A frozen Irish Coffee in San Francisco that takes its cues from New Orleans. A Scandinavian-inspired cocktail in New York. A touch of Greece in Austin. These are just a few of the hard-to-resist cocktail mashups on menus now. From Sacramento to Maui, these are the 11 memorable cocktails around the U.S. this month.
Can’t make it to any of the bars serving these great December drinks? Try making the Aristocrat at home.
Bonded & Mulled (Elixir, San Francisco)
Elixir has long occupied a saloon space in San Francisco dating back to 1858. Thanks to owner H. Joseph Ehrmann, it boasts a 500-plus collection of whiskeys in all categories, including house barrels, along with an impressive agave spirit and growing vermouth selection. This fall, the cocktail menu sports a Spanish-style Gin & Tonic on draft, while the Bonded & Mulled tastes like fall-meets-winter in silky egg white form. The base is the new Heaven Hill Christian Brothers Sacred Bond California brandy made from local grapes, infused with a mix of mulling spices and accented by lemon and nutty orgeat.
Tør (Agern, New York City)
Just open this spring, Agern (“Acorn” in Danish) is one of NYC’s most exciting newcomers this year, a refined Scandinavian restaurant inside none other than Grand Central Terminal. Icelandic chef Gunnar Gíslason and his team are killing it in the kitchen, but sommelier Chad Walsh and head bartender Jess Hryniewicki ensure the vibrant drink offerings keep pace. The Tør is beauty of a cocktail featuring Scandinavian caraway-dill spirit aquavit, accented by bitters, almond and Letherbee
fernet. It’s bracing herbal notes sing with the food and feel oh-so Scandinavian.
1944 Trader Vic’s Mai Tai (Japengo, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii)
Perched above the ocean in an open air space, Japengo, at Hyatt Regency Maui, feels like vacation as you hear the waves crash below on a balmy, breezy Hawaiian night. But as with many bars in Maui, it’s tough to escape fruit-juice-heavy, overly sweet overload, especially when it comes to the ubiquitous Mai Tai. Then you notice a version of the original 1944 Trader Vic’s Mai Tai on the menu, given healthy funk from Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, mixed with Pyrat XO rum, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao, lime juice and orgeat. It’s refreshing but balanced, letting the rum shine, just as the drink was created to do by Trader Vic’s back in the 1940s.
Herringbone (The Townsend, Austin
The historic Austin building housing The Townsend is enough of a draw, a refined downtown beacon for drinks. Lined with books and chandeliers, the lofty space leads into an intimate live music venue in the back. Partner Justin Elliott creates a menu that walks a fine line of offering something for everyone but not veering toward the simple or boring. The Herringbone cocktail offers the surprise of Metaxa 5 Stars, a Greek brandy-based spirit, which adds intriguing herbal layers to the comfort of Old Grand-Dad bonded bourbon, the cardamom kick of Cardamaro amaro and the juicy cherry of Cointreau Guignolet cherry liqueur, all seasoned with aromatic bitters.
Frozen Irish Coffee (The Elite Cafe, San Francisco)
Longtime neighborhood favorite The Elite Cafe just reopened with new owners, a fresh look and New Orleans cooking from Nola native Chris Borges. The cocktail menu (spearheaded by bar director Kevin Diedrich with bar manager Brian Nelson) offers an ideal mix of house creations and The Big Easy’s classics, like a balanced frozen Hurricane or a creamy classic tough to find outside of Nola, the Absinthe Suissesse, here dubbed Absinthe Suisse for easier pronunciation. But the most unexpected Nola treat is the Frozen Irish Coffee, also pulling from S.F.’s deep ties to the Irish Coffee. This version warms the hearts of those of us who have been saved from sweltering heat by Nola dive bar Erin Rose and its slushie Irish Coffees. Nodding to Erin Rose, Elite serves its version in a proper plastic “go cup,” an upgraded version combining Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey, orgeat and cold-brew Mr. Espresso coffee to invigorating effect.
Mr. Niebla (Minero, Charleston, S.C.)
Chef Sean Brock may be best known for his Husk restaurants (the original in Charleston and a second location in Nashville), but in Charleston, he brings a playful sense of Mexico by way of Low Country at Minero, best served when the two meet (fried catfish tacos or the Hoppin’ John burrito). The cocktails are more about easy drinking and partnering with the food than pushing boundaries. But Minero is one of the few spots in Charleston for extensive agave spirits. The Mr. Niebla—a refresher of mezcal, lime and Jarritos grapefruit soda, with a balanced backbone from Aperol—quenches heat and cuts through the fatty goodness of the food.
Krakow Salt Mine (The Red Rabbit, Sacramento)
For years now, California’s capital city of Sacramento sports a laid-back cocktail scene that combines the inland heat and the surrounding produce wealth in an approachable way. The Red Rabbit has been around a few years, offering all-day drinking alongside the likes of pork belly kimchi tacos. Though the bar serves cocktails covering every spirit from pisco to mezcal, the vodka-based signature house cocktail, the Krakow Salt Mine, is one that just can’t leave the menu. One sip of its salty-sweet goodness, and it’s clear why. Fresh apple cider is given a tart kick from lemon, while a dose of ginger beer is similarly balanced by kosher salt, tying together each element of the drink.
Witching Hour (Leyenda, New York City)
Since being opened in 2015 by bar pioneer Julie Reiner and bartender Ivy Mix, Leyenda has drawn regulars to Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill, garnering acclaim for its Mexican and Latin American focus, showcasing spirits from pisco and cachaça to sherry and sotol. The latter is the star of the Witching Hour, a drink showcasing the subtle joys of the desert spoon plant sotol is made from and enlivened with tamarind liqueur, orgeat, lemon, white vermouth and celery bitters. Garnished with a celery leaf, it brings fresh, vegetal life to the candelit, inviting space.
Classic Daiquiri (Sparrow, Chicago)
With a transporting, glowing space, Sparrow was inspired by 1930s hotel lobby bars, complete with vintage phone booth and hotel room keys, feeling like an apartment out of an old movie, lined with floral wallpaper, cozy couches in the back and a long bar staffed with welcoming bartenders. Barman Peter Vestinos curates an extensive spirits collection, heavy on the rum, which means a cocktail menu of rum classics like El Presidente or Hotel Nacional. The bar rocks a classic Daiquiri (a steal at $5 on Daiquiri Mondays), one of the greatest drinks of all time but oh-so-easy to screw up despite its straightforward rum, lime and sugar combo. Sparrow turns out all versions of this cocktail great with balance and ease.
Chartreuse Slushy (The Morris, San Francisco)
The Morris just opened in San Francisco’s beloved former Slow Club space, and with Paul Einbund behind it, it’s already a drink destination as much as it is a fantastic neighborhood restaurant serving dreamy dishes like lemongrass-laced crab porridge. As a sommelier, Einbund’s wine list (ask for the full book) is simultaneously stellar, approachable and geeky. But he also has a crazy selection of vintage Madeira and Chartreuse, dating back to the 1800s for the former, the 1940s for the latter. And on the short but sweet cocktail list, it’s already impossible resist the bracing Chartreuse slushy, illuminating Green Chartreuse with lemon in icy, herbal glory.
The Ladyboy (Oiji, New York City)
Refined Korean food is the name of the game at intimate Oiji, a wood- and brick-lined space in Manhattan’s East Village, where co-chefs and co-owners Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku turn out inspired Korean dishes and killer honey butter chips (just ask). Thankfully, the cocktails keep up. Tart and thirst-quenching, The Ladyboy is also light and creamy with coconut cream, adding texture to kaffir-lime-infused Hwayo 41 soju and London dry gin, and lively with ginger juice and tamarind syrup. It’s just the right cooling accompaniment to Korean chile heat.