On the Road Eats: Holiday Cocktails
Celebrate the season with a festive toast at these Food Network-approved cocktail bars, lounges and saloons. From classic martinis to specialty spirits, these cross-country spots guarantee the perfect pour and a holiday-worthy happy hour. Cheers!
Clover Club — Brooklyn
You'll feel as though you've stepped back in time as you enter this Victorian-style cocktail parlor that shakes up vintage tipples like punches, fizzes and daisies. Ted Allen always orders the Gin Blossom, a twist on a 50/50 martini that balances gin with sweet vermouth, apricot eau de vie and orange bitters. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, he claims that this cocktail "takes gin to a place I've never had it before," with fruity notes from the apricot brandy that have a refreshing head-clearing quality. Ted calls the Gin Blossom, both bracing and chilling, a "silver bullet" and a welcome homage to the traditional martini. With a host of other historically inspired cocktails on the menu, this old-school club is the ideal place to get your holiday happy hour started.
Velvet Tango Room — Cleveland
Michael Symon knows his way around his hometown of Cleveland, and on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, he headed to his favorite bar for the cocktail that he called "heaven in a glass." The India Lime Fizz is based on a classic gin fizz, but it features the addition of egg whites for lush creaminess. The bartenders make it with painstaking precision, as everything is measured out on a scale, and the egg whites are added to a mixture of iced rum, gin and lime juice, then shaken vigorously to produce a thick white foam on top. Finished off with bubbling seltzer, the fizz has a "mellow sweetness and rich full flavor" that's ideal around the holidays or any time of year. Order one up and enjoy the old-school bartending spectacle, as each fizz is made individually no matter how busy the bar gets.
Luxbar — Chicago
This neighborhood saloon got Jeff Mauro's recommendation on Sandwich King, but it's the specialty cocktails that keep customers coming back for celebrations and special occasions. Regulars agree that it's "not just another tavern," as the bar's name hints at its main mission: to serve simple yet elegant cocktails made with naturally fresh ingredients. For a taste of this mission in practice, order the Scofflaw, a potent blend of rye whiskey, dry vermouth and homemade pomegranate grenadine, or sample Luxbar's faithful re-creations of the traditional sweet-vermouth Manhattan, the ginger beer-spiked Moscow Mule (served in the drink's signature copper mug) or the bubbly rum-based Dark and Stormy. With one sip of these handcrafted classics, you'll be sold on this Windy City cocktail haven that's full of ways to celebrate the season.
The Cruise Room at The Oxford Hotel — Denver
Giada De Laurentiis dropped by this beloved cocktail lounge during Giada's Weekend Getaways and found that this old-school, art deco spot is definitely worth the hype. Downtown Denver's very first bar, The Cruise Room, opened the day after Prohibition ended and was modeled after a room on the famous ocean liner the Queen Mary. Known for its loving renditions of classic cocktails, the bar pours perfect martinis and old fashioneds, in addition to inventive offerings like the fragrant St. Germain Martini and White Cosmopolitan, made with white cranberry juice. Swathed in rich red light, the lounge is a perfectly festive spot to toast the holiday season, with a free jukebox on hand, to boot.
Crème Cupcake + Dessert — Des Moines
This Des Moines-based dessert lounge was a contender on Cupcake Wars, but the real magic happens on their home turf, where they serve as a full bakery by day and a high-end cocktail bar by night. They're known for pairing innovative desserts with top-shelf cocktails, including classics like a fresh whiskey sour and gin-based French 75 or creative concoctions like the spicy Ginger Lily, made with Jameson, pineapple, ginger syrup and ginger beer. The accompanying cupcake menu takes inspiration from seasonal flavors, like December's White Chocolate Peppermint. With the goal of being "the best in the Midwest," Crème Cupcake's modern twist on the dessert course has something to satisfy the sweet tooth and cocktail craving alike, which makes it a fitting spot to splurge on dessert during the holidays.
Sage at Aria — Las Vegas
Vegas is known for its bright lights and showy spectacle, and its cocktail scene is no exception. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Ming Tsai described his experience of tasting the St. George Vert Absinthe at the Aria Resort as a fiery light show of sorts. The formerly outlawed absinthe is made with sweet fennel, star anise and wormwood, and it has an intensely herbal anise flavor. Sage serves the St. George Vert in a cognac snifter that's perched over a glass of orange juice and orange bitters. The absinthe is lit on fire and then poured in a streaming blue flame into the orange juice, while the cognac glass collects the fumes that have built up, which are then inhaled through a straw to savor the strong vapor left behind. The resulting cocktail is fruity and refreshing — and actually helps to settle your stomach after a big meal, making it a great go-to sip to follow up a holiday buffet. As Ming said, the absinthe experience packs in "plenty of Vegas show but backs it up with substance," so when you're celebrating the season on the strip, head to Sage to try one of 25 varieties of the seriously strong green spirit.
Ortanique on the Mile — Miami
If your holiday travels take you to warmer locales this season, follow in Rachael Ray's footsteps and seek out Florida's very best Mojito at this sunny bayside bar. After getting a tip from the locals, Rachael headed to Ortanique on $40 a Day to learn from the "Mojito masters" behind the bar. This trendy spot builds its famous Mojito with freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup and muddled mint, then tops it off with light rum and a splash of soda water. With its combination of sweet citrus and refreshing mint, this bubbly highball is an ideal sip to cool off with in Miami's endless summer. Rachael called it "Cuba in a glass" and recommended pairing the popular cocktail with Ortanique's excellent bar snacks while enjoying the Florida sunshine.
Employees Only — New York
Look for the glowing neon "psychic" sign at the street level to locate this charming speakeasy, where once inside, you'll be transported to the romantic era of the 1920s and '30s, complete with Prohibition-style cocktails and dapper bartenders. Order an expertly made Hemingway Daiquiri or a classic Pimm's Cup, or choose from the experimental side of the menu with the Billionaire Cocktail, a blend of bourbon shaken with lemon juice, grenadine and absinthe bitters. Pair the top-label tipples with the bar's hearty appetizers that Rocco DiSpirito recommended on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and revel in the Golden Age-inspired atmosphere of this cozy West Village hideout.
The Buena Vista Café — San Francisco
When Tyler Florence wants a real cocktail, he always orders the famous Irish coffee at this California cafe. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, he explains that Buena Vista introduced Irish coffee to America in 1952, and it immediately spread like wildfire with its deep warmth and comforting quality. To make it, the bartender dissolves two sugar cubes with hot coffee and adds in a jigger of Irish whiskey. The final component is a thick layer of frothed fresh cream that's poured over the drink, which "floats like a swan" on top of the dark brew. The snow-capped drink is so popular that the cafe makes it in a production line, pouring nearly 2,000 glasses every day. A San Francisco classic, this old-fashioned Irish coffee is a quintessential cold-weather cocktail.
West 5 Lounge — Seattle
This charismatic cocktail bar boasts a retro-chic atmosphere with specialty drinks to match. Troy Johnson stopped by on Crave to crack into the bar's cocktail menu that runs the gamut from classic martinis, Manhattans and sidecars to dessert-inspired drinks like the minty grasshopper and White Russian. On chilly winter nights, try any of the bar's warming cocktails, like the brandy-based hot toddy or the doubly caffeinated, spiked Spanish coffee. Dubbed "West 5 Warmers," they're guaranteed to lend a cozy quality to your happy hour, which lasts from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight every day. With so many handcrafted cocktails to choose from, this stellar spot should be on your top list of holiday stops in Seattle.
Duchin Room at The Sun Valley Lodge — Sun Valley, Idaho
Rachael Ray discovered this wintry Rocky Mountain hideaway on $40 a Day when she strolled into the bar seeking a cozy cold-weather drink. The Duchin Room has hosted a number of bigtime celebrities over the years (check out the photo hall of fame) and is known for its hot specialty drinks like the Peppermint Patty and Hot Apple Pie. But Rachael chose the famous Hot Buttered Rum as her sip of choice. The ingredients for the cocktail are similar to those in cake batter: Warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove are mixed with butter and brown sugar, then swirled into hot water and spiced rum. Simple, spicy and comforting, it's the perfect cup to curl up with after a day on the ski slopes.
Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel — Washington, D.C.
For an expertly crafted mint julep with a side of presidential history, Bobby Flay heads to this age-old hotel in the nation's capital. Just a stone's throw from the White House, the original Willard Hotel hosted multiple past presidents. The bartender, Jim Hewes, has been serving drinks to the nation's leaders for 30 years, and he taught Bobby how to make a proper mint julep that's based on a Southern senator's original recipe. The julep is built in a crystal tumbler with Kentucky bourbon, sugar and mint leaves, which are gently muddled to release flavor and oils. That mixture is topped with sparkling water and crushed ice, then garnished with a bouquet of fresh mint that you inhale as you sip. Bobby called the cocktail "a snow cone for big kids," and while it always tastes refreshingly new, the mint julep (and the bar itself) hides a wealth of American history that's ripe for the sipping.
For more FN-approved destinations, check out Food Network On the Road.