both the gin & tonic (which is served on tap!) and the Old Fashioned are among the most best classic drinks I’ve ever had.

The Courtesy

This downtown spot is so beloved by locals that the owners have started offering a cocktail class twice a month. Even if you don’t have time to take your first steps to a career in mixology, stop in for a drink: The Courtesy boasts a great absinthe selection, a handful of mixed drinks (including the Tea & Tonic, made with Boodles gin, white tea syrup and Jack Rudy tonic) on tap, and an impressive list of specialty cocktails, including the Honey Cut (gin, honeydew juice, vermouth, lime, simple syrup, Himalayan pink salt and mint).

Cask & Larder

It’s important to note that all of the bars mentioned so far have something in common: Eric Foster. Before arriving behind the bar at Cask & Larder, this mixology master managed, tended bar, and worked as spirits director at several of the other most notable cocktail bars in town (among them The Matador and The Courtesy). Now, he brings his magic to this popular Winter Park eatery, where specialty drinks include the Beer & Sand (triple-smoked whiskey with ginger, honey, lemon and golden ale), and the Peach & Rye Dandy (made with rye, peach liqueur, lemon, mint, and bitters).

The Ravenous Pig

Like its sister restaurant Cask & Larder, this popular Winter Park spot is the brainchild of award-winning chef owners James and Julie Petrakis. The food at both spots, often locally sourced, is worth writing home about—although your ability to write clearly may be compromised after a few of their cocktails. If you like bacon, don’t miss the Ravenous Pig Old Fashioned (bacon-infused bourbon with vanilla maple, bitters and a bacon strip). The Garden Gimlet (vodka with herb-honey syrup and lime) is also fantastic.

Luma on Park

Another foodie favorite, this outstanding restaurant on Winter Park’s Park Avenue features a gorgeous, modern lounge that’s a see-and-be-seen spot for locals (and sometimes celebrities). The White Linen (made with gin, St. Germain, white cranberry juice, and splashes of sour and mint) is classic Winter Park. If you like tequila, try the very unique Tequila Pine (with house-infused pineapple-habañero tequila, house-made vanilla simple syrup, pineapple juice, and lime).